The Summer Before the MBA

One question I get a lot from prospective students is what to do in the summer before the MBA program. Like a lot of folks from non traditional backgrounds, I contemplated if I needed to take some classes to prepare for the MBA curriculum. I'll share my thoughts on this question and offer some advice as a recent graduate of the Duke MBA program.

This is the 3rd post in my new series, Duke MBA Insights (FAQ). Visit the page if you're interested in reading about other posts on the topic.

MBA Academics - Don't Worry About It

When I talked to my Duke MBA admissions fellow before starting school in 2013, I asked her if I should take some classes before the program. I was a science major in undergrad and had zero formal business training. I can't remember what she said, but I didn't take any classes (couldn't find the time). After going through two years of classes in the Duke MBA, I can safely tell prospective students they don't need to worry about academics in the MBA.

I get this question a lot from prospective students. My answer is to not worry about classes. They are not meant to make your life difficult. Duke Fuqua's MBA, being a general management program, students are expected to have a broad focus. The MBA is different from undergrad, when you had tons of exams and need to memorize a lot of things (at least in my major, biology). Learning in an MBA program is a lot more practical and classes are designed based on their future utility. Professors work with students to make everything as reasonable and useful as possible.

That being said, the only industries that require you to disclose your grades are consulting and banking. At Fuqua, all classes are curved, where the majority of the class will get a "Pass" grade (GPA 3.00) or above. In general, core classes are more competitive because most students take them and consulting/banking recruiting occurs right after Fall 2, so your core grades are what potential employers see prior to your summer internship. Electives are a lot more lax in terms of grading and you have to miss a lot of classes and assignments to get a Pass or a Low Pass.

In terms of my grades, I got mostly High Passes and Superior Passes in my first year and also spent a ton of time on networking and experiential projects. If you had a technical background (engineering, finance, science) MBA coursework will feel less challenging than your undergrad courses. Also if you prepared for the GMAT in a short amount time and did well, then you're likely to do well in class.

Some folks have been out of school for a long time prior to the MBA. Not to worry - as Fuqua has an abundance of resources to help you succeed if you feel you're falling behind. The professors make themselves available many times a week, and there are second year TA's that are there in case you need to have individual tutoring. TA's and professors also hold group review sessions before big exams and they are very helpful. When I was struggling with Strategy core, I recall having several meetings with my professor and they were very helpful.

In sum, if you're recruiting for consulting or banking, be mentally prepared to study hard in Fall 1 or Fall 2 at Fuqua. If you're recruiting for company roles - then don't worry. One thing that the school reminds us is that Pass = MBA. There are better ways to spend your time before joining the MBA.

Resources in my blog on this topic:
You can read about what the classes and coursework was like in the Duke MBA.

Network, Network, Network

In my opinion the best use of your time prior to the MBA is to do as much networking as you can in your target post-MBA industry. The reason for this is that although you have time to network during the MBA, time can be limited and you may feel overwhelmed. Recruiting happens fast and it's best to start as soon as possible, especially when you don't have classes and other school projects to worry about.

This is what I like to call "milking the brand" as soon as possible. As an admitted student to an MBA program, you can begin utilizing the brand even before school starts. You can volunteer for conferences, set up informational interviews (yes, you can start reaching out to alums), attend seminars, etc - basically normal networking events. If you can start breaking into the network of the industry you want to get into prior to school, you'll feel good about your progress as you'll have to do that anyway once your in school. There's no difference if you start early or wait until school starts, so I'd start early.

One thing to keep in mind is that while you are able to leverage the brand of your future MBA program, you're also representing the brand and you should remember to preserve it. After you start the MBA, you get institutionalized into the culture and learn how an MBA student from your program is expected to represent him- or herself. Just keep in mind that how you behave will reflect on your MBA program so be polite and be diligent in sending thank you emails, etc.

Once you start the MBA program, there's a timer that starts and is counting down to the end of your two years. If you can start networking before school starts, you'll feel that you have more time. In addition, networking is a lot of fun and you'll get to meet cool people that can lead to unexpected opportunities. It's just good practice to be actively networking, regardless of whether you're about to start an MBA program or not.

Resources in my blog on this topic:
Read my book review on a really good book on networking - Never Eat Alone.

Do Whatever You Want

The MBA is likely that last "vacation" you'll have in your life. I wouldn't stress too much about preparing for it, other than to ramp up your networking after you're admitted. A lot of students choose to do some traveling prior to school (some programs offer pre-MBA "treks" - Duke Fuqua doesn't currently, but it's something that is repeatedly brought up as a potential addition). Some students will move to Durham a bit sooner to get accustomed to the location.

Ultimately, just do whatever it takes to make yourself feel mentally rested and energetic to start what most students would describe as the best 2 years of their lives.




This post is part of my Duke MBA Insights Series where I answer frequently asked questions about Fuqua. These are questions that I've received from readers throughout the 2 years and also sourced from GMATClub. Check out the page here to read the other posts in the series. Also feel free to ask questions about the Duke MBA anywhere on this site, which I may include in the series in the future.


6 comments :

  1. Hello Steven,


    This is Phoebe, who is a prospective student from Taiwan.
    I graduated from Taipei Medical University and majored in Public Health and Epidemiology. I have worked at Hospital for near six years and will embark on my MBA education this year.In fact, I've read your blog for over two years and got lots of meaningful information here.
    Since I would like to serve as a healthcare consultant in China post-MBA, could you share some information about the healthcare job opportunities in China?

    Many thanks in advance and Nice to meet you!


    Warm regards,
    Phoebe Hsieh

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Phoebe, thank you for your comment and for being a reader! Unfortunately, I do not know much about health care job opportunities specifically in China.. you are definitely more of an expert than I am. My suggestion would be to reach out to alumni in the geography you are targeting either from your previous degree or from your MBA. You can start doing networking even before the program begins. Good luck!

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    2. Hello Steven,


      Thanks for your kindly reply. I will try my best to contact with other alumni in China and certainly start building my networking as your suggestion!


      Warm regards,
      Phoebe Hsieh

      Delete
  2. Hello Steven,


    I just want to share the exciting news that I get the offer from Fuqua of class 2018!
    Thanks for offering precious viewpoints and experience in Fuqua through the blog.
    As a student who has been deeply passionate about the healthcare industry my entire life, I am truly delighted to receive this dream offer. I am actually very much looking forward to joining the Fuqua community and embarking my MBA life in the Durham area: )


    Warm Regards,
    Phoebe

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Phoebe - thanks for the update. That is fantastic news! Best of luck with b-school! You will have a blast at Duke, especially if health care is your interest.

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  3. Hello Steven,

    Thanks a lot : )
    I will take full advantage of various resources at Fuqua, advance my business skill sets, and make myself more competitive in the job market.

    Best Regards,
    Phoebe

    ReplyDelete