If you’re like most would-be MBAs, you’ve spent a lot of time researching programs to find the right school for you. But on top of all of the work involved in finding and applying to MBA programs, it’s important to think about what will happen once you’re in. Your time at school should count, and it’s up to you to make the most of your MBA experience. Depending on the program, you may forgo two years of salary in order to attend (and pay a small fortune in tuition). Whether you’ve enrolled in a traditional two-year MBA program or are earning your MBA online, business school is a major commitment. You deserve a strong return on your investment.
MBA coursework offers countless opportunities for professional growth—and you may find just as many opportunities outside of the classroom. The business school environment supports extracurricular experiences that are as valuable as the MBA itself. Looking back, many students describe their two years at business school as the most inspiring and formative of their lives.
With this in mind, you might want to set some goals in order to make the best use of your time at business school. If you are enrolling in a part-time or online/ program, you may have a full-time job or family to attend to; if you want to maximize your ROI in such settings, you’ll need to set some priorities. While an MBA offers plenty of professional rewards, it can also offer less tangible rewards. These include building important relationships and expanding your networks.
Go in with a great attitude: Business school is a highly social place. Doing well in school, much like succeeding in the real world, requires you work well with others. So start school with your head in the game. Be warm, friendly, and open to new experiences and relationships.
Remember that your business school classmates may be the very people you work with later on in life. So in addition to thinking about who you want to be at business school, think about who you want to be as a citizen. Showing others respect, embracing diverse perspectives, and learning to tolerate differences will set you up for your future career.
Make new BFFs... lots of them: For some, heading off to business school can be socially overwhelming. The only other time you may have encountered as many new and like-minded friends was at age 18, during your undergraduate orientation week.
Business school is an excellent opportunity to boost your friend group, so dive in. Your classmates become future colleagues, business partners, and investors. Because you have so much in common—and will journey with your fellow students through school as a cohort—you’ll likely keep your MBA friends for life.
Scope the social scene: Most business schools feature a dynamic social scene. From regularly scheduled parties and soirees to annual dances and special outings, there’s often a dizzying roster of events from which to choose. In fact, some MBAs find the social opportunities of their programs almost too plentiful, and become distracted.
Try to participate in as many activities you can while maintaining your academics. The relationship-building that goes on at business school is not easily duplicated in the real world. And if you’ve brought a partner in tow to complete your studies, social events are a wonderful way to make introductions and share the experience with your loved one.
Join the club(s): Most MBA programs support a wide variety of student clubs. These may include groups like book club, wine club, knitting club, running club, and clubs for partners and children of MBA students. But there are many professional clubs as well. If you’re looking to showcase leadership or boost your people skills, taking an active role in a professional club is a great way to do so. Depending on your role, club participation can impress future recruiters. Furthermore, your involvement in a professional group can help you get a job once your degree is complete.
Specialize in a specific industry: MBAs often head off to business school unsure about areas of concentration and expecting to generalize. But if you intend to specialize, you should select a school for its industry reputation before you enroll. And if you haven’t considered a specialization, you might want to do so one once you’re enrolled. Specializating your MBA will likely pay off in job offers, which could accellerate your success.
Step out of your comfort zone: Whether you are simply taking classes that challenge you or starring in the business school talent show, this is your time to grow and explore. The MBA experience should help you build confidence, discover new talents, and branch out. It’s a time like no other in your life; don’t be limited by your old habits or approaches. Take some risks and find out who you can become.
Be proactive about career events and opportunities: Business school will be chock full of meet-and-greets with prominent alumni and business professionals. Whatever the social or professional opportunity may be, make sure you know about it — and, if possible, show up.
Identify helpful professors and instructors: A good number of MBA programs are staffed by faculty that are highly respected in their fields. Consider building relationships with your professors, and learn as much as you can about their work. Your Profs are invaluable resources for getting career guidance and making professional introductions.
Take advantage of the alumni community: Whether you earn your degree in a traditional school or in an online MBA program, having access to a strong alumni network is one of the most important benefits of going to business school. Alumni will be motivated to open doors for you, and will offer career help in ways that few others can.
As overwhelming as the/ MBA application process can feel, the real work begins once you’re in. Consider the items on this list as you select your program, and prepare to make the most of your time in business school.