When Ben Thayer (Kenan-Flagler, ‘16) visited UNC Kenan-Flagler, it didn’t take much to win him over. The welcoming community and culture coupled with friendly and intelligent classmates gave Ben the confidence that he wanted to spend his time in business school in Chapel Hill. Despite the challenges that come with your first semester of business school, Ben used a focused and thought-out approach to navigate his first semester of business school, specifically, focusing on three pillars. He shares some of the tips and tricks in his piece below.
Ben Thayer (Kenan-Flagler, ’16)
Here’s what you need to know
The first semester of business school is nuts. It’s crazy. Every day brought new rewards that reminded me I made the right decision to quit my job, take on loans, and tell my friends I’d see them in May, but it was a struggle. At least once a week, I’d wake up and wonder how I was going to survive. I went to undergrad with the intention of being an engineer the rest of my life, so I had little education or experience in business. But I realized that people get MBAs for all sorts of reasons and from all sorts of backgrounds.Whenever I had a moment of doubt, I leaned on my first- and second-year classmates. As a tour guide at UNC Kenan-Flagler, I told prospective students that an MBA has three pillars: academic, social, and career. You have to build up each pillar to succeed, and I couldn’t have done it alone.
Collectively, my class was petrified of our first midterms and finals – we all wanted to succeed and validate our life choices and career aspirations. No one exam can do that, but the pressure is real. My friend Sam reached out, and a few of us blocked off time to study. Sam wanted to be a banker, so he taught me accounting, I taught him statistics, and Kristy taught us both how to review the breadth of material and navigate practice exams. On my own, I wouldn’t have had the moral support to sit still for three or four hours at a time, and together, we compared notes from different class sections to figure out what the professor really meant. When Prof Weld mentioned the Lemons Problem in his exam review session and no one knew what he was talking about, we divided up the tasks of reviewing class videos, compiling class notes, and searching through the textbook. Sure enough, it was on the exam and we all earned high marks.
While first semester exams were scary, I was downright petrified of the Activities Fair held during the first week of classes. So many cool clubs and shiny objects with which to adorn my resume, how could I choose? Of course I wanted to be a member of the Beer Club and learn how to brew beer! The Investing Club would make me a better consultant, right? And how could I live with myself without participating in the Energy Club? Too many #mbaproblems! The second years straightened me out. Najee, a second year that I’d met at Kenan-Flagler’s admitted students weekend, recommended picking one career club, one fun club, and one wildcard – his was the Cricket Club. I signed up for the Consulting Club and was chosen as a first-year liaison. My weekly meetings with Blake, the club president, gave me an invaluable window into the efforts behind the scenes to organize career events and case prep sessions. And when I was stressing out about my finance exam, Blake was one more voice reminding me that I would succeed.
UNC Kenan-Flagler divides each semester into two “mods.” Mod 1 was easier for me, as the analytical bent of the coursework matched up well with my engineering background, and I had 9:30am classes. Mod 2 was ridiculous – I really had to push myself to speak up in non-linear case discussions and learn how to pick apart different business strategies. I had 8am classes four or five days a week, career meetings, soccer practice, case interview prep, networking calls, info sessions, case competition prep, homework, emails, and social activities. And somehow I had to fit in food, sleep, and time with my spouse. You can see a typical week in October for me below.
I mentioned my three pillars of the MBA – academic, social, and career. Spend equal time on each, but take the long view. It’s okay to turn in a sub-par case write up if you were at a recruiting dinner the night before, but make sure your next case for that professor is high quality. I was tempted to focus exclusively on my classes and clubs, but it was nice to give myself some flexibility and grab some drinks on a Tuesday. Who knows, the guy or girl next to you at the bar might help you get your internship.
Set goals and remind yourself often why you’re in business school. Take risks and push yourself – you may not achieve all of your goals, but you can learn more from failure than you can from success. It’s nuts, but it’s also going to be some of the best two years of your life.