Students will begin their first day of business school over the next few weeks, starting the intense and rigorous path to an MBA.
We spoke with Alex Dea, a second-year student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, about the lessons he learned in his first year.
Dea is a vice president of his school’s MBA Student Association, served on the admissions advisory board, led the visitation weekend for accepted students, and will serve as a career mentor this fall, helping first-year students connect with the right internship.
Here are some of the things he wishes he’d known before he started business school:
There are not enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do.
It’s impossible to arrange a daily schedule where you can give your full energy and focus to all of the things you’d like to get done, Dea says. He found that he split his time among academics, internship-hunting, networking with alumni and other professionals, and clubs and activities. Every day he needed to set his priorities.
“There will be a situation where you’ll have a big company info session on the same day that you need to get an assignment done that’s due the day after,” Dea says. “You’ll have the opportunity to either miss that chance at networking with recruiters and get an excellent grade on your assignment, or you can go to the info session and spend just enough time on the work that it turns out ‘good enough.'”
Dea says that it’s fine if you go into business school without concrete goals, but once you determine your priorities, it’s essential that you adjust your schedule in a way that lets you pursue them with everything you’ve got.
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
The McColl building of the UNC Kenan-Flagler school.
A herd mentality is tempting but dangerous.
Dea says that because he had so many decisions to make in a single day, he struggled with a “fear of missing out.” For example, sometimes he’d feel like all of his friends were going to a certain event and would second-guess his priorities.
You can recover from making the mistake of neglecting your work to follow your friends to an ’80s throwback party, but it’s much harder to recover from neglecting your happiness to follow your friends into a profession.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of ignoring your passions to pursue a popular career path, or to latch onto a brand name company or high salary rather than the job description. “Not everyone is meant to be an investment banker, consultant, marketer, or entrepreneur. You need to do what you want to do, and not what you think you’re supposed to do,” Dea says.
You deserve to be there. Stay confident.
Starting at a top business school is difficult. The first few months of core classes are challenging and rigorous, and your classmates are highly talented and driven people. It can all be very intimidating and discouraging, Dea tells us, “but obviously you wouldn’t be there if they didn’t think you were capable.”
There will be classes and activities that come easy for you and those that present a big challenge. “Find opportunities to show your strengths and ask for help in areas of weakness,” Dea says. Participate in class, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Business school is difficult and your classmates will be competitive, but you can handle it. Plus, Dea adds that in his experience at UNC Kenan-Flagler, business school at its best is built on teamwork and collaboration. “Everyone wants to succeed but most won’t put down someone else to get to the top, since it’s better to bring them up with you,” Dea says.
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