Everything You Need To Know Before Starting Your MBA

If you are a working professional who wants to pursue MBA at one of the top-tier international schools, then there’s a lot of prep you need to put in. And we aren’t just talking about the GMAT!

It is one thing to continue your education after your graduation, and it is completely another to come back to the academic world after having worked as a full-time employee. Not only can be it intimidating for many, but it can also leave you without the knowledge to take the first step.

The real question is what is the first step? Well, if you’re planning an MBA then the obvious start would be to look at the potential B-schools you can apply to. Then what is the second step?

In this article we will be providing you with a step-by-step guide regarding all the things you should know and do before starting your MBA!

Step 1: Know the top B-schools and shortlist the ones you want to apply to

The rank of a B-school is extremely important. It will decide the admission criteria, the fee structure, and also the placement opportunities you will get. So, the first thing you need to do is look at the various rankings published by top media houses. Here is a quick look at some of the projections for this year’s MBA rankings:

Rank in 2021 School name Country, by primary campus
1 Insead France / Singapore
2 LBS UK
3 University of Chicago: Booth US
4 IESE Business School Spain
4 Yale School of Management US
6 Northwestern University: Kellogg US
7 Ceibs China
7 HEC Paris France
9 Duke University: Fuqua US
10 Dartmouth College: Tuck US

Step 2: Understand the different MBA programs

Most full-time MBA programs that you will apply for will be held over two years and include 4 semesters. This will also include a summer internship lasting for three to four months. In a full time program the first year is dedicated towards core courses while the second year allows for specialization (a specific concentration of study and elective courses). Students do not work full-time during such a program; school is considered their first priority. One-year full-time MBA programs are similar, but shortened by reducing the time in core classes, or limiting opportunities to specialize.

Part-time MBA programs are designed for working professionals. Most part-time MBA students work full-time during the day and attend classes in the evening. You should also keep in mind that part-time MBA programs will NOT issue a student visa to foreign applicants. Applicants for a part-time MBA course usually need to have legal residency in the country they are applying at.

Executive MBA programs, commonly known as EMBA, are made for working executives who wish to take on higher professional roles. These programs are for professionals who are already specialists in a field or industry and need to hone their management skills to continue up the corporate ladder. EMBA programs also do not require any internship as the applicants are full time employees. University scholarships are generally not available for EMBA students either. There is either limited or no opportunity to specialize.

You should decide which career path you want to take, and then choose the type of MBA program that suits your requirements.

Step 3: Organize and plan ahead

While applying for any top institute requires the applicant to plan ahead, when you are trying to crack the top B-schools, the planning needs to start years in advance. Right from understanding the curriculum to the GMAT, there are many steps in the process.

If your aim is to crack the top MBA programs such as Harvard or Stanford, you need to really apply yourself and build the best possible application. An MBA course is not something that is going to come by easily, especially if you are aiming for the top-tier B-schools! So, you need to be sure about how a MBA degree will help carve your career path, and what roles do you plan to serve after getting the degree. A very common concept that should be part of everyone’s pre-MBA checklist is an understanding of their short-term and long-term goals.

Step 4: Understand the budget

While the major chunk of the MBA cost is borne by the tuition fee, there are other costs that you need to calculate as well. The primary ones among these include air-travel fare, food, and housing. There are many other smaller costs involved as well, but these are some of the costs that you should prepare for beforehand.

Now, when it comes to the MBA degree in itself the tuition fee can widely. To save your searching time, here are the current tuition costs for an MBA degree in some of the top American B-schools.

University Tuition Fees USD INR
Princeton University $53,890 39,22,583
Columbia University $77,376 56,32,098
UCLA  $65,125 47,40,364
Stanford $57,300 41,70,792
Harvard $73,440 53,42,690

Once you have calculated the costs, you need to also research about the various scholarships available from the top B-schools. Most B-schools provide some form of scholarship or the other. They are either need-based or merit-based, and you should definitely apply for it once you have cracked the admission. The general rule here is that the bigger the school, the better the scholarship you will have chances of receiving.

Here are the average scholarship figures for some of the top MBA colleges across the world:

School Total Scholarships Average Grant % of MBAs on Scholarship
Harvard Business School $31.5 million $32,000 50%
Wharton $16.9 million* $30,500 33%
Chicago (Booth) $16.3 million* $30,000 60%
Stanford GSB $15.7 million $35,830 52%
Michigan (Ross) $15.4 million $22,360 48%
New York (Stern) $12.8 million $26,400* 62%*
UCLA (Anderson) $12.1 million $25,860 65%
Northwestern (Kellogg) $11.8 million $22,800 35%
Columbia Business School $10.1 million $20,500 46%
Virginia (Darden) $8.4 million $30,800 43%
MIT (Sloan) $8.1 million $28,220 35%
Duke (Fuqua) $7.1 million $20,950 33%
Rice (Jones) $6.7 million $33,320 94%
Yale School of Management $6.2 million $23,028 31%
UC-Berkeley (Haas) $5.8 million $29,060 50%
Cornell (Johnson) $5.7 million $12,000 33%
Dartmouth (Tuck)* $5.4 million $27,550 35%
Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) $5.3 million $21,853 57%
Emory (Goizueta) $5.0 million $24,905 57%
Georgetown (McDonough) $3.3 million $30,000 27%

Step 5: Get into the MBA mindset

MBA is an official entry into the business world, which is why you now need to stay updated with all business news. A good habit is to regularly read some of the leading business magazines such as Economic times or Financial times. This will help you keep up with the current business trends. global economy, geopolitics, share market, etc.

A good practice might also be to note down major events and news that you can refer to at any point in time. This will not just be useful for you during your classroom discussion, but also for your placement related GD / PIs.

If you don’t already have the habit, start reading good books and autobiographies related to the business world. You may get these very common questions during placements about which books you read during your MBA. Referring to well known books also might help your cause.

Learn about the application questions will also help you in this process. The MBA application questions are the perfect way to make your applications stand out. They give you an opportunity to portray your strengths. Here’s a quick look at how the best answers look like when attempting a top B-schools.

Step 6: Understand everything the MBA experience has to offer

As an applicant you need to ensure that you are putting in all round effort. So, don’t fall into the trap of losing your complete focus only on your grades. You need to consider how this course will boost your career, and what steps you should take during the course to ensure this. At the end of the MBA program it should feel like a transformative experience, and not just a collection of theoretical knowledge.

Everything from your educational and work experience, personal aspirations, skills and values, etc. will decide which specific MBA option you choose. If you keep all these factors in mind then every elective, dissertation, workshop, etc. you choose will fulfill your goals.

Also go through what the B-school has to offer in terms of their specializations, start exploring more about the extra activities and offerings. Get to know more about their clubs and committees, or events and competitions that they host routinely. These processes will help you identify your area of interest and you can also pre-plan on where you want to participate.

Step 7: Don’t underestimate the power of the networking

The alumni of any top B-school features people from all over the world, and you should be able to find someone who will be able to provide you with some insider tips. You can also attend the various webinars held by your target B-schools before the applications begin, and these may allow you to directly connect with the admissions committee members. And if you manage it, definitely go for a class visit as it will help bridge a cultural gap!

Another way to network is to speak with the alumni of your target B-schools. They can help answer any specific questions you have whether it is about the course or the institute in general.

Step 8: Learn Excel & PowerPoint

Knowledge of MS Excel is a must have before you start the MBA journey! If you already have an experience of working with excel, that’s great; but if you aren’t very familiar with Excel, you might want to start brushing up your skills. Almost all your projects during your MBA will require you to work on Excel, so try to learn not just the basics, but also shortcuts that can help you to optimize your time during your projects. From Pivot table to analytics, you can do wonders with Excel, so invest some time now and learn it thoroughly.

Throughout the course you will need to create various presentations, and they will play a big part in your grades. B-schools put a lot of weightage on your presentation skills, and if you want to score good, you might as well brush up on your PowerPoint skills. Powerpoint is a powerful visual medium that can actually make or break your presentation. Once you join a management level job, you will ultimately have to give presentations every time to present ideas and strategies.

There are plenty of free online videos (from beginner to expert) available on the internet. So, you can easily access these videos or you can even opt for an advanced certification course on any of these software. This will also help add weightage to your CV!

Step 9: Do a short term course

Once you start the MBA process you will have very little time to do anything outside it. And once you complete it you will immediately start hunting jobs or join one. So, if you have any short-term course in mind, make sure to do them before the MBA applications begin.

You can do a course that is related to the specialization (that you would eventually choose in the 2nd year), or it can be a generalized relevant course like Google analytics, Communication skills, Google Adword, Advanced Excel, etc. However, make sure that you enroll in a course from a recognized website like Coursera or edX.

Step 10: Start researching and targeting companies

Read all previous reports that your B-school has published regarding the placements and top recruiters than come to your campus. Start making a list of schools that are of your interest, and research on these companies in depth. Each company looks for certain skills in the MBAs they hire, so you should try and develop those specific skills.

Many major recruiters may not come back to the campus for finals and they prefer to hire students by offering them a Pre-Placement Offer (PPO) in their summer internships. So it is better to crack a PPO than to sit in the finals and your preparation should be aligned accordingly. Some courses that can help you prepare are: CFA/FRM for Finance (a lot of Non-Finance students take up these certifcations while pursuing their MBA in order to build a finance oriented CV and get shortlist from relevant companies), Kraftshala certifications for Marketing, Courses on Economics/Accounting can be checked out on Coursera/Edx, Excel/Powerpoint course.

That’s it!

If you follow this checklist and take care of all the 10 steps you should be fully prepared and planned for your MBA. Make sure to start the process with plenty of time in hand, and you will be able to crack one of the top-tier programs!

Also, make sure to not make these common mistakes while building your MBA application:

7 Costly MBA Application Mistakes & How to Avoid Them | Jatin Bhandari

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