The time span between being accepted to business school and arriving on campus, which often exceeds half a year, offers rising MBAs an unparalleled opportunity for self-examination, career exploration, and the pursuit of new endeavors that can both influence and augment one’s business school experience.
In recent years, and especially since the ‘Great Recession’ and its aftermath in the U.S., students have increasingly selected a range of activities that are strategically tied in with their plans to attend business school, combining elements of study, work, and networking while participating in programs predicated on their status as newly-admitted MBAs.
The number of options they choose from is also increasing – from corporate-sponsored immersion programs such as the Procter & Gamble’s Marketing MBA Summer Camp, to hard skills-based, culture and language transition, and career strategy-focused pre-MBA training programs such as The Practice MBA Summer Forum, to diversity or gender-based scholarship programs, conferences, and network-building opportunities such as the Forté Foundation’s Forté Fellows Program.
Students who are planning to switch career tracks are also leveraging their pre-matriculation status to pursue internships at companies that may not otherwise recruit MBAs, or that are willing to take on a pre-MBA candidate.
If you’re applying to business school, and you’d like to get a jump start on planning for what to do once you’re admitted, there are three things you can do to anticipate and leverage the significant gap in time between the end of the admissions cycle and the start of school.
First, realize that you will need to create a formal pre-matriculation strategy. It is not too early to start thinking about, researching, and preparing for the opportunities (and related deadlines) that may await you once you’re admitted to business school.
As with any MBA-related activity, it makes sense to be aware of and sensitive to any occasion in which you come into contact with MBA recruiters, recognizing that having an opportunity to meet (and potentially be evaluated by) a possible future internship or full-time employer before the start of business school can both expand and limit your future opportunities.
Second, begin to educate yourself. Think about the curriculum of the schools you are most likely to attend. How much of the material you are about to encounter as a first-year MBA will be brand new to you rather than subject matter that you’ve studied in the past or mastered in a previous work context? Can you acquire syllabi for MBA core courses and purchase text books to read in advance (if anything, to make the process of absorption and learning that much smoother once you are in the thick of business school life)?
If there are obvious knowledge gaps – such as a lack of exposure to financial modeling via Excel – can you undertake coursework or skills-building programs that will help you perform with greater facility in business school, when the stakes will be much higher and the course material more sophisticated?
And, if you are not yet a consumer of business news and marketplace information, there is no better time than before the start of school to make a steady, daily habit of reading BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal, or The Financial Times. If you know you want to pursue opportunities in a specific industry once in business school, can you identify the “go-to” publications, blogs, trade magazines, or research reports that influence thinking in that field?
In short, start reading, and become knowledgeable about companies, industries, and job functions that interest you … your ability to sound truly knowledgeable during job interviews is not something you will be able to cram for later. The few weeks before the start of MBA internship interviews is a bad time to start acquainting yourself with back issues of Consulting Magazine, for example.
Third, and last, there is an additional process step at the end of the admissions cycle that you should consider. MBAs generally understand that if they are rejected by a specific business school, they can ask for feedback from the admissions office that might yield valuable guidance, such as the need to retake the GMAT or acquire more years of work experience, etc. before potentially reapplying. Few students, however, opt to seek admissions feedback after being admitted.
While gaining an offer of admission is sufficient for most students to celebrate, feeling that the acceptance reflects full confidence in the candidates’ ability to succeed in business school, the reality is often more nuanced. … An offer of admission means that the school feels confident that you will collect sufficient credits to graduate (not that you won’t struggle along the way), that you will succeed in taking your next professional step beyond school (not that you will land one of the most highly-coveted jobs), and that your presence and performance in all spheres of MBA life will reflect well on the school’s brand and reputation (not that you will necessary become a club leader or the class president). Schools expect you to “make it”, but it’s up to you to excel.
Thus, seeking admissions feedback after being admitted may elicit valuable information that guides your pre-matriculation strategy. You may discover, after gentle inquiry, that it would be helpful to take an Accounting, Finance, or MBA Math course before the start of school. If you are an international student (and non-native English speaker) arriving in the U.S. or Western Europe, you may learn that your first year in a brand new host country environment and transition to a new academic, professional, and social environment, could be that much more successful if you undertake a few weeks of in-country immersion before embarking on the MBA. (Full disclosure: I oversee the curriculum for the Practice MBA Summer Forum, which I believe offers the only current MBA-specific offering for international students.)
And, if you are from a ‘non-traditional’ MBA background (a category that includes experience as varied as military service, professional sports, the creative arts, public policy and government, education, medicine, and law), a career strategy focused pre-MBA program might help you start school on a stronger footing, helping you learn how to position your unique skills and experiences and revealing what the performance benchmarks are for employers vetting candidates in a range of industries and for a range of roles.
It goes without saying that the only person who has not been through this process before is … you. Everyone else, from MBA program staff to faculty, recruiters, alumni, and second-year students has a first-hand appreciation of all of the ways in which even the most worthy MBA students can fall shy of their goals, while others seem to effortlessly succeed.
If you’re approaching business school with a truly MBA-worthy strategic mindset, then recognize that there is a step beyond simply being admitted. The few months before the start of school offer a unique opportunity to prepare for the professional, academic, and social realms you are about to encounter, in what will undoubtedly be a competitive environment. Ask questions, seek information, try to understand the playing field, and be smart about your choices and use of time after you receive that wonderful letter welcoming you to the class of 2016!