8 Academic Planning Tips for New MBA Students

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Waive Classes if Possible

The restrictions around course waivers vary between schools, but most at least offer the option to waive some MBA courses, assuming you can prove our knowledge by passing a waiver exam or by providing some sort of certification.  One dilemma that I faced was that I majored in finance during my undergrad and had already taken a significant amount of accounting and finance courses.  However, having worked in the consulting industry for most of my career, I wasn’t sure I would be able to pass a waiver exam just based on what I could remember.  Therefore, I made the decision to study for both waiver exams a few weeks before classes started.  I ended up waiving out of both of the introductory courses for Finance and Accounting.

This turned out to be one of the best decisions I made during my MBA career.  The main reason for this was because, at UCLA Anderson, if you waive class, you’re allowed to take one less class during fall quarter.  Given its notorious reputation for burning students out, having to take one less class during the fall gave me significant breathing room relative to my peers.  I had more time to study for every one of my classes, attend networking events, and fine tune my resume and cover letter.  This clearly gave me higher grades overall and better preparation for the internship recruiting period.

If you’re in the position to waive a class, another important perspective to take is those of your peers who will not be waiving any classes at all.  While taking a waive-able class may result in an easy A, you’re not only wasting your time as an MBA student, but you’re also ruining the grading curve for these other students.

Do Independent Study

I’ve said before that much of what you learn in your MBA program won’t be used in your actual job.  The one clear exception to this is independent study.  There’s no better way to link your academic studies to your future professional career than by designing and executing your own coursework.  Much of the content on this website was initiated because I decided to complete an independent study project.

One of the requirements for doing this type of elective is to build a relationship with a professor.  Therefore, it makes sense to talk to one of the professors for the core courses you’re interested in.  Just go to his or her office hours and get a sense of whether they’ll sponsor a project for you.  Most professors are open to working with students on independent study work, especially if they can benefit from the material you produce.

Give it Your All During Your First Quarter / Semester

The way the MBA recruiting schedule works, you end up submitting the majority of your resumes right after you get back from winter break.  Therefore, out of your entire first year, the only grades recruiters will ever see are the ones for your first academic period.

Now just to remind you of the context of your MBA decision, you’ve already committed to spending tens of thousands of dollars on business school, you’ve taken two years off of work, and your desired future career will depend heavily on the work you put into fall quarter.  With all of this in mind, you really don’t have an excuse not to work your butt off during the fall.  This is the one time in your life that academics will matter – especially if you’re recruiting for either consulting or investment banking.

You’ll have plenty of time to party and enjoy “being a student” later on in the year.  But keep in mind that spring quarter is a great time to relax only if you’ve already secured that dream internship you’ve been shooting for.  If you haven’t, and you’re recruiting during the spring, you’ll be going through an entire year of hell instead of just your first two quarters.  Therefore, for fall quarter you need to sacrifice; give it your all and stay focused on both academics and recruiting.

Take it Easy During Spring Quarter / Semester of Second Year

One of the regrets from my own MBA experience was not having a light schedule during the spring quarter of my second year.  I planned out my two years so that I would have a full course load during my final quarter, but when I finally got there, I realized how difficult it was to keep pushing forward.

I know that if you’re starting school, you’re probably thinking about all the interesting classes you could take during the spring.  But believe me, senioritis will kick in.  This is especially true if you’ve already secured your full time job offer and made good on your MBA investment.  The sense of relief from this accomplishment really makes you just want to enjoy life before you have to start a new career.

Spring quarter is the time to start checking off all those bucket list items you never got around to because you were too busy studying, recruiting, or networking.  You should try out the restaurants around campus, watch a show, take a sailing course, and just hang out with your MBA friends.  If you haven’t secured a job already, then it makes even more sense to have a light load in spring quarter as it’ll free up more time for last minute recruiting.

Preparing for a light spring quarter is relatively simple.  Just take a heavier load of courses in the earlier quarters.  Additionally, most schools also offer international immersion programs that count as a course and can be completed during your spring or winter break.  This is a great way to get academic credit while experiencing international travel.

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