When John Huang came to Ross, he quickly learned that business school would not be the 2 year vacation some proclaim it to be. While his first semester got chaotic, John relied on the relationships he built with his classmates, his ability to prioritize, and finding personal time. He shares his lessons below.
Name: John Huang
School: University of Michigan (Ross)
Post-MBA Employer: Wal-Mart (Finance & Strategy)
Here’s what you need to know
The first semester is chaotic. You get lulled into dreaming about all the fun you will have as an MBA while on summer vacation before school. Then everything hits you all at once as soon as day one starts. Class, social activities, club events, recruiting, and even sleep will all be vying for time on your calendar. It was an exciting time for me as I was thrown in a new environment with 500 other awesome students. However, it was also very stressful as there is no guide or roadmap to being an MBA. You are going to feel pressured to meet everyone and to attend everything right off the bat. I know I did because I wanted to make a good impression and knew that relationships were the foundation to a great MBA experience during and after business school.
To survive business school it is all about prioritization. After your first year I had a pretty good idea of what was most important to me and could set a schedule to my priorities. First semester is all about figuring out these priorities and you’ll start to make trade-offs. For example, I had some classmates that were really big on social life during the first semester which meant late nights out and less productive hours focused on recruiting and classes. I mean who could blame them. It was football season, great weather, and the first time many of my classmates had experienced a real college environment like Ann Arbor.
Meanwhile my priority was recruiting since I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do for my internship so my calendar is full of on-campus recruiting events as well as calls with people from off-campus companies I was interested in. While I did do my fair share of social events, I did my best to be home by midnight on weekdays and to block off my Sundays to catch up on tasks. I also joined way too many student clubs as a way to get involved and help with recruiting. I ended up dropping most of them except for Marketing Club and Retail and Luxury Goods club as I whittled down my internship interests.
Admittedly emphasis on classes was not my top priority first semester. Yes it was part of the reason why I was paying all this money to attend B-school but recruiting required more hours that I thought and getting that internship was more important. My tip here is pick 1-2 classes to really focus on and maybe coast on the other classes. You can always make it up in taking additional classes later on! Trust me you’ll forget most of the things you learn in the first semester by year two anyways.
There are a lot of highs and lows during the first semester for me. I really enjoyed finding like-minded and motivated individuals to surround myself with. In fact I worked on a business idea with a few new classmates and entered it into a startup pitch competition for fun. As for lows I felt drifting further away from my life before business school. Business school becomes its own bubble. You find less time to connect with people outside of this world and people that aren’t exposed to the MBA life can’t relate to much of what is going on in your life. As a testament to this I saw many relationships end by the time Thanksgiving rolled around. That’s not to say that you can’t keep up with your previous life. It just requires much more work and has to be a priority.
What did keep me sane throughout my first semester and the rest of my time in business school was my passion for CrossFit and fitness. I started CrossFit two years prior to business school and made a commitment to maintain my workouts. During the first semester this meant getting up at 5:30 am in the dark and walking a mile to catch a 6:00 am workout. Once my schedule changed in the second semester I was able to do afternoons after classes. For that hour I could forget all of the stress that came with an MBA and just focus on beating that guy next to me for an extra rep or a better time on a workout. As a bonus I didn’t put on the extra weight from all the alcohol and unhealthy food that comes with life as a student. What was really great is that I had a group of 20 other classmates that would join me for workouts and it became a community for us to cheer each other on and become better athletes.
In your first semester you don’’t get as much flexibility in your schedule when it comes to classes which I think is good because it adds predictability in an otherwise crazy environment. I admit this schedule different as I am a night owl and I was determined to have a workout every day which meant doing it in the morning because afternoons and evenings are never free.
- 5:30 AM – Wake Up
- 6 -7:30 AM – Workout & Breakfast
- 8 AM – Arrive to School
- 8:00AM -10AM – First Class
- 10-12 AM – Second Class
- 12 – 2 PM – Lunch, Catchup on Email, Group Meetings
- 2 – 4 PM – Third Class
- 4 – 5 PM – Group Meeting, Club Activities, or Homework
- 5 – 7 PM – Recruiting Events or Group Meetings
- 7 – 8 PM – Dinner, Catch Up on Email and Personal Life
- 8 – 11:30 PM – Social Event or Homework
- 11:30 PM – Pass Out with Exhaustion in Bed
The students at Ross really love their social events so the weekends are a different story. Basically after 5 pm on Thursday until Sunday morning was dedicated to football games, brunch, trips, big events, and recovering. I don’t even drink alcohol and my entire weekends were spent with getting to know my classmates. This is where you will have your best memories and build relationships that will mean so much after you graduate.
Here are a few things that will help you survive business school from my experience:
- Own Sunday – How productive you are on Sunday will make or break your following week. Many of us are natural procrastinators that put things off until the last day of the week. Group meetings also tend to be popular on this day. NFL games, hangovers, brunch, and Sunday night shows will threaten to sabotage this critical day of the week. Oh and at any point if you run across friends prepare to spend 30 – 60 min recapping the weekend instead of working. Plan accordingly and go hide somewhere to do work.
- How to Speak in Class – Few things to know about when you are speaking in class. First is don’t feel the need to sound smart and prove yourself in front of your classmates. You come off sounding like a jerk. Just answer the question like a normal human. Second thing is to actually have an original thought or opinion when answering. Just repeating the same facts that everyone else read in the case adds no value. Explain why you came to your conclusion and be prepare to defend it. That’s how you get respect.
- Grades Aren’t that Important – Goes back to priorities and tradeoffs. In my opinion time is better spent recruiting and building relationships with people. Getting a better letter grade in a class doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Obviously you want to make the most out of your MBA and soak up as much knowledge along the way as possible. However, just remember that most recruiters don’t care about your GPA and you are surrounded by the smartest people in the world so being average in class isn’t a bad thing so stop stressing. Also don’t treat all classes equal. Spend more time on classes that are interesting and helpful and less time on others.
- GroupMe and When2Meet – Using these two tools will save you thousands of emails and hours on coordinating group meetings.
- Schedule Me Time. You are guaranteed to get overwhelmed and exhausted in your first semester. It helps to actually plan weekend trips or even day trips outside of school to take a break from it all.