A little over one year ago, I finished up my final coursework for my MBA from Babson College. The program I completed was the Fast Track MBA. For two years, I was part of a cohort of 88 classmates who met face-to-face every six weeks on Fridays and Saturdays, while also completing weekly assignments, discussions and attending lectures online. On average I spent about 20 hours a week studying and fulfilling the requirements for the Babson Fast Track MBA, while continuing to spend my normal 50+ plus hours a week working full-time.
Of course no discussion of the Babson MBA is possible without discussing Entrepreneurship. Babson has been ranked as the #1 MBA program for Entrepreneurship for 16 17 consecutive years ahead of other schools like Harvard, Stanford and Wharton. And as you might imagine Entrepreneurship is hard-wired into every course and almost every discussion. It goes far beyond just learning how to spell the word.
Usually when most people hear the word Entrepreneurship they immediately think about people starting their own business, and yes that is a part of it. But at its core Entrepreneurship is about opportunity recognition and taking advantage of those opportunities. Every good business school will spend time teaching Porter’s Five Forces, among other things, but Babson really makes you think about each of those forces – internally and externally - and how they will apply to a variety of situations and to companies small, medium and large. Whether its starting a business or trying to initiate a new project internally at your current company, Babson really prepares you to analyze a situation, make actionable recommendations and then execute on those recommendations.
In no particular order here is some advice for incoming Babson Fast Track Students, most of which will also apply to Babson’s other MBA programs and to MBA students at any school.
- Buy lots of 3-ring binders preferably in 1 1/2″ or larger sizes. Babson uses the case method of study so you read and prepare a lot of cases for each class which are most easily dealt with by filling them in 3-ring binders. In addition each course has a course packet of supplemental reading as well as last minute notes and background info. Besides three-ring binders, buy one of those $25 heavy duty 3-hole-punches that make a slightly larger hole and can punch through about 30 sheets of paper in one shot. You’ll be glad you did.
- Get to know Excel fast, especially if you don’t have a number crunching background. As an IT guy I thought I knew how to navigate Excel well enough but I primarily used Excel for sorting and displaying information and simple database work. I had to learn through painful trial and error how to set up financial statements, how to translate and transcribe formulas written on paper into the computer. The real lessons were in learning how to set up decision trees and the higher order statistical analysis required when performing operational assessments with case data. In addition get comfortable with automating as much as you can in Excel – the time savings are well worth the effort.
- Trust your team. Teamwork is just as important, if not more so, in B-school as it is in sports or in business. You will spend plenty of hours working with your classmates in small groups completing assignments on deadline. You can’t do it all yourself and you have to learn to delegate tasks and trust that they will be done. If you can’t do this, your time in B-school will be painful and you’ll miss out on some of the key lessons.
- Get to know your classmates. The Fast Track admissions process is rigourous and designed to create a balanced cohort with professionals from a variety of backgrounds. It’s amazing how much I learned from my classmates that wasn’t covered in class and that I was able to put to use at work from day 1. Seriously if you don’t want to know your classmates why bother getting an MBA? The opportunity to get to know people on a professional and personal basis from a variety of companies in a wide variety of roles is unique and if you don’t take advantage of it you are missing out on a significant portion of your MBA.
- Leverage everything Babson has to offer. Babson has so many resources that it can take pages to list them all. The Library maintains a large selection of new books on business, culture, fiction and non-fiction. New books come in every month and they provide great leavening to the classroom material. Beyond books the library’s databases, information services and access to research reports is extensive – you probably can’t name a service or periodical they don’t subscribe to. The Career Counseling and Development office is great, be sure to take advantage of the executives-in-residence – all of whom are great sources of advice and insight. Whatever your business interest – Clean Energy, Social Media, Finance, Venture Capital, Start-ups, and so on – Babson has resources dedicated to it. Use them and you’ll be better off for it.
- Ask for help when you need it, and you will need it at some point. If you don’t need help at some point in the program you aren’t challenging yourself enough. The MBA is a time to challenge yourself and get outside of your comfort zone. Are you a great marketer? Then you should take more finance and accounting electives. Can you crunch numbers in your sleep, maybe its time for some marketing classes. Ultimately the MBA is what you make of it and the harder you push yourself now, the more dividends it will pay down the road.
- Get out of Dodge, or to be more specific get out of Olin Hall and go on an off-shore course. Babson offers a variety of classes which allow you to attend lectures in other countries as well as meet with local business leaders and build your professional network. This experience is invaluable. Several of my classmates used their off-shore course to establish contacts for immediate business projects. I can’t speak highly enough about taking an off-shore course. If possible take two – they are that good. I know my Russia course was invaluable and I wish I had taken a second off-shore course.
- Stay on campus when you have classes. Even if you live locally consider spending Friday nights at the Executive Center on Campus. It’s a great way to get to know the students coming in from out-of-state and it helps eliminate distractions. Although I only live about an hour away from campus not having to drive home on Friday nights only to then turn around and drive right back first thing Saturday mornings was a huge time-saver. I was able to finish up any homework with teammates Friday evenings after class as well as socialize with my fellow classmates. The cost is actually fairly small when compared to the overall cost of your MBA.
- Talk to your professors. Seriously. The faculty at Babson have deep roots in business with most of them maintaining active consultancies helping them gain and maintain current knowledge and networks while getting them out of the proverbial Ivory Tower of Academia. Take advantage of their knowledge and advice and don’t hesitate to ask them questions. The professors are professors because they want to help people learn.
10. Work hard. I shouldn’t have to say this but properly done the MBA is hard work. Don’t just read a case and learn the facts, anyone can do that – read between the lines of the case and think about what isn’t said. Look at the appendixes and attachments to the case. Crunch some numbers, do some ratio analysis even if the case is a management case. The MBA, unlike many undergrad experiences, is about more than just reciting facts. When you properly prepare a case you should be able to summarize the facts, analyze the information and make recommendations with supporting evidence. The quality of the supporting evidence is what separates a hasty preparation from thoughtful preparation.
11. Have Fun. School is blast and learning is fun. It really is. Sure you’ll work hard (see #10 above) but hopefully you’ll be able to have fun while you do it. (see #3 and #4). The Fast Track MBA feels like a marathon at times – but like marathon runners you do get an endorphin high as you look back on your achievements while in the program. The shared misery is a bonding experience far deeper than you realize. The MBA in general, and the Fast Track MBA specifically, is much like boot camp in that it is a shared touchstone for all alumni. You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked before but afterwards you’ll look back on what you’ve accomplished and realize how much more you can accomplish in the future.
Hopefully this list will be helpful to you. I know I keep revisiting lessons learned from the program and leveraging them in new ways on a regular basis. Do you have your MBA? What advice did I miss? Are you about to go to Babson – if so let me know what questions you may have. -t