Having now spent two months at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, I’ve realized that the bulk of my expectations about business school life have been disproven by my experience. So I thought I would share a few of my initial misconceptions as well as provide some insight into the shift in my thinking.
Misconception No. 1: The touchy-feely stuff is a waste of time
While I consider group dynamics to be an important component of a team’s success, my experience has been that exercises designed solely for the purposes of team-building have typically tended toward the silly and redundant. Of course, given the value placed on these sorts of activities in the business world, I nonetheless expected them to be part of any full-time MBA program. Knowing they were merely a set of necessary hurdles I would have to overcome to receive my degree, I planned to grit my teeth and participate.
Still, there were limits to what I was willing to do, and climbing a utility pole was definitely out of the question … or so I thought. Being fully aware that a ropes course was pretty low on the danger scale did not make the idea of being suspended in the air any less terrifying. Yet, despite my resolve to avoid the “high elements” of the ropes course at all costs, I found myself by the end of the day literally climbing outside my comfort zone.
My teammates and I were all meant to cheer on one another, but given that I hardly knew the majority of the people in my group, I was not anticipating anyone challenging my decision to skip out on the day’s activities. I was wrong. My classmates were anxious for me to join them and refused to stop pestering me, until I finally agreed at least to get dressed in proper climbing gear and attempt the initial rung of the course.
Once I began to climb, I faltered on several occasions. Ultimately, I made it to the top rung. I was incredibly frightened, but as I listened to my classmates cheering for me at the top of their lungs, I felt the least I could do was respond to the exceptional level of encouragement I was receiving by attempting to be as strong as they seemed to believe I was.
In spite of the misgivings I had experienced going into the day, making it to the top of that utility pole meant something to me. It reminded me that I am braver than I give myself credit for and made me feel supported in such a way that I felt nearly invincible. Far from being pointless, the team-building exercise for which I had felt such disdain helped me enter the academic year more confident and closer to my classmates.
Misconception No. 2: I know what I want to do after business school.
When I applied to business school, I was sure I wanted to work in a brand consultancy after I earned my MBA. Then, after sending in my applications, I started learning about the stock market and even made some small investments. Wouldn’t you know? The financial markets turned out to be fascinating, and my future became newly illuminated. I needed to pursue a career in investment management.
Despite my legitimate talent for stock picking, it turned out that investment management required a really strong math background. While intuition and industry knowledge were both helpful, understanding the numbers seemed to be even more important. As there are very few investment management jobs for new MBA graduates, the likelihood that I, who had a liberal arts background, would score such an opportunity appeared to be quite low.
So it was back to brand consulting—except that brand consulting is rather a niche industry with a limited number of jobs and even fewer summer internships. While I fit the profile of a brand consultant far better than that of an investment manager, I was advised to pursue an additional specialization to ensure that I would be gainfully employed following graduation. As a natural problem-solver who enjoys a consistent flow of unique challenges, I felt management consulting was the way to go. I loved the idea of constantly working with new companies and new industries.
With this in mind, I joined the school’s Management Consulting Assn. In addition, having spent the past five years working in a Silicon Valley technology company, I decided to join the Entrepreneur Assn. As the largest association at Anderson, the Entrepreneur Assn. offers an incredible breadth of opportunities to meet business pioneers across a wide variety of industries. Unsurprisingly, after attending a few events, I found the idea of starting my own business to be increasingly attractive.
To avoid further boring my readers, I will make a long story slightly shorter. As of today, I remain uncertain about my post-graduation plans. I, like the vast majority of my classmates, find myself mesmerized by the incredible array of opportunities available to me. While challenging, it is not a bad problem to have.
Misconception No. 3: There’s no way I will really be that busy.
For anyone planning to attend business school, the debunking of this final misconception is key. All through orientation, my classmates and I were repeatedly warned how busy we would be once school started. The numbers did not add up: I was accustomed to working 40 hours per week, and I would be spending a mere 15 hours a week in class. I thought, perhaps, the second-year students and administration were trying to scare us. How busy could I be?
Yet, once again, I thought wrong. We really do seem to be that busy.
Class, individual and group work, recruiting, clubs, and social activities do not leave much time for rest and relaxation. In other words, this ride is not intended for the faint of heart. For you hearty specimens, however, who place limited value on a good night’s sleep, prepare to learn a tremendous amount and have an incredible time doing it.