Seven Things To Keep In Mind Before You Opt For An MBA
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a student in need of money must have an MBA. A degree that is open to pretty much all educational backgrounds, the MBA is widely regarded as the fastest way to fortune and fame.
Every year, students around the world slave over entrance exams like the GRE, GMAT and CAT (the bone-crushingly difficult Indian version of the other two) and shell out massive amounts to sponsor their education at one of the premier B-schools (when it comes to B-schools, I assure you, only the premier ones have any real value in the job market) and thus ensure their prosperity for life.
And, in India at least, it remains the #1 option for graduates who are unsure about what they want to do with their lives and thus give in to parental pressure to ‘do an MBA’.
I happen to fall into the latter category, i.e. the one who went for the degree in obedience to her parents’ wishes. I managed to get reasonably good CAT scores, and my strong academic record helped me snag an admission to one of the best B-schools in India. Everyone told me I was fortunate to be there, and I told myself that too.
Two years and an immense amount of expenditure later, I’m unsure whether I got everything I ought to have from the degree — and that is primarily because I didn’t know what to expect. I was merely told that it’s a guaranteed moneymaker and shoved onto campus — which, of course, didn’t help at all.
Based on what I picked up along the way, I’d like to share some of the things I wish I’d known before joining B-school, and which every prospective MBA student should keep in mind. No two B-schools are alike, of course, but almost all MBAs are expensive, rigorous and life-changing. You deserve, therefore, to be prepared for it.
Your grades will be of little to no avail.
Part of getting into a premier B-school is about scoring phenomenally well on the entrance exam and having consistently good grades at school and college. That’s an achievement for sure, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Once you’ve joined B-school, however, I’m sorry to say that those grades won’t help you much. Whether it comes to scoring good internships and/or jobs or earning classroom cred with the faculty, your past grades will almost never be a significant factor.
In my experience, in fact, the reverse happened — someone went into an interview, and the recruiter looked at his resume and said “Hmm, looks like you did very well in college. So you think that entitles you to be here?” Not saying it’s always that bad, but you’d best accept that your grades, however useful they may have been to get you here, won’t take you much further on their own.
Lectures will be at least a few years out of date.
I specialised in Marketing at my B-school, and throughout my two years on campus (2015–2017) absolutely nothing was mentioned about social media — except in the form of complaints from faculty members about how social media was ‘destroying’ our generation.
Emphasis was placed, instead, on Porter’s Five Forces, SWOT Analyses, the 4Ps of Marketing and the other oldie-but-goodie concepts that were fashionable when my dad went to B-school thirty years ago. And from what I hear, it’s much the same across B-schools.
To be truly up to date, therefore, you have to invest a LOT of time in reading business magazines and the news — which, if you aren’t in the habit of doing so already, can be harder than 5AM exercise to get used to.
Internships don’t teach you as much as they ought to.
While internships are viewed as crucial to get a taste of what it’s like in the corporate world, I wouldn’t say the experience is a truly authentic one. For starters, interns are usually given a set list of deliverables to work on, and while those may get modified as the internship progresses, it doesn’t really capture the dynamic nature of corporate life.
Secondly, interns are usually viewed as just that — interns. They aren’t held to the same standards as regular employees, which means that they aren’t given as much feedback or judged as strictly.
Thirdly, there is little scope for real training in an internship. Quite often the intern doesn’t understand much about the project assigned, in which case he or she either has to wing it or the project mentor just handholds the intern all the way to the end — either way, the intern doesn’t learn much.
Extra-curriculars matter more than you think.
In a B-school, more than almost anywhere else, students tend to view straight-As as optional. Interviewers know this, as many of them are from B-schools themselves.
As interviewers, however, they have the luxury of asking awkward questions, and so they’re quite likely to ask you how you’ve been utilising your time at that phenomenally expensive institute. Unless you’re a straight-A student, and to avoid having to mumble answers like ‘socialising’, keep yourself actively involved in at least one and preferably two extra-curricular activities. It could be anything, from an activity club to a sports team to a student committee to volunteer work. Bonus points if you acquire a position on the core team of a club or start something of your own.
Students don’t work all the time.
Photographs of most B-school campuses will show grim-faced, perpetually suited up students who are either holding awards aloft or shaking hands with haughty-looking chief guests. While that’s a large part of MBA life, it’s not the only thing — you’ll find that B-school students allow themselves to enjoy life in multiple ways, as much or more than undergraduate students.
There’s usually some sort of sports match going on, and gamers host game nights at least twice a week. Cafeterias will play host to debates on anything from politics to social media to whether or not last night’s stew was made from mothballs. And of course, at any point in time, there’s always a party happening somewhere on campus.
You choose what you want to take out of the experience.
Some of your life at B-school will be thrust upon you, like incomprehensible case studies and dull guest lectures. Much of it, however, will be what you choose to take. You get to pick the friends you hang out with, the lifestyle you lead, the activities you take part in, the interests you develop, the approach you take towards securing a job.
And you will make mistakes along the way, and that’s important because those mistakes will help you decide what works for you. There’s no right or wrong experience here — there is only you, and what you deem best for yourself.
For better or for worse, this is a stamp you will always bear.
No matter how much we talk about skills, your degree will always define you to a great extent. And if the degree is something you truly wanted and you worked hard to earn, it’s a badge of honour. If you’re doing this out of peer pressure or family pressure, however, it’s a lot harder to see the degree as a value-add.
Fashion a story about yourself, therefore, that explains what you got out of your MBA. This is, in fact, closely related to the point above. When someone, either a recruiter or a colleague or anyone else, asks you about your MBA, what they want is not a sob story or a generic mumble, but an honest account of how you emerged from those two years on campus a better person.
Perhaps you learnt that investment banking was your calling. Perhaps you started a book club. Perhaps you learnt how to play championship-level tennis. Perhaps, like me, you learnt how to live in shared dorms, take care of yourself on a budget and adjust to the idiosyncrasies of your roommates. Whatever it was that set your journey apart from those of your batchmates, is what your B-school has given you. And that is what makes the stamp of your MBA a valuable one — one that will take you places, no matter what career path you choose to follow.