Stories from graduate students at Fisher College of Business
Believe the Hype
When I visited MBA programs before I came to Fisher, I heard the same thing over and over again: The first semester is a killer. You will be extremely busy. You will be busier than you’ve ever been. At the time, I felt like I was taking these warnings to heart. I felt prepared to work hard and not have much free time. Plus, I told myself that I’ve gotten through busy periods in my life before. In undergrad I took a full schedule of classes and worked two part time jobs. After graduation I had an internship and a job at the same time. I know what it’s like to be busy.
Except I actually had no idea.
A few weeks into this first semester, I finally realized what those students were trying to tell me. I realized that I have never actually been busy before in my entire life. And as much as I thought I was prepared for the workload coming into my MBA program, I was definitely underestimating how busy I would be. Busy like a workshop speech, a two-day case competition, a marketing team project, an economics exam, a data analysis exam, and an accounting exam all in the past ten days. Busy like I only see my boyfriend two or three times a week and he lives two blocks away from me. Busy like I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for the last three weeks and can’t justify the time away from my regular MBA work to do it.
It’s not only the number of assignments, projects and tests that I’m tackling at once—it’s the time I need to spend working on each one. Like all my fellow MBA students, I consider myself a smart cookie. In my high school and undergraduate classes, I could snooze through lectures, spend an hour looking over my notes the night before a test and still pull off an A or B. I could wait until the last minute to do a homework assignment or paper and still turn in a decent product. Of course none of that will fly in an MBA program, and for probably the first time in my life I’ve had to study like I should have been all along. Study like spending five hours on data analysis homework problems, six hours on exam practice problems and still squeaking by just below the median score. Study like staying up until 3 a.m. making it rain cash flow statements, taking the accounting midterm the next morning and then dreaming about accumulated depreciation during my post-exam nap. Even when I’m asleep my brain can’t catch a break from business school.
But the point of this post is not to scare off potential MBA students with horror stories of being chained to an Excel document while your loved ones resort to looking at old photographs to remember what you look like. Because for all this work and time and effort, the first seven weeks of this MBA program have already been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I’ve worked harder than I ever have, but I’ve also learned more than I ever have. Yes I thought I was a smart cookie before, but this program has shown me how much I didn’t know. Taking classes in these new and different subjects, and filling my head with so much new knowledge has been extremely thrilling and rewarding. All the busyness has been worth it– really!
And as I’ve gotten more accustomed to the level of work, I’ve figured out ways to thrive on the energy and still fit in some fun and relaxation. Last night I went to karaoke for the second time in these two months (an activity I used to do twice a week), and I enjoyed it more by virtue of the fact that singing Meatloaf to a room of strangers is now a treat instead of a given. Similarly, sleeping in used to be my norm every weekend, but now when I (much more rarely) find a Sunday morning to lounge in bed until noon, it’s even more wonderful than when it was the default behavior. Because I know I’m putting in the work, I know I’ve earned the rewards.
So future MBAs take heed: The first semester is a killer. You will be extremely busy. You will be busier than you’ve ever been. Be prepared to put in the work, but also be prepared for the exhilaration of it all paying off in the form of a brain buzzing with new knowledge, a glorious set of midterm grades and the extra enjoyment of the occasional break.