Today’s post comes from a Bell Curves guest blogger and former student. Kayla Baker is a first-year MBA Candidate at the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Prior to business school, she worked at the JPMorgan Private Bank for 3 years as a Junior Portfolio Manager; most recently, Kayla worked as an Account Manager at the education non-profit, Citizen Schools. At Johnson, Kayla is a member of the General Management and High-Technology clubs. Kayla holds a B.A. in Economics from Bowdoin College.
In this, her inaugural post, Kayla shares some thoughts on how to best prepare for the rigors of business school and maximize your experience.
While top business schools attract some of the most ambitious, successful people, returning to school comes with a few challenges. Sure, there’s a reward in the end, but in order to get there, I’d like offer a few considerations to help you prepare:
Beat the GMAT
I started studying for the GMAT on October 25, 2011 (yes, I still remember the date), and I finished one year later. While working on an equity desk at a bank in New York (a demanding job with long hours), I was putting in a solid 10-20 hours of studying per week. I was determined to do well on the exam because standardized tests are not about knowledge but basic concept mastery, and a good GMAT score would give me the best business school options. In the end, I received 4 admittances out of the 5 business schools I applied to.
Know yourself and your values
Although an MBA has its perks, attending business school is not just about getting a degree, it’s about a journey…your journey. The application essays should feel like a sort of self-reflection/therapy session. This exercise isn’t just about telling admissions officers what they want to hear, it’s about you discovering who you are, where you’ve been, and knowing where you’re going and why. It’s also about redefining yourself. If your current job has you burned out because it feels more like a job and less like a career, then you have an opportunity to pick a new career for yourself. Take time to define this ‘new’ career.
Self-awareness is the most value asset in business school. There’s a herd, group-think mentality in business school; for example, the top desired career paths at most top programs are banking and consulting. It’s great if that’s what you want to do with you career, but if not, walk your own path. It helps to map your path before you start walking. A path may be an exact career, or it make be a more general role within a couple of industries that interest you. The decision is yours.
When reflecting on who you are and what you want, take some time to talk with people who know you well. During the GMAT preparation process, I talked with my mentors, colleagues, friends, and family. I asked them questions about my personality, my strengths, my weaknesses, and what careers seem like a great fit for me. These conversations, along with my own self-reflection, were instrumental in my confidence to walk my path in business school and ignore the herds.
Your time is no longer your time.
I’ve always taken pride in managing my calendars and lists. Since business school has started, I’ve found managing my time very challenging. There are so many meetings for group projects, study sessions, company briefings, alumni talks (not just at Johnson, but at Cornell, in general), and, of course, I need to sleep. If you are like me, learn to flex your time for the important things. I’ve also learned to block personal time on my calendar because I regenerate best through alone time. If you aren’t the organized type, business school will be a good experience to learn this skill. Business school, particularly programs like Johnson at Cornell, where the core curriculum is completely in one semester, are incredibly fast-paced, but definitely doable with perseverance, focus, and organization.
Studying for the GMAT for many is a test of perseverance; self-reflection will facilitate focus; and organization comes with the MBA territory. All of these things are integral in helping you get off on the right foot in your business school endeavor. Good luck!