Prepare for Business School Over the Summer

Delece Smith-Barrow

Newly accepted MBA candidates may want to relax this summer before starting business school in the fall. As tempting as that idea sounds, it may not be realistic.

The Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University requires students to take preprogram online courses in accounting and statistics. Starting this summer at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, incoming students can participate in a workshop that covers networking and other topics. A number of programs offer similar preparation courses, which can take as little as a few hours or as long as a few days to complete.

Every program has its nuances, but the goal is generally the same: to ready students, many of whom have been out of school for a few years, for a rigorous academic experience.

"You don't want to pull the academic Achilles tendon when you hit the court. You need to stretch out and warm up," says Monte Swain, associate director of the MBA program at Marriott.

[Learn to manage work-life balance as an MBA student.]

In addition to these summer preparation classes, business school professionals encourage new students to delve into other resources to prepare for the school year. Here are three of their recommendations.

1. Do a self-assessment: Students can use the CareerLeader website to figure out their strengths as business professionals long before school starts, says Michael Malone, managing director of the career management center at Kellogg.

"It helps a student or an incoming student to understand the environments which they might be more successful or where it might present a bit more of a challenge. And gives them a starting point ... to match where their strengths and gaps are with industries and functions," says Malone.

[Find out how to network as an online MBA candidate.]

For a deeper self-assessment, MBA candidates can look to the Myers & Briggs Foundation or Gallup's StrengthsFinder, he says.

2. Connect with classmates and alumni: Networking is often billed as a strong component for business professionals or students, but experts say this skill should be practiced by soon-to-be students also.

They should "find out how they can connect in advance with the [other] new students," says Linda Livingstone, dean of the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University, which offers its own social network for students. Interacting with peers before school begins can help ease the transition to business school, she says.

[Find out if grades matter in business school.]

Early networking can also help students find a mentor at school who can give them guidance about making it through their first year, says BYU's Swain. A good program will offer opportunities to connect with current students, he says. If these opportunities aren't obvious, Swain encourages incoming students to ask their program's leaders how they can reach second-year students.

3. Prepare for the fall recruiting season: Because the career search for students starts early, they can use downtime during the summer to research job opportunities, says Livingstone. She recommends students identify upcoming conferences that can help with their career goals and research companies and fields that interest them.

"When they get on campus they're really ahead of the game," she says. Students can then get a head start on working with their career services office to land a job or internship, Livingstone adds.

Starting school with an idea about career goals and skills to improve will enable students to maximize their time in an MBA program, says Swain.

Students don't have to know exactly what they want to do, but they should have a hypothesis, he says. "If you just come in completely open-minded and unscripted, most students will flounder at that point and lose energy and lose time."

Swain, a higher education veteran and 22-year BYU professor, has seen students make a number of mistakes. He asks new students not to make this one: "Some students don't come in ready to work hard," he says. He encourages students to plan on a 50- to 60-hour week to get the full value of their education.

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