Mikhael Abebe graduated from the Berkeley Haas full-time MBA program in 2018. His original post is published on the Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) blog. MLT’s MBA Prep programs provide African American, Latinx, and Native American professionals with personalized guidance and effective tools to successfully navigate the business school application process, and optimize their MBA experience.
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4 ways to approach b-school thoughtfully
When I was applying to colleges, my thought process was: “What school is going to put me in the best position to succeed while giving me the freedom and space to have as much fun as possible?”
You’ll notice how vague, unfocused, and potentially contradictory those criteria are. Ultimately, I decided to pursue the University of Pennsylvania. It was an Ivy League school, and the admissions rep did a good job of pitching the whole “Social Ivy” thing.
Now, hindsight is 20/20. Things worked out in the end; I’m not going to retroactively pick apart the mindset of my 16-year-old self. However, my goal is to emphasize how important it is to have a thoughtful, honest, and thorough approach when making major life decisions such as when and where to attend business school.
At this particular time in my own journey, one thing I had gained that I didn’t have in high school was MLT—a world-class organization that provided the support, structure, and coaching I needed to take the aforementioned approach.
Applying to business school was the most momentous decision I had ever made at that point in my life. (Proposing to my fiancée now takes the cake, and I hope she reads this blog 😊). I knew grad school would give me the opportunity to pursue the career I wanted, develop new skills, and ultimately change my life.
While I don’t have any regrets about the decision I made, I’ve now had some time to reflect on b-school and what I could have done to make my experience easier along the way.
1. Distinguish interests from priorities
I had numerous interests that I wanted to explore during b-school. I also had two main priorities: 1) get a job in real estate finance and 2) develop myself as a leader and communicator. One lesson that b-school will teach you over and over is that time is arguably your most precious resource. Make the time for your priorities.
Be kind and patient toward yourself if that means some of your interests will be put on the back burner. That’s not to say you shouldn’t make time for your interests, but you should try to strike the right balance between the “nice-to-have” and the “need-to-have” items on your list.
2. Accept some things just can’t be finessed
If you want to work at a company that only recruits from schools in the northeast, you probably shouldn’t go to California for business school. Similarly, if you need a particular class to gain a particular skill set and that class is only offered when you want to go to Carnival in Brazil, I’m sorry, but Carnival may have to wait.
Be honest with yourself about what your post-business school vision is. Do the research and plan ahead so that you don’t do anything that would stop you from achieving your priority goals.
3. Plan to do things you didn’t plan for
This may be a bit on-the-nose, but it is very easy to spread yourself too thin during b-school. I held several leadership positions, was a principal on a student-led investment fund, participated in case competitions, and went on several treks around the world.
What I didn’t anticipate is just how draining all of that would be. It left me with little energy to explore outside of my comfort zone or develop relationships with classmates who weren’t in my immediate circle. If I have anything that resembles a regret, it’s not having enough time to do things outside of my comfort zone.
4. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable
This one probably isn’t new but is worth emphasizing. B-school is a place for growth, experimentation, and risk-taking. It literally is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do almost anything you want. Take advantage of it, because I promise you this: once you graduate, things get real.