But facing stress during your MBA is oftentimes unavoidable. When the acceptance letters do come, and the elation of being admitted to your dream school has subsided, a different sort of stress can descend when you begin life as an MBA student and have to actually earn an MBA.
Here are seven major challenges that you’ll face, and how to navigate the stress that they bring.
1. Figuring out where to start
Your admissions essay was probably filled with aspiration. You told the admissions team about your plans for starting a new club, taking on a leadership role in another one, working on the board of a local nonprofit, all while making lifelong friends with your learning team cohort.
While accomplishing all of those things would be amazing, start your MBA by recognizing that you won’t have time to do everything at once. You’ve got two years (one if you're on an accelerated program) of hard work ahead of you, so there’s no reason to exhaust yourself in your first week.
Every top-tier MBA program is going to have a thorough onboarding process for new MBA candidates. Often this includes experiential teambuilding exercises, outdoor adventures, and plenty of coffee chats and social events. Start by getting to know your classmates socially, figuring out who shares your interests, and getting to know others who could expand your social, cultural, and professional network.
Interviewers won’t be measuring your MBA progress against the plans you made in your essays, and while accomplishing many of those plans will definitely make your MBA experience more worthwhile, you first need to get yourself into a stable academic rhythm and in a comfortable social place before diving into extracurricular.
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2. Participating in extracurriculars
So, you’re into your weekly rhythm of courses and cohort meetings, and you want to begin exploring extracurriculars.
Moderation is the key to maintaining sanity. Start off by joining one club, and assess what kind of impact you could make by becoming a committed leader in the organization. Making a big difference in one club will probably be more rewarding than being an ancillary member of three different clubs.
3. Undertaking an internship
Many MBA candidates will take the opportunity to take on an internship during their MBA studies. This is a great opportunity to build your network within a company that you’d like to join after graduation, and to get a sense of the industry in which you’d like to work.
However, if not approached in a realistic and well-planned fashion, the internship can be a stressful and frustrating experience. Unlike an undergraduate intern, who will receive a lot of guidance and be given specific tasks to accomplish, MBA interns will likely have more independence during their internship and, accordingly, more responsibility.
Before even starting your internship, it’s a good idea to reach out to your future supervisors to get a sense of the kinds of projects you’ll be working on. With that information, you can research relevant best practices and industry trends, and be better prepared to make an impact, secure a valuable recommendation, and maybe even a full-time offer after graduation.
Meeting future employers, funders, and business partners is one of the most exciting and important parts of the MBA experience, but it doesn’t have to be stressful.
Before any networking opportunity, conduct research on the event’s featured guests, write down a couple of insightful questions you could ask, and be prepared to answer questions they might ask you.
A little preparation pretty much eliminates the chance that you’ll embarrass yourself, allowing you to relax at the event. All of the baseline business meeting rules apply here, too: have plenty of up-to-date business cards at the ready, be appropriately dressed, and be well rested so you’re on top of your game.
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5. Taking advantage of recruiting
Every top-tier MBA program is likely to offer students who are looking at traditional post-MBA careers—such as management consulting, tech, and finance—plenty of events where they can meet with recruiters from top firms like Bain, BCG, McKinsey, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs.
Nothing can entirely remove the stress of meeting representatives from the company that you’ve dreamed of working at for years, but there are steps you can take to reduce that stress.
Just like networking events, do your research beforehand. Reach out to alumni of your MBA program who are working at your target firms and find out what hiring managers are looking for in new recruits.
Ask about what challenges your target companies are currently facing and take some time to think about how your MBA skills could help address those challenges. The idea is to learn as much as you can from the people who aren't in control of hiring, before you get in front of the decision-makers.
6. Navigating FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
With so many opportunities and a peer group composed entirely of other super-motivated high achievers, you might feel guilty about taking some time to yourself to enjoy a movie, attend a concert, or take a long hike in the woods.
Remember, these restorative and restful moments aren’t inherently unproductive. Professional athletes have to take downtime to rebuild muscle and recover from injuries, and as a professional businessperson in-training, you need downtime too.
Many times, the best way to process and absorb the new skills and experiences you’ve gained is to switch off your brain, and switch on your favorite TV show.
7. Getting the most of your school's resources
Earning an MBA is intense, and there will be stressful moments no matter what you do.
Making your MBA experience a success depends upon a thoroughly researched understanding of how your program’s resources can help you achieve your professional goals.
Once you know which of your school’s resources are the best fit for your future, you’ll be better prepared to avoid stressful moments.
This article was written by the team at Admissionado, a leading admissions consulting firm that helps business school applicants gain admission to top undergraduate and graduate programs worldwide and is updated annually.