Relearning how to be a student as an MBA Candidate

Student behind pile of books

I wrote previously about the journey to realizing the MBA was the right degree for me. Even with the thought and intentionality behind my decision, I've spent the first several weeks of my first semester relearning what exactly goes into learning. Beyond the obvious things like exams and team assignments (yes, group work follows you beyond undergrad), learning the little things that accompany being a student again has been its own, distinct bit of coursework.

School does not remain at school
The most immediate lesson has required refamiliarizing myself with the way school follows me beyond the walls of Smith. Homework, exam preparation, and reviewing lecture material can consume as many hours each week as the classes themselves. Juggling schedules with my teammates for group assignments creates a workday that refuses to align to the standard 9-to-5. More importantly, though, I’ve remembered the gratification that comes from tackling a hard problem set and the way it motivates me to keep pushing as a student.

Ditch balance – seek harmony
An MBA forces everyone to assess tradeoffs and make decisions about what truly matters. Both an opportunity and a challenge, the Smith program simply provides more events, groups and potential projects than any one person can manage over the course of two years. Furthermore, every person in the program has interests, priorities, and relationships to maintain beyond their commitments as a student. Perfecting life as a student, I’ve come to learn, is not about maintaining a precise balance among these competing interests. Rather, it is about seeking harmony across the competing interests of day-to-day life and managing expectations for yourself – and your relationships – about what and where you can genuinely give on any single day.

Pay yourself first
The best piece of financial advice for any young professional is the simple mantra, “pay yourself first.” Great news for anyone considering an MBA – that lesson applies here, too. While payment as a student is not about growing your 401(k) – living on a student budget is an entirely different lesson I've relearned – it is about “depositing” in the relationships and activities that allow you to reflect and recharge. School is time-intensive, and finding harmony is crucial, but without investing in what you need as an individual to unplug, the MBA journey can feel entirely overwhelming. So, pay yourself first in order to give the degree the time and energy it deserves.

By Virginia Pierrie. Pierrie is a 2021 MBA Candidate and a Dean’s Fellow. Pierrie is originally from Raleigh, N.C., and worked for four years in corporate communications for Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York before coming to Smith.