Such humble beginnings.
Congratulations! You’ve just been accepted to a Top-20 business school. You worked like crazy on your GMAT prep to hit the right score range, you sweated through the applications and the essays after countless edits with your admissions consultant, you made it through the interviews intact, and you just got the proverbial fat envelope in the mail…err, fat message in your inbox. Now is a great time to give yourself a bit of a break – after all, you’ve earned it.
If you can make it through the next few months without a steady paycheck, you may want to consider leaving your current employer – this time can be a great chance to ease your foot off the pedal a bit before the whirlwind b-school experience hits you like a Category 5 hurricane come Labor Day.
Once you’ve backpacked through the Himalayas, surfed the remote beaches off the Peruvian Coast, and thoroughly contemplated the sound of one hand clapping, though, you may naturally start feeling antsy again: You know you’ll be heading back into the classroom soon enough, but might not be sure how to best prepare. Especially if you’re entering business school from a non-traditional career path (basically, anything other than finance or consulting), it’s natural to wonder about this. With the next few months of (hopefully) free time ahead of you, I want you to think about these things, in order:
Excel. Learn it. Love it. Be it. If your current familiarity/knowledge with Excel is basically described by this statement: “It’s something that I can type words and numbers into, just like Word, but it arranges them in a neat grid system instead of a blank page,” then you need to step your game up a bit. How do I know that? Because that quite aptly described my knowledge of spreadsheets on the eve of my b-school career. At a very basic level, you should know how to enter formulas into cells. You should be able to quickly sum columns or rows of data, and how to fill down rows or across columns in order to avoid the need to repetitively hand-jam basic info needed for data entry. Once you’ve done that, step it up by learning the formulas for things like mean, median, and standard deviation. If you’re completely starting from scratch, like I was, consider investing an afternoon in YouTube videos, a Dummies guide, or an Excel tutoring session to get you up to that 101 level. A single stress-free afternoon devoted to this purpose could literally save you dozens of hours next fall (and trust me, your hours will be in much shorter supply then!)
Statistics. If you had a Statistics class undergrad, or you crunch data as part of your daily grind, you’re off the hook here. However, if you stayed away from those sorts of classes in college in order to read Chaucer under a tree, you need to build a grasp of stats before Day 1. Seriously. Again, take it from a liberal arts major who really was that guy, with no clue how to find a standard deviation from a variance from a subway stop when the first bell rang. Again, this doesn’t require you to split the atom – if you can work your way through an Intro to Stats guide, curl up for some quality time with Sal Khan, or spring for an few sessions with a stats tutor who’s been there, done that, and maybe even run a regression to prove it – the payoff will be tremendous. Yes, yes, your course of instruction will “assume no prior knowledge” and “start from the basic building blocks” but that might mean going from crawling to running before you get a chance to master walking.
Economics. Similar themes as the ones above. If you haven’t seen the stuff since the AP class you slept through as a carefree, second-semester senior (as in, the 12th-grade variety of senior) then this means you. Google around for a Principles of Microeconomics or an Applied Macroeconomics syllabus. Make sure you’re familiar with all the major buzzwords, concepts, and graphs. Otherwise, follow the steps above from Sections 1 and 2 – get to know an economics tutor, take “The Wealth of Nations” to the beach this summer, and read the Wall Street Journal for more than just the occasional op-ed or international story.
Accounting. The only reason I ranked this fourth is because the bar of expectation here is set a bit lower than it is for the other subjects. Compared to the aforementioned core competencies, Accounting is a subject that relatively few of your peers will have seen – let alone done – before b-school, so if a ’10-k’ sounds like something you regretted running after a night of partying, or if a ‘write-off’ sounds like a pen-and-paper version of a freestyle battle, you’re probably okay. But if you want to be fully ready to rock and/or roll on Day 1, some background here would certainly help round you out, too. As with the other subjects, the payoffs will come not just during your first semester, but throughout your time in school.