I’m often asked, “What is it like getting your MBA?” When I initially applied to MBA programs, I thought my next two years were going to be filled with unforgettable parties and vast opportunities to meet a diverse group of people, culminating in a dream job that would help change the world. They turned out to be the best two years of my life.
Here’s an inside look at what it’s really like once you’re accepted into an MBA program.
1. It’s not all partying
Many MBA candidates think business school is one huge party. It’s true – we love those theme parties. But in reality, we hit the books hard, especially during the first year with required math-heavy core courses like statistics, accounting, and operations.
Many sweat and tears have been shed out of stress, and sometimes it makes people wonder if they belong in business school. But hey! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
2. It’s a whole lot of summer internship interviewing
You finally got accepted into the MBA program of your dreams, so it’s time to relax, right? Nope! While you are drying your sweat and tears from those tough core courses, you will need to start applying for summer internships. Right away, as in a few weeks after orientation. This is a particularly stressful decision because a good summer internship could turn into a full-time offer after graduation.
Most MBA programs, like the Duke MBA, provide a ton of resources to help you. My personal favorite is the “Week-in-Cities” program, short trips organized by student clubs to various cities to visit different companies. For example, I led a group to Silicon Valley to meet and network with tech firms. I also joined a trip to The Big Apple to jump into the sports industry and hopped off the plane at LAX for a taste of media and entertainment. I ultimately chose entrepreneurship and founded my own company.
3. Beware of herd mentality
We all envisioned a grand path before starting our MBAs. Most, if not all, of my classmates, came in with an inspiring set of post-MBA goals. Some wanted to enter social entrepreneurship. Others wanted to revolutionize the healthcare industry. But in the end, it feels like everyone changed their hearts and minds to go into management consulting.
I encourage all of my fellow MBAs to go back and read their application essays and think about why they set out to earn this degree in the first place.
4. Gain exposure to amazing people
Going to a top-tier business school to earn your MBA is like going to the United Nations because you will meet amazing people from all over the world, and it will expose you to different cultures. In fact, at Duke, 40% of my classmates were international students. I even met Americans I never thought I’d meet including someone who proudly hangs a confederate flag on his living room wall!
5. Embrace diversity on your own terms
MBAs can be a diverse bunch, but they can also be cliquish. Most of it is due to human nature and the environment. A Stanford study suggests that people are more likely to form cliques in a program that “offer students more choice – more elective courses, more ways to complete requirements, a bigger range of potential friends.”
However, the people that truly got the most out of their MBA programs are the ones who break away from their comfort zones and interact with other groups outside of their own. At Duke, there is an amazing program called “Around the World” where people can host home-cooked meals from their home countries that randomly matches hosts with guests. It’s just dinner, why not give it a try?
6. Travel the world
Another great way to experience different cultures is to study abroad or join a student-run trip abroad. I took full advantage and learned about cultures in a way that I could never have learned anywhere else. For example, I took a course in South African Entrepreneurship, then spent two weeks traveling around South Africa, visiting different startups and NGOs. I also joined the Israel Trek run by the Israeli Club and got a better glimpse of Israel and Palestine than any guide could have arranged!
7. High School again?
When you put a few hundred people, in their late 20s and early 30s, into a program and make them live, work, and play together 24/7, it is bound to result in some high school drama, gossip, and those trying to be the cool kids they never got to be in high school.
Like high school, a lot of romantic relationships will end. Black Friday usually refers to the Friday after Thanksgiving when things go on sale. But for MBAs, Black Monday refers to the Monday after Thanksgiving when their pre-MBA relationships come to a sorrowful end. What’s behind the carnage of this marriage-wrecking MBA? Simply put, earning an MBA is an all-consuming experience, which can make it difficult to continue those out-of-state, long-distance relationships.
8. Love is in the air
While some relationships may come to an uneventful end, business school is a great place to meet your future spouse. I know because I met the love of my life while earning my MBA. It’s a great environment to find your true love because you share similar interests and experiences and travel together to exciting new places. Couples who study together, stay together.
9. Teamwork makes the dream work
Earning your MBA is all about teamwork. During the first year, you will be assigned to a carefully-chosen team of 4-6 people for the entire year. You will spend every waking hour of your life with them. As a techie from California, I was happy to be part of a diverse team that included a Mississippian and a Venezuelan.
After the first year, almost every course thereafter will require you to be part of a team. You will learn to work with all kinds of personalities, how to deal with them, and build your own leadership style. The most valuable lessons I learned from earning my MBA come from broken, dysfunctional teams because you are stretched and learn in the most in uncomfortable situations.
Earning an MBA has been a transformative experience for me. I have been exposed to amazing cultures that widened my perspectives, forced into uncomfortable situations where I learned things about myself I never knew before, discovered my career path, and most importantly, met the love of my life!
Nick Jiang is the co-founder and CEO of Birdnest, a curated, visual place for startups to find their dream office. Prior to Birdnest, Nick had grown venture-funded startup Shots to over 10M active users. Duke MBA, Princeton Engineering.