10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting my MBA

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They say hindsight is 20/20, but when you’re approaching a decision as important as whether to pursue your MBA, your vision might be a bit cloudier. Mitch Howe, TCU MBA '17 and senior client relationship representative at IBM, wants to help remove some of the guesswork. This article, republished with his permission, outlines the 10 things he wished he’d known before starting his MBA.

1) You can't do everything...

The first month of your MBA is full of employer events, boot camps, speakers, lunches, dinners, happy hours, networking events, case competitions, career fairs, intramurals and a million other things. You will want to go to all of them because the fear of missing out is very real. The reality is, if you try to go to everything, you will get burnt out, your teammates will get frustrated that you're never available and you will constantly be playing catch-up. 

2) ...but you should want to.

Even if you can't go to everything, you have to go to some things. If you don't take advantage of as many of the events as you can, you might as well get an online MBA. You're making an investment of two years of your time and a large sum of money, so you're doing yourself a huge disservice if you pass up on the learning, networking and socializing opportunities outside of the classroom. Especially if you don't know exactly what you want to do when you get to school, these events are invaluable.

3) Free is your friend.

Remember in undergrad when you would go to pretty much anything if it meant free food because you were broke? Getting your MBA is like that, except money is even tighter because your parents probably stopped paying for a lot of things they did during undergrad. If there's an opportunity for a free meal, take it. If you find a restaurant that has free margaritas on the weekends, for heaven's sake go! If you can get a bunch of free airline points for opening a credit card, do it (within reason, of course. Unless you're an expert like my friend Colt). 

4) Work smarter, not harder.

Not all MBA courses are graded the same. Some will require you to put in a ton of work and you'll be happy to get a B; others will be graded on such a heavy curve that you can get an A without a lot of effort. If you're spending as much time on the latter as you are on the former, you aren't prioritizing your time effectively. This will drive your teammates berserk, and you will probably burn yourself out. 

5) Find (at least one) advocate.

I didn't have to interview for my internship. After months of searching, I got a call one morning saying that I was the perfect person for the job and was I interested. Someone on campus whose trust I had earned spoke so highly of me that their contact didn't even need to interview me. If you don't find at least one person, though hopefully more, on campus who will advocate on your behalf, you've screwed up. Professors, administrators and even the support staff all know people, and they all want to help you, but they also have a reputation to uphold. You have to prove to them that you're worthy of their recommendation. 

6) You're a student again...

This means that people are willing to help you out! If you lead with, "I'm an MBA student at..." people will drop their guard and answer any questions you have. The student card can open doors you won't ever have the chance to explore again. Once you leave school, you're back in the real world, where everybody assumes you want something from them. Similar to attending events, this is another area where you can get a great return on your investment outside of the classroom.

7) ...so have fun!

College is fun — at least it's supposed to be — so take advantage of it! Go to the football tailgates, even if you don't go to the games. If you go to a big school, there’s probably a bunch of free entertainment for students throughout the year, from concerts to comedy shows, color runs and more. And there’s probably a dive bar right around the corner from campus that has $1.50 PBR all day, every day. Take advantage of it!

8) Offer to help...

You were accepted into an MBA program for a reason. Everyone has a unique set of skills, so figure out what sets you apart and then share your expertise. For some, it may be that you're a PowerPoint whiz, for others, it’s an in-depth knowledge of Excel. I didn't have either of those skills, but I am a strong presenter and writer, and I have the (sometimes very annoying) habit of playing devil's advocate and ensuring my group is working efficiently. Whatever your strength is, offer it out early and often!

9) ...because you're going to need someone else's!

Contrary to (your own) popular belief, odds are that you aren't perfect. That means, at some point, there’s going to be something you can't do without someone else's help. If you have been generous with your support from the beginning, your classmates will be willing to help even if they're busy. If you haven't, you might find your classmates aren't quite as willing to drop everything and assist you. If you were smart, you'd figure out early on who the go-to person is on anything you might encounter, and figure out how to make yourself valuable to them so that you can borrow from their expertise on a task or subject down the road.

10) It goes fast!

Time flies when you stay busy, and you will be very busy during your first year! Don't put yourself in a position to look back and say, "what if" or "I wish I had done..." Take advantage of the resources on campus. Get to know your classmates and find out who they know. Learn as much as you can, both in and out of the classroom. If you look around and don't feel busy, you aren't maximizing the return on your investment. This seems like common sense advice, but it's the piece that you should remind yourself every single day, because before you know it, you'll be halfway through your MBA wondering where the time went!

About the author: Mitch is a recent MBA graduate at TCU's Neeley School of Business. Prior to moving to Texas and beginning his MBA, he spent three years as a college basketball coach in Syracuse, New York. He has joined IBM as part of their Summit Leadership Program and will work in consultative sales with clients across the country.

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