Five Ways to Prepare For Your MBA

Inspiring's picture

Heather Baker is founder and CEO of TopLine Comms, an integrated communications and video agency based in London. An award-winning business blogger and proud dog owner, she is active within the UK chapter of the Entrepreneur’s Organisation and has previously served as its President and Communications Chair.

Heather holds an MBA from London Business School and an MA from the University of Cape Town. 

The MBA (Masters of Business Administration) has long been considered a must-have for anyone looking to run a business. I can’t speak to whether or not the qualification is essential, but – having started my company two years before beginning the degree – I can say with some confidence that it helps. 

The effect of completing my Executive MBA at London Business School was truly transformative: I went from making a decent, if unspectacular, profit to owning and operating a thriving agency thanks (in some part) to what I learned during my studies. 

That said, there’s no denying that the two-year course requires a significant commitment of time, effort, and energy. If you’re an international student looking to enrol on a UK course, you’ll also need to figure out how to adjust to an entirely different (and frequently strange) culture. 

But it’s worth remembering that you’re not alone; in fact, 86% of those studying for MBAs are from outside the country. If you prepare correctly, you can not only negative any “home advantage”, but also be better placed to cope with the gruelling requirements of the course than your peers. Of course, it’s worth knowing what you need to prepare for first. 

1. Study before you study. 

During the MBA application process, you’ll be asked to complete a test that assesses your logic, reasoning, writing, and numerical skills (amongst others). This will naturally require some practice. If English isn’t your mother tongue you may want to take an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) or English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) course: unfortunately, it’s not possible to take the exam in your preferred speech.     

It might seem a little frustrating to study for the right to study, but universities have to reject more applicants than they accept, and it’s an essential way of winnowing the field down to those who are most likely to succeed. Passing the test – usually the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) but sometimes the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) – tells the institution that you’re ready for the rigours of postgraduate study. Treating it as such is a good first step. 

2. Get ahead of your reading list. 

The list of set texts an MBA student receives can be fairly terrifying, so the successful ones tend to be bookworms – and bookworms certainly aren’t guaranteed success. Speaking as someone with a fraying, shelf-worn Kindle: the required reading is that intense. 

Before you arrive, it’s worth familiarising yourself with as many of these texts as possible – at least enough to cover your first few weeks of lectures and seminars. It may seem like a hassle when you’ve likely got a lot else to worry about, but it’ll be worth it – both in an academic sense, and in the name of preserving your sanity. 

Get a list of set texts and dive in! 

3. Get as much practical experience as you can.  

You’ll learn a lot during your MBA, but theory is no substitute for experience. In fact, the academic portion of the course is really only one of many benefits you can receive – if you’re willing to take the initiative. 

Running my own company before doing the MBA was undeniably difficult, but because I did, I got a lot more out of the course than I otherwise would have. It was far easier to see how the lessons learned in lectures and seminars could be applied in real life, and it was extremely valuable to hear what my professors and peers had to say about my business model.  

Some have dropped the requirement, but most MBAs still mandate a minimum of three years’ full-time work experience. Even if you hit the threshold, don’t stop. It’s possible to start a business with nothing more than a desk table and a laptop. It might not amount to anything, but the knowledge you’ve gained will – and don’t stop once you start the course. 

Being a daytime CEO and a night-time student is tough, but there’s nothing like being able to apply best practice the day after you learn about it.

4. Network.

“Network” shouldn’t be a verb, but this is the world we live in, and if you want to make the most out of your MBA, you’re going to have to deal with it – both the verb thing, and the actual business of networking. 

Bill Gates got away with being socially awkward because he was Bill Gates. Steve Jobs got away with being an abrasive jackass because he was Steve Jobs. Everyone else – and especially those trying to become business leaders in their own right – needs to get along with people. A killer product is usually nothing if you don’t have the right connections. 

MBAs provide a golden opportunity to build up a thick book of contacts, and if you’re afraid to talk to strangers, you won’t take advantage of it. Remember that everyone else is in exactly the same position as you, and many will be exactly as nervous as you. The secret is confidence – or being able to convincingly fake it. 

5. Work out a schedule and stick to it. 

 My MBA involved 62 days of lectures and 246 hours of study time over two years. Fitting study around work – and fitting everything else around study – isn’t easy, but it’s doable (and necessary, if you want to keep hold of your sanity). 

Budget your time strictly. Build your schedule around the immovable things (work, lectures, and seminars) and account for the extracurriculars: events, meetups, after-school drinks – whatever will help you get ahead or strengthen your bonds with your fellow students. If your circumstances dictate that you need more time than you seem to have (for example, if you have work, study, and children to figuratively juggle) it may be worth doing a part-time MBA. 

Whatever you do, leave time for some semblance of a personal life. There are things worth sacrificing for an MBA – weekends, money, certain preconceptions about the way the business world actually works – and things that aren’t. Never compromise on your studies or your wellbeing. 

Share with friends