November 23, 2010

is business school hard?

business school has a reputation for being a non-stop party. our facebook documentation of the experience doesn't do much to change that stereotype.

as a student at stanford's graduate school of business (the GSB), i'm here to say that, yes, the business school experience includes lots of parties. building a network is an important part of the gig. but there's a lot more to it than that. our facebook photos don't capture every moment, so here's a peek into how we fill our days:

classes can be challenging, and there's literally more academic work, reading, paper writing, and studying than you can actually complete. i'm told it's designed that way so you're forced to set priorities to decide how you want to spend your time. recruiting hits you like a wall of bricks in late october, when companies start pouring onto campus. students cruise around in suits, prepping for interviews, and hob-nobbing with company reps. stanford is home to scores of student clubs and organizations, all of which have events all week. lunch is usually double, triple, quadruple booked with BBLs (brown bag lunches) featuring speakers, panels, workshops, and info sessions for different jobs, classes, industries, clubs, and activities. then there's general relationship-building: taking a professor to lunch, grabbing coffee with a friend, and attending small group dinners at classmates' homes. the hyper-proliferation of events and activities actually spurs an affliction we at the GSB affectionately call FOMO: the fear of missing out. new students are particularly susceptible to this disorder. layer on outside professional development: connecting with alums, talking to people who work in your target industry, attending conferences. some students also make time for outside work, like starting a company, curating a blog, volunteering, or serving on a board of directors. if you want to maintain some semblance of health, you're also trying to squeeze in some exercise with team sports, athletic classes, or the occasional trip to the gym. and let's not forget about maintaining relationships with people outside the GSB -- significant others (SOs, as we call them), family, friends, former colleagues.

all of these activities lead to a calendar that looks a lot like this:

this is an actual screenshot of my calendar from last week...after i did some triage and declined events i was only marginally interested in. yes, i occasionally have to schedule my showers.

now, let's be clear: my calendar doesn't look like this because i'm ragingly popular. my calendar looks like this because this is what the business school experience is all about: learning, exploring, and building relationships. i'm sure most stanford MBAs would produce a similar schedule. it's fun. it's awesome. and it's totally and completely exhausting. i'm constantly asked by aspiring applicants if business school is hard. my answer is yes. business school is an endurance event, and i'm exceedingly grateful to have the opportunity to be here for it.

i don't speak for every single student. some students already know exactly what they want to do so they can narrow their focus and skip events and classes. and i can't say there aren't a few kids just using this as a $200,000 vacation from their grueling finance job. but, by and large, i'd say most students at the GSB are busy trying to get as much out of the experience as possible.

yes, there are parties at business school. if you're facebook friends with a b-school student, it will look like a non-stop festival of beer pong tournaments, costume parties, human pyramidschartered buses, and mustachioed photo shoots. don't let the photos fool you. there's a serious selection bias on facebook. sometimes, business school looks like this:


Andrew W said...

Thanks for the glimpse Anneke - very insightful as always. I'm amazed you still have time to blog too - but keep it up!

Jawton said...

Too busy to type the shift key when you begin a sentence. ZING! ;)

David said...

Awesome, Anneke. Totally agree with you. And well said as always.

kevandcan said...

It's incredibly busy, but some of the best of times.

Brett said...

Hey Anneke... Brett Greenbaum here. Also in MBA school at SF State- very, very different experience. I've yet to see a recruiter or attend any networking event. The program here is all about preparing international students for shitty middle management jobs at Wells Fargo and Blue Cross. I wish they would have included that part in my orientation!

kquann said...

Hey Anneke, a mutual friend posted this link and I remembered we shared a cab to Logan after HBS's accepted students weekend. Glad to hear you are enjoying GSB and totally get the calendar shot - mine looks a lot like it!


Soemoe Aung said...

Came across your blog from your Quora post. I just graduated from an MBA program at a top 20 school (UNC KFBS). It definitely doesn't have the prestige that Stanford does but my experience sounds exactly like what you described.

Having come from an engineering-related background at Berkeley, I would agree that business school is hard but not in the same way that an engineering program at a top school is hard. I felt a lot of it was getting your priorities straight as you mentioned; figuring out which of the many events you want to go to and which will be most beneficial to you. Mine was definitely a great experience and I think you summed it up nicely when you described it as an "endurance event", one that is delightful at times while being exhausting.

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Randy Stevens said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I have been applying to business school and from the looks it, it's gonna be a lot of work. But I know it is all going to pay off when it is all said and done.

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