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Student series: Adjusting to the rigors of business school

Scheduling phone calls with mom. Keeping the “glass balls” airborne and letting the “rubber balls” bounce. And remembering to take time for yourself. These are some of the lessons learned about adjusting to the rigors of business school.

Scheduling phone calls with mom. Keeping the “glass balls” airborne and letting the “rubber balls” bounce. Saving plenty of money. And remembering to take time for yourself. These are some of the lessons learned about adjusting to the rigors of business school as the first half-year winds down for the five Consortium students we’re following as part of our occasional series.

We continue our series following these five Consortium students — from starting business school through the two-year process. In case you missed it, here’s a link to part one of the series, which ran about a month into the academic year. We’re tracking Alejandro Bolívar-Cervoni (Washington University in St. Louis); Elva Garza (Indiana University-Bloomington); Tite Jean-Pierre (University of Rochester); Tazia Middleton (University of California, Los Angeles); and Tobby Yi (Yale University).

Into today’s installment, we look at what surprised them about b-school and what they expected. How did they have to adjust as they got into the routine? And do they yet know what’s ahead for them this summer?

How has the first half-year of business school met your expectations? How has it defied your expectations?

Across the board, our students expected business school to be busy, rigorous and challenging. It’s possible they didn’t realize quite how busy, rigorous and challenging it would be. Tite recalled a conversation with a friend who had recently graduated from business school.

“She put it for me beautifully: ‘Business school is a juggling act. You are juggling multiple balls. Some are glass and some are rubber. You have to figure out which are which and adjust appropriately,'” Tite said. The glass balls can’t be dropped—period. The rubber balls? Well, they’ll bounce back if you can’t hang onto them right now.

Tobby and Alejandro shared their insight in terms of discipline. Alejandro rued the inability to spend time learning more about the St. Louis area—seeing the sites, experiencing the restaurants—but recognized the discipline to focus. Tobby noted the ability to get involved in an endless range of clubs, travel opportunities and more.

“The world is our oyster during business school,” he said. “But make sure you can handle it all. It’s an exceptional opportunity to find happiness, accomplishment, and connection that you may never would have expected.”

For Elva, she wasn’t surprised by the rigor of the work. She expected professors to push students hard. She didn’t expect them to be so nurturing. “Our professors truly have an open door policy and come on nights and weekends just to help us succeed,” she said. “Now that is love.”

What do you wish someone had told you about b-school before you started?

Here, Tobby also had interesting insight: There’s a difference between what you’re told and what you hear. “To be honest, I’ve heard it all,” he said. “But what I wish I listened to is to really reflect on who you are and what you want to do. Business school has so many avenues for expression and experience that you’ll sometimes get lost in the number of activities you can attend.”

Knowing who you are makes it possible to adjust your priorities, but it doesn’t mean you’re any less busy. Tite recalls many days leaving her house at 7 a.m. and returning at 11 p.m.

“I remember hearing time and time again that business school is a full-time job,” she said. “I never understood the magnitude of it until I was in the thick of the situation.”

For Tazia, the crush came fast. “Classwork and recruiting activities ramped up much more quickly than I expected,” she said. “It is manageable, but not without organization.”

In addition to the crush of work, Elva said she could have used more of a reality check on the financial demands of b-school. “I wish I would be told to save money,” she said. “Then, save some more! Business school comes with so many trips and extracurricular opportunities you want to take advantage of, so be financially prepared to reduce some of that unwanted stress.”

What adjustments did you have to make once you understood what b-school was really like?

For Tazia, that meant becoming very, very scheduled. “I had to get back into the habit of maintaining a detailed calendar,” she said. “Group meetings, assignments, calls to my mom—they’re all in my calendar now.”

They all agreed that a laser-focus on their calendar has helped them survive the first few months of business school.

“I really had to take a step back and think about how I allocate my time and energy,” Tobby said. “I had to come to terms that there were marginal returns to every activity. As a result, I made up a saying: YOMBAO (You Only MBA Once). It helps to remind me that I need to do everything I can to make the most of these two years.”

Alejandro noted that sanity demands attention to oneself. He enjoys cooking and uses it as an opportunity to recharge. “It is OK to relax sometimes and not feel guilty about it,” he said. Plus, the hobby has allowed him to create fellowship opportunities among his b-school colleagues by hosting pot-luck dinners and sharing favorite dishes such as Cuban picadillo (sautéed ground beef), arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), and salted caramel flan.

Do you know yet what you’ll be doing in the summer? What options are you weighing and what will be the deciding factors?

Two of our students have locked down their plans this summer with internships. Alejandro will be a brand management intern at S.C. Johnson & Son (a Consortium partner), based either in Racine, Wisc., or Chicago. “I chose this opportunity after weighing different options, paying specific attention to the daily requirements of the role, internal development, and company culture,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tite will be an associate brand management intern at Mars Inc. in the company’s pet care division in Nashville. She made site visits and interacted with numerous employees as she weighed options for her summer employment.

“A phrase that I heard many times during recruiting for business school that resurfaced through internship recruiting is ‘finding the fit/culture that speaks to you,'” she said. “Making a real impact while being developed were some of the most important factors that led to my decision to join Mars.”

Tazia and Tobby are weighing offers now. Like Tite, Tobby noted that the chance to do meaningful work is partially driving his decision.

“I am really focusing on roles that would offer me the greatest growth opportunities,” Tobby said. “The factors that are driving my decision-making are high-impact work, office locations, and a people-centered culture.

Pictured above: Elva Garza, Alejandro Bolívar-Cervoni, Tazia Middleton, Tite Jean-Pierre and Tobby Yi — the Consortium students we’re following through business school.

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