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How to Make The Most of Your First Month as an MBA Student

Some of you are now fully adjusted to your new class schedules, new locations and new lives as MBA students. But many are still getting acquainted with the new lifestyle you worked so hard to achieve. Whether it’s learning how to balance school and family life, or if your challenge is simply trying to fit in every social event, our experts have you covered. Listen in as Judith Silverman Hodara, former Head of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School talks with Catherine Tuttle, former Associate Director of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business about how to survive (and enjoy) the first part of your MBA journey.

You’ll also find a transcript of their discussion here:

Judith: Hi everyone and welcome. We are so happy to be here with you today. My name is Judith Silverman Hodara, I’m a founder and principal at Fortuna Admissions. Really excited to have the opportunity today to speak with you and I wanted to introduce my colleague and partner in crime, Catherine.

Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine Tuttle. I’m an expert coach at Fortuna and previously spent 5 years at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business as a program director there. I’m so happy to be here and look forward to talking with you.

Judith: So we wanted to talk a little bit today about how to make the most of your first month of your MBA program. We know many of you are hard at it, boning up on your math background and getting back into the classroom mode. We’re guessing that more than just a few of you have been out of the academic world for quite a while, so I wanted to chat with Catherine about some pointers and things to think about as you are easing back into life as a graduate student.

Catherine: Such a big change, right? Going back into an academic environment, it’s kind of like going back to college, and in a way you’ll revert back to that mentality. In the social aspect for sure you’ll have a lot of fun but it’s also a lot of work, and it can be really overwhelming in the beginning. So one of the first things that I would always recommend is for people to make sure that their calendar is up to date; that you get all of your class assignments, your midterms, your finals, your club activities on the calendar and have those deadlines visible and have reminders for those deadlines so you don’t get caught off-guard: it’s easy to do. And on that calendar there’s two things I want you to add in that I think are really important. One: I would suggest adding in time for your careers search. Treat it like a class. It is going to take a lot of time and effort and so having time built into your schedule is going to be really important. And the second thing I want you to do is to build in time for you to relax and to have some you time, and take part in an activity that helps you mitigate stress. That could be running, that could be reading, that could be yoga that could be a million different things, but build it into your calendar because you will get bombarded very early on and I want you to make sure that you have some time for yourself. That would be my number one tip!

Judith: And I want to agree with Catherine on that. I think one of the most resonant things that I recognised in the students that were at Wharton is that the information was coming fast and furious. So they were in class all day, again, getting back into the academic mode – in most cases pre-term is a chance to get up to speed before classes start, usually right after Labor Day – and then to academically then move into the social world where you’re getting invitations every 5 seconds for something: a club, a party, an outing. To take a step back -and that might be hard – and realise that you’re not going to be able to do everything, and to be able to sort of commit and stick with something that you choose to do. You’re all familiar with fear of missing out, and I think that runs rampant with MBA students. So, without a doubt taking the time, maybe even a night off once a week, and say ‘well I’m not going to go out, I’m going to pay attention to my partner or spouse, or I’m going to really organise my thoughts’. Sometimes it’s a little bit like being on a hamster wheel where you’re running really fast to catch up, and you never get a chance to take a deep breath. These classes that you’re in are going to require some work. Getting in is certainly the hard part, but staying in and staying abreast of your work and your career search are going to be two key ingredients because once school starts for the semester in September there’s not going to be a lot of time for catch up. So, inevitably these are the things to think about. You also might want to find a buddy, someone that is sort of in the same mindset as you are. Perhaps you can spend some time reviewing notes together, kind of taking the time to reiterate what you were doing in class on any given day. Although many schools will have learning teams already set up, it’s a great way for you to connect with one person that is perhaps experiencing the same kinds of things that you are.

Catherine: And I think that’s such an important point, because from the social aspect there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for you to go out and party and bar crawl and do all these fun things with 100 of your closest MBA friends and while that is a lot of fun it’s not quality bonding time. And so I think it’s important to build in opportunities to really build solid connections with people. Build that trust, build that rapport, build those lasting friendships. And that happens in a small group, it happens with a buddy, it happens in your small learning team. So make sure that you’re balancing the big party scene with kind of some quality relationship building time.

Judith: And I guess Catherine and I have chatted about this before: for everything that you decline – you know, you don’t go out on a Wednesday – there’s always going to be Thursday and Friday and Saturday. So, there’s going to be no shortage of things that you can spend your time on, and again for those of you that are coming with spouses and partners and families, they’re there for you as well. It’s a bit of a balancing act in the beginning to figure out when to be with your cohort and your class and have other ways to integrate your two – theoretically – different lives. Certainly that time of transition is an important one for everybody and many schools will have partner and family clubs to really encourage that kind of bonding, but the more settled your family is by the time school actually hits the ground in September, clearly the smoother the path of everyone’s transition will be.

Catherine: The partner’s organisations are so incredible, and getting involved in those early and making sure that you find people who have a similar family situation as you, and also feeling good that your spouse or your partner has that network for the nights that you’re studying until midnight or going off on a trek for a week over break. It’s important to make sure that you feel connected there and have a support system in place.

Judith: Thank you so much for joining us today, we’re really happy to have the opportunity to chat with you. Again, I’m Judith Silverman Hodara, with Catherine Tuttle, and we look forward to talking with you again soon. Thanks so much.

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