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6 MBA Students Reveal What It's Really Like Studying At Business School

When does an MBA student wake up in the morning? How much does the MBA lifestyle cost? We asked students at business schools around the world to describe a day in the life of an MBA

An MBA is America’s most popular degree, but what is life really like at the world’s best business schools? Is it all spreadsheets and pesky finance classes, or do MBAs have fun too?

To find out, we spoke to six MBA students around the world, studying at six very different business schools.

Read on to find out what it’s really like to study for the three-letter credential.


Barbara Sanches, EMLYON Business School

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What is a typical week’s academic schedule like for you?

Well, the international MBA program can be divided into two parts, general courses and elective courses.

So, for the first half of the MBA, a week's schedule would be classes from 8am to 5pm, almost every day (sometimes even Saturday). It is indeed full time. There are many group projects and presentations. This makes the first six months really intense.

For the second half, it will depend on the courses you choose—for me, I had the whole month of May free to dedicate to personal projects, for example. Remember that you can choose a minimum of 10 electives and you won't know the schedule until after Jan/Feb. Since we also have the Entrepreneurial Leadership project, we can use the spare time to meet with team members and do fieldwork.

How much free time do you get and what do you typically do with it?

During the courses, we have most of our weekends fully free. In the beginning, since it was the most intensive part of the program, we usually used the weekends to work on assignments, rest from the heavy schedule, and also go out with MBA colleagues to get to know them. We also have a Christmas/New Years break, around 15 days of rest at the end of the year—I managed to go back home in Brazil for Christmas last year.

What’s the best and worst thing about MBA life?

The worst thing is the intensive schedule at the beginning. We needed to be very organised in order to keep everything going in that period. Sleepless nights and an empty fridge were a constant part of my schedule as well! It’s not all bad—the best part is the experience itself. Most of the cohort is in their late 20s/early 30s and it is a journey of discovery for everyone—about who we are, where we are going, and what we came here to do, so to experience that in that group was incredible.

How much does an MBA lifestyle cost?

You can find rooms for about $500 to $700 in Lyon. It depends on the location. The closer you get to the city center, more expensive it will be. I used to live pretty well on $1100/month (including rent, groceries, and other expenses).


Brady Dearden, London Business School

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What is a typical week’s academic schedule like for you?

As a second-year MBA student at London Business School, my typical week is composed of two or three half-day classes. Adding to my coursework, I am involved in the leadership of two school clubs—Military in Business as well as Tech & Media. Last year, I worked during spring-term as an intern with a cybersecurity startup in Canary Wharf. This term, I am working on my own startup idea. Fingers crossed!  

How much free time do you get and what do you typically do with it?

I love London Business School for many reasons, two of which are the school’s flexibility and its location. The terms are designed so students can take maximum advantage of academic learning while also balancing club and work opportunities. This means that there are some weeks where I have less free time than I would like and there are some weeks where I have an opportunity to freely research in areas that interest me, such as organizational behavior and leadership. I try and keep the weekends free so that I can enjoy one of my other reasons for choosing LBS: living in and exploring London.

What’s the best and worst thing about MBA life?

The best thing about life at London Business School is definitely the people. I couldn’t ask for a better community in terms of students, faculty, and alumni. Not only is the LBS community quite cosmopolitan in terms of its geographies and perspectives, but the people you meet in class and around the campus are kind, outgoing, and interested in helping one another. It’s a tremendous culture.

I can think of two things that are tough about MBA life: one is early morning examinations! The other tough aspect is that sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to take advantage of everything LBS has to offer. 

How much does an MBA lifestyle cost?

The cost of an MBA lifestyle can vary widely. I think it has a lot to do with the diverse backgrounds and career choices of the students. For instance, some students come to LBS married, some have children, and some are single. The school also provides many scholarships, which benefit students in a variety of ways. Of course, whatever your ambition, you will want to take full advantage of the London social scene.


Eric Gene, Chicago Booth 

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What is a typical week’s academic schedule like for you?

My day will normally start around 6am, spending some time to catch up with work emails and preparation for classes. We arrive at school at 8am for breakfast, which we use to gather energy for the day and network with our peers. Normally, we will have two core three-and-a-half hour classes, two one-hour reviews with the teaching assistant, with a lunch in between, where often we will have presentations from career services, alumni, or company visits. After the second review, we will have dinner on campus, and meet with our study groups working on group assignments.

How much free time do you get and what do you typically do with it?

There isn’t much free time during our academic weeks, although during our first international academic sessions in Chicago, London, and Hong Kong the school ensures a good number of cultural and networking events. Even with the tight schedules, people will find time for a few dinners and even some nights out during the week, as the many hours together create strong bonds between the cohort.

What’s the best and worst thing about MBA life?

There are many great things about the Executive MBA, beginning with the great cohort and faculty that Chicago Booth allows us to work with. Sitting in class with a group of amazingly smart people, half of them with postgraduate degrees, representing 46 different nationalities, with last year’s Nobel Memorial Prize Laureate in Economics, Richard Thaler, as your professor is a very humbling experience.

It is a challenge sometimes to manage work, family, and school, but eventually, we all find a balance. The reason why we ‘Boothies’ chose to attend Chicago Booth is because we desired intensive curriculum to broaden our minds, world-class professors to challenge our pre-conceived thinking, and to embed ourselves in a global network of aspiring professionals. It’s the positive attitude from the school and peers that drives us to continuously push ourselves to make the most out of this opportunity.

How much does an MBA lifestyle cost?

While a top executive MBA program is an important investment, good choices are those with a high return on investment and good value for money. For most of us, it’s not an investment in a diploma; it’s an investment in ourselves that will shape the future of the second half of our professional careers.


Rawan Abu Salman, Grenoble École de Management 

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What is a typical week’s academic schedule like for you? 

We usually have between four and six classes per week, each lasting three hours. These classes are spread randomly over the week, between morning classes and afternoon classes. Sometimes, we have a morning class and afternoon class on the same day, sometimes it’s just one or the other, and sometimes we have no classes on a given day.

We typically have either one or two classes per day, each lasting for three hours with a 15-minute break in between. There are days, however, where we do not have any scheduled classes. That time is often used for projects, group works or assignments, or to catch up on well-needed sleep.

How much free time do you get and what do you typically do with it?  

Beyond scheduled classes, you can decide how much ‘free’ time you’d like to have. There are weeks where you barely have time to eat and sleep, but in the grander scheme of the academic year, one can manage to go out for drinks, squeeze in some sports, travel around Europe, juggle freelance work, and excel at the MBA.

What’s the best and worst thing about MBA life?  

The best thing and the worst thing about the MBA life is the MBA life. The stress of it all, the challenges, time management, the late nights, the group work, and dealing with others. It’s certainly painful at times, but it’s also thrilling as well.

How much does an MBA lifestyle cost? 

Aside from tuition and associated costs (books), the biggest variable here is location. Some cities are much more expensive than others to live in. The main expense is often rent, but even within the same city, it depends on how far you’re willing to be from the school. Food is another major expense, but that also depends on how much you’re willing to cook at home or eat out. At Grenoble, one could manage to spend anywhere between $500-$1,100 in living expenses.


Cara Laviola, Ohio State University's Max M. Fisher College of Business

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What is a typical week’s academic schedule like for you?

On Monday, my earliest class begins at 10:15am, but my latest class does not end until 9:30pm. Similarly, on Tuesday, classes run from 1:00pm to 9:30pm. Thursdays are my easy days, where I only have one class that begins and ends in the early afternoon.

This academic schedule differs greatly from my first year, where I would have a normal schedule of core classes from 8:30am-4:15pm. Because I am able to fill my schedule with electives during the second year, I have chosen to take classes that also accommodate working professional MBAs schedules. Because of this accommodation, many electives are scheduled in the evening.

How much free time do you get and what do you typically do with it?

Because most classes have group-based projects, most of my "free time" (not in class) is spent in group meetings. If not meeting as a group, I also have a graduate assistant position that takes up some of my time. Before I accepted my job offer for after graduation, a lot of my time was also spent updating my resume, applying for positions, and interviewing with companies.

When my time is actually free, I spend time with my fiance. I also enjoy reading books, watching movies, listening to live music, and spending time with my family and friends.

What’s the best and worst thing about MBA life?

Best: My biggest sources of learning are my fellow MBAs. By working with my peers, I learn something new every day about myself and about diverse ways of thinking. It's these interactions that have helped me to grow as a person and as a leader. 

Worst: The worst thing about MBA life is the stress and uncertainty that comes with making tradeoffs. Because I decided to come back full-time, I made a choice between my education and a secure income to which I had become accustomed. Every day, I make a choice between networking, studying an extra hour, or spending that hour with my fiance and family. Sometimes, it's hard to know if I'm making the right choice. But even though this may be the worst part of MBA life, it is probably also the most educational and relatable to the tradeoffs that inevitably have to be made in the business world.

How much does an MBA lifestyle cost?

I think the best way to describe the cost of an MBA lifestyle is in terms of opportunity cost. By completing my MBA in a full-time capacity, it costs me an annual income. It costs me not only the principal on the student loans that I had to take out, but also the interest on those loans. The cost of an MBA also includes the price of long nights and lost sleep, of time spent in airports on the way to internship and job interviews, and of spending time connecting with people in the industry instead of with family. 

But even though the cost of an MBA lifestyle is expensive in more ways than one, I believe it is so worth it. It is two years of hard work in exchange for what is, for me, a job offer at a company I believe in, as well as experience and learnings that will stay with me for the rest of my career.


Emily Phipps, American University's Kogod School of Business

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What is a typical week’s academic schedule like for you?

It is different every semester. I am in class for four-to-six hours three days a week. I am at work for four hours a day. And I am studying, working on group projects, or working on career engagement tasks for four-to-six hours a day.

How much free time do you get and what do you typically do with it?

Honestly, I love cooking and cleaning to unwind. However, I am always determined to explore DC on the weekends. This is one of my favorite cities I have ever lived in.

What’s the best and worst thing about MBA life?

The best thing about my MBA life is the people. I love watching my cohort explore their ideas and passions in a practical way. This is a thrilling experience in and of itself, but it is so much sweeter in the community.

I don’t know if I have an answer to “the worst” part. I have experienced new kinds and levels of stress as I transitioned from my former career and lifestyle to my current one. I experience a daily struggle with 'imposter’s syndrome'. And I definitely experience fear about the unknown. But I wouldn’t change it. I am becoming more confident, integrated, and grateful. So how could that be 'the worst'?

How much does an MBA lifestyle cost?

I have embraced a mindset of consuming less and enjoying more. A scarcity mindset probably won’t get me very far.

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