What No One Tells You About Business School

By: Ada Wan
November 10, 2012

Allow me to let you in on a little secret about business school that no one ever tells you: Business school is challenging. And yes, I would even dare use that taboo term that is anathema to my cohort of high-achieving peers—I will be the first person (perhaps in history) to admit that business school can be hard.

Sure, there are plenty of house parties, diverse networking opportunities and a steady stream of swag-toting corporate presentations to attend. Along the same lines, events like inter-cohort tugs-of-war remind me of how creative my classmates are when it comes to fun. And I won’t deny that even my teetotaling self quite enjoys dancing at GPSCY, our graduate student pub and lounge.

A Series of Firsts
Between the partying and the tug-of-war, though, lies a host of other priorities demanding to be juggled: recruiting, case competitions, industry conferences, extracurricular activities and—hard as it can be to imagine—classes. Contrary to the stereotype, real academic work actually gets done here in business school. This time, however, unlike our undergraduate days, we are balancing schoolwork with 12-plus-hour days of back-to-back commitments that come with higher stakes than, say, that idyllic summer internship we had teaching English in rural China after freshman year. For many of us, career transitions and trajectories are on the line, and those regular loan repayment e-statements from Sallie Mae certainly do not help mitigate any anxiety.

On a personal level, I will admit that I came here thinking that the academics would be, at worst, no more difficult than they had been five years ago (if I could hack it at Harvard, I reasoned, then I certainly could handle Yale). For the first time in 27 years, though, I have a tutor for class. Other notable firsts include getting sick a record-breaking three times in three months, presumably from not getting enough sleep, as well as scoring below the median on a final exam. (When I first received that spreadsheet modeling score, I am pretty sure I double-checked “median” in the dictionary just to confirm my relative performance.)

The Course You Didn't Pay For: Life Lessons 201
In addition to these firsts, however, there are a host of others, such as skills that I never thought a die-hard humanities major and former social-worker-to-be would pick up: I can now use Excel to determine the optimal product mix within a given set of constraints and intelligibly decipher a 10K without my eyes glazing over. Truth be told, I don’t think I have ever digested so much new information so quickly.

But, perhaps more importantly, for the first time in my life, I have learned the valuable lesson of how to ask for and truly accept help—something I could not have imagined doing prior to business school because, well, I never thought I really needed it, for one, and my pride would have been loath to allow it. Moreover, when I do ask for help, I often am surprised to discover how ready the community here is to give it.

For example, after a particularly difficult personal event last week (no, it was not scoring below the median, in case you are wondering), a few fellow first-year’s braved the post-hurricane debris to make sure I would not have to process the event alone. Similarly, when confiding in both first- and second-years, I find that I am not the only one who is finding first semester more challenging than I had anticipated.

For the Intrepid Few
So, for the few first-year’s who may have made it to the end of what turned out to be a tome of a post, if you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, then please know that you are far from being alone.

As for the rest of you, the prospective students reading this blog, get ready to learn a lot more than you bargained for—but in a good, character-building way, I promise.                                

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About the author

Ada Wan

Internship: Google