The MBA is the most-sought-after graduate degree in America, beating out education, law and medicine by a wide margin. Within a large corporation, you could toss a paperclip and hit dozens of MBA-holders, many of whom are stuck in middle management despite dreams of the C-suite – and when you begin dipping your toes into entrepreneurship, you’ll find that community filled with MBAs, too. Undoubtedly, an MBA degree will help you advance into coveted management positions, but to build a successful startup, you need something else in addition to a hard-earned piece of paper.
Fortunately, it is possible to gain that something else while you earn your MBA. Here’s what you should be doing during your studies to ensure you get more than an expensive piece of paper out of your MBA program.
Find the Right School for You
No two MBA programs are identical. You can find programs that emphasize finance over marketing, programs that stress events and internships over coursework, programs that have a younger or older student body, programs popular among entrepreneurs and more. Thus, it is imperative that you do your research on potential programs before you apply and enrol.
The right program for you will vary depending on your needs and wants from your MBA. You should consider variables like course format – in-person vs. online – as well as school reputation and student body composition.
You should try to interview professors, current students and alums to understand the personalities of your prospective MBA programs. Yet, regardless of where or how you earn your MBA, you should always pay attention to accreditation. An AACSB-accredited online MBA program offers a known standard of education, so you can be certain you are getting at least the bare minimum.
Network like your life depends on it
For an entrepreneur, networking efforts should never cease. From the time you begin considering enrolling in an MBA program to long after graduation, you should be using your education as a prime opportunity to gain business contacts. Everyone from your course professors to travelling speakers to your student peers to staff in student services is worth some networking effort.
Anyone you meet in B-school could become a partner or employee at your startup – or they could know someone or offer resources that could lead to your success. You should take every chance to network, so you can come out of your MBA with a credential and a cache of valuable connections.
Put energy into your schoolwork
First and foremost, you should be pursuing an MBA for the enhanced knowledge and skill the program will provide. Therefore, you shouldn’t ignore your schoolwork in favour of participating in networking, socializing or other activities. You should make a calendar of important dates – project deadlines, exams and presentations, for example – and give yourself enough time every day to study, do homework and complete other important educational tasks.
Take advantage of student services
Most high-quality B-schools offer plenty of student services to help students succeed during and after their MBA programs. These services include libraries and tutoring centres, career counselling and placement, child care, health and wellness clinics and financial assistance. Through your tuition and fees, you are paying for all these services, so you should use them when you can. They will make your journey to your MBA much easier, and they can increase your opportunities to network.
Engage your soft skills
For entrepreneurs, soft skills are at least as important to success as hard skills. You might need to know how to code to build your tech startup’s offerings, but as the business owner and leader, it is vastly more important that you are capable of communicating well, managing your time and empowering your employees.
If you don’t naturally have the soft skills you need to succeed, you should practice them often during your MBA program. In this sandbox environment, it is less risky to experiment and fail, so you should feel more comfortable testing out new skills and abilities.
Relax — seriously
Entrepreneurship is hard, but so is earning your MBA. While you should be giving your all throughout your program, you should also get in the habit of giving yourself free time to relax and rest. Your body and mind need downtime to prevent the buildup of stress, which can seriously deteriorate your ability to retain critical information, form connections and build success. How you relax is entirely up to you, but you should be setting aside time every day to breathe, interact with loved ones and forget – just for a few moments – about your business education and your brilliant startup idea.
Your MBA will help you earn the trust of lenders and investors, but if you work to get the most from your MBA program, you will also be well-equipped to lead your startup team straight to success. When you are in the right program with the right attitude, you will flourish – even years after you graduate.