10 hints and tips before starting an MBA


I wrote these tips to a friend before he started the same MBA that I was about to finish – they are thoughts that came to mind, which I doubt would have been at the front of my thoughts when I started the program (at least with less clarity/focus).

Hopefully my reflections on the program will help or be of interest, but you should of course form your own opinions also.

  1. Do your best to do the pre-reading before each term (some people will do some pre-reading before class, but will also leave some to do each night, or skip or only skim read some pre-readings).  This is also what the schools recommend, and it seems so easy to do some of it last minute, but that will mean you lose out on time to better know your classmates, sleep, or reflect on the topics of the day/next day.
  2. Encourage your class to go for drinks/dinner together during residence class evenings – it’s very easy to avoid doing this (“too much homework”, “not enough sleep”, “other commitments” – work, family, etc.), but it’s key to making the most of the program, getting on with the people that you’ll be studying with, and making lifelong friends and business partners.
  3. During the first week(s) assess/appraise your classmates, and consider (i) who intimidates you the most, (ii) who are you least similar to (professionally and personally), and (iii) who do you have the most respect for.  During the MBA develop some strong personal friends, but also try to make sure you team up with and work with these people – you’ll learn the most from them.
  4. Be the first to know everybody in the class by their first name. They deserve your respect and the effort will pay off.
  5. Work hard but remember you have a professional obligation to your employer and clients, and most importantly your top priority is your family. There will certainly be times when you momentarily forget this – apologise and make it up to them. They will be an important factor in making this a success for you, and they will find it tough too.
  6. You don’t always need to be top of the class – as a minimum do what is required, anything more is bonus points if it fits with your other commitments.
  7. Try to give valuable feedback. Some parts you wil find better than others. Accept that it may not all be perfect, or the way you might think best. Overall I thought my MBA was an excllent program but there were still some challenges to be addressed. You can help make it become an even better program – don’t wait until the end to consider how to do so.
  8. Clear your desk before you start – if possible, take a few days off work before the program to resolve all outstanding admin, filing, banking, taxes, etc. – you don’t want this hanging over your head during, or after the MBA.
  9. Take time to reflect at periodic intervals (5-10 minutes is often enough).  Put the books down, find a quiet place and think about what you learnt, what you heard others say, how you saw people interact, etc.  Doing so will mean that you get a lot more out of your MBA.
  10. Enjoy it – it goes by quickly.

These might seem obvious, but maybe it helps to have them in black and white, and they are the things that made my MBA different from ‘just another class’.  Interestingly, most of the items above are about ‘people’, and not ‘knowledge’.

In reflection, I particularly found #3  and #9 really paid off for me (#3 doesn’t come naturally – it’s easier to hang out with people who are more similar to you; in fact, it reminds me of something in my Managerial Effectiveness class – heterogenous teams typically deliver more).

3 Responses

  1. Another good post. Thanks!

  2. I start my MBA tomorrow in Scotland. This is good advice.

    Thanks for 3, 4 and 9!

  3. Thanks Matt. I am starting my MBA in the fall and am absolutely terrified of going back to school. I’ve been looking for a list of recommended readings, but maybe I’ll pick up a book on economics instead.

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