After months of anticipation, thousands of students will begin their first day of business school in the coming weeks. For many, it will be the start of a long and challenging journey to earn an MBA.
Though each business school has a different curriculum and culture, all students experience similar struggles.
Alex Dea, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School has some tips to share with new students. He gathered this advice from fellow MBAs and second-year students so that they can be better prepared for their academic journey. Dea is the creator of MBASchooled, a website providing resources for business school students, applicants, and alumni.
Here are some tips for getting through the first semester, and making the most of your time in school.
1. Structure Your Business Around Three Central Pillars.
It’s a common pitfall for undergraduates to focus too much on partying or working an internship instead of their classwork. Business school, however, is different.
Ben Thayer emphasizes that business school isn’t only about studying in a classroom or library for long hours each day, and this presents its own unique set of challenges. He developed a unique approach he calls the “three-pillar approach” to categorize his responsibilities, which include academic (reports and tests), social (clubs and events), and career (opportunities like interviewing potential employers). “You have to build up each pillar to succeed,” he says.
Thayer believes it’s necessary to constantly be conscious of giving each pillar equal importance, and that you learn to balance sacrifices you may make in one area with those you make in the other two.
2. Prioritize With the Understanding That It’s Impossible to Give Everything Your Best Effort.
Jill Gramolini, a 2016 MBA graduate of New York University Stern School of Business, states that she felt well-equipped for a demanding regimen since she had worked as a Deloitte consultant for four years. She quickly discovered that it wasn’t feasible to accomplish each of her goals while attending business school.
“Prioritize, because as much as I wanted to do it all, I learned I couldn’t,” she says.
She decided in her first semester that she wanted to work in retail after graduation, so she used her first year networking and learning about the sector through Luxury and Retail Club events, as well as a part-time job. Gramolini, who doesn’t want her grades to be known to potential employers, decided to make the most of her opportunity by learning as much as she could without stressing about getting outstanding marks.
3. Allow Yourself a Rest
Many students feel anxious or have self-doubt, regardless of their professional or academic accomplishments. Students are driven to overwork and forget about their future aspirations. There’s also a danger that students will spend two years in a business school bubble.
You need to learn to relax, says Philip Blackett, Harvard Business School MBA ’16. “Keep things in perspective: Don’t have a heart attack before you graduate,” he says.
Remind yourself that you wouldn’t be on campus if you didn’t have the capacity to succeed when things start to feel out of your hands. Take some time out of your week to relax and de-stress through your favorite method, whether that’s hitting the gym, attending a yoga class, or going for drinks with friends. Blackett suggests that spending time with friends who attend the same school is incredibly beneficial because they can relate to what you’re experiencing.
4. Develop Strong Relationships
Kayla Cartwright, University of Virginia Darden School of Business MBA ’16, discovered in her first semester that forming relationships wasn’t just enjoyable, it was key to excelling while obtaining her degree.
A variety of students creates a well-rounded learning experience, which is why business schools are especially sought after. For example, a student who has already spent five years as a consultant could offer her classmate insights into the business world, while a student with very minimal formal training but is building a startup could do the same.
“Do yourself and your school community a favor and be intentional about inviting people different from you to socialize and work with you on group projects,” Cartwright says.
5. Don’t Be Scared to Seek Assistance and Give All You Have
Because business school student bodies come from a wide range of backgrounds, it follows that no single student will be completely prepared for all of the coursework.
“Business school can be incredibly humbling, but ask for help when you need it,” Dea, Kenan-Flagler ’15, says. “You’ll probably be surprised at how willing people are to help you.”
If you’ve been accepted by a top business school, you’re already probably quite competitive, but you must not allow pride gets in the way of your learning.
6. Make Your Classmates’ Educational Experience More Interesting
And on the topic of competition, you’re not helping anyone if you use your class participation as an attempt to impress your professor and classmates, says John Huang, University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Speak like a “normal human” and don’t roll off memorized textbook material.
To add value, share your own opinions and defend your conclusions confidently. If you want to stand out and take a risk, give an answer that your professor might not agree with but would provide valuable insights for your classmates.
This article was originally published on Business Insider.