What You Need to Know Before Starting B-School

I started my MBA journey on August 1, 2011, with no realistic idea of what to expect. I honestly cannot believe the marathon of the first semester occurred during only 4 months! It honestly has felt like forever, but in a good way. I’m sad it’s over, but excited for the remainder of the journey. Looking back, I have compiled a Top 10 List of things I learned and you NEED to know about your first semester at business school:

10. The Academics Are Hard — I came into business school with an undergraduate business degree so I figured some of the classes would be a great refresh. However, that idea was crushed the minute I saw my accounting pre-semester work. We were expected to know pretty much everything I covered in undergraduate accounting for the first class! No matter what your background, the academics will be challenging, so get back in study mode ASAP!

9. Know Your Story — You will hear this over and over and over. However, it is worth hearing one more time and preparing it before you come to school. Think about why you came to business school, what you want to gain from business school, and the type of job you want post-business school. This will help you craft that 30-second to 2-minute elevator pitch you will need when you start chatting with alumni, recruiters, or even your fellow classmates.

8. Welcome Back Social Life — I am sure many of you have been so focused on your careers that your social life hasn’t been anything like college. Well, welcome back social life. Happy hours, theme parties, movie nights, and everything in between are always available, so plan your studies accordingly so you can enjoy the fun again.

7. Save Some Money — Business school is an expensive venture, and I am sure many of you will fund it using student loans. Make sure to put a little extra aside so you have a “play fund” available. You will quickly learn your paycheck isn’t coming into your bank account every few weeks!

6. High School Math — Brush up on that high school math you thought you would never use again because you will use it. Derivatives, standard deviation, variance, squares, and all that fun stuff will come back in some form during your first few semesters on campus. The good part is pretty much every MBA program has a math refresh course you can take prior to starting school. In addition, the good part of learning the math this time is that you will actually find practical uses for it.

5. Don’t Forget To Work Out — I hope many of you are better than me. Working out ends up last on my to-do list. If you aren’t better, then become better than me. Make it a goal, habit, or task that you exercise as often as humanly possible. There will be a million things going on during the days and evenings that will be more fun and interesting. However, I promise that getting your exercise will keep you sane and healthy and allow you to cram down all that free food every night at recruiting receptions. I hope to start following this advice next term. 🙂

4. Keep In Touch With Your Past Life — It is really easy to fall into the business school trap of only focusing on all things business school. However, we each came into business school with wonderful friends and families from all over the country. Be sure to keep in touch with each and every one of them as much as you did before school and invite them to visit you (just not during your first semester)!

3. Explore Areas Outside The Business School — Sadly, I have barely seen the rest of the wonderful Duke campus. I have not even seen the main campus gym. That’s pathetic. I recommend everyone take a campus tour and really explore all the cool things the entire university has to offer. In addition, consider attending events sponsored by other schools or the larger university. It never hurts to expand your network and actually get outside of the business school bubble.

2. Go Out Of Your Way To Meet People –As in any school environment, it is very easy to make friends and form a circle of people that you socialize with and study alongside. However, the fun of going to business school is you will spend 2 years of your life surrounded by people TOTALLY different than you. Take advantage of that and meet as many people as you can. You will not only grow in your knowledge of the world but you’ll also be enriched by all the wonderful cultures and histories that your classmates bring into your life.

1. Brush Up On Teamwork — Every business school preaches the value of team work and working in teams to get through your semester. It is true … your experience will be as good as your team. Here is some advice for each of you – take a look at all the ways you are a bad team member: maybe you speak up too often or not often enough, maybe you are too aggressive or too passive – we all have some issues. Now, write those down, share them with your team early on, and allow them to help you work through those challenges. Business school is 2 years to break those bad habits and become an awesome team member. Use it. You will only work in teams the rest of your life.

Dipesh Shah

Daytime MBA, Class of 2013

I graduated from Emory University with a bachelor’s in Business Administration (BBA) with concentrations in marketing and finance. After graduating, I worked at Deloitte Consulting in the Human Capital practice. While at Fuqua, I was a member of the General Management Club, FuquaVision, and Marketing Club. I also served as a COLE Fellow and Admissions Fellow.

Learn more about Dipesh | View all of Dipesh's Posts

  • Simon Moore-Crouch

    Great blog Dipesh! About to interview for round 1 for Fuqua so hopefully have a need to re-read post an admit in February!

    • Dipesh Shah

      Simon: Good luck on your interview! I hope the blog proves helpful to you wherever you end up next year. Business school is a great experience and you will enjoy it anywhere…but probably a bit more at Fuqua. 🙂

    • Monica

      Hey Simon! Remember waaaaay back when you posted this comment? 😉

      Dipesh, I hope you’ve seen more of Durham by now. You and me could do a food tour before Spring Break….

  • Gaurav

    Hi Dipesh,

    Great post! very insightful 🙂 I am planning to apply to Duke in Round 2. I have a few questions based on the post.

    #10. The Academics Are Hard – I come from Computer Engineering field. How would you suggest I learn about accounting before the classes start(In case I get selected 🙂 )
    #9. Know Your Story – I plan to open my own venture in technology domain someday. What Fuqua programs would you suggest for me?
    #5. Don’t Forget To Work Out – Completely agree 🙂 . I love sports and now a days play badminton almost 2 hrs everyday. I have heard Fuqua is a big sports school. Do you have any courts?

    Its great to read through these blog posts from the students. I am really impressed with the information provided and the sincerity within the posts.

    -Gaurav Gupta

    • Dipesh Shah


      1) We have a wide assortment of students from all walks of life who may or may not have seen accounting before. Therefore, don’t worry about the academics too much before you are accepted. Once you’re accepted, there are some pre-program materials available to help you out. And be prepared to hit the ground running once you start!

      2) We have a great contingent of people who are super interested in high tech and the technology domain. I would say check out Fuqua’s Center for Technology, Entertainment, and Media (CTEM) as well as the High Tech Club to learn more about pursuing a career in technology at Fuqua.

      Here are the links:
      CTEM — http://www.fuqua.duke.edu/ctem/about/
      High Tech Club — http://www.fuqua.duke.edu/ctem/extended-classroom/student-clubs/

      3) There are lots of soccer fields, volleyball courts, and other sports-related facilities around campus. In addition, there are tons of teams you can join for fun through Fuqua and the larger university. Here is some information on badminton specifically: http://recreation.duke.edu/recreation/sport-clubs/list-of-sport-clubs/badminton/

      Glad to hear you are enjoying the blogs. Be sure to check out my fellow blogger’s posts and follow me on Twitter @FuquaDipesh!

      • Rachita Bhatt

        Very informative blog, Dipesh! I particularly enjoyed reading this post. As a law student at Washington University in St. Louis, I can attest to this top ten list and believe aspects of it are transferrable to many other graduate programs too. Best of luck in your endeavors; I look forward to more posts!

      • Gaurav

        Hi Dipesh,

        Thanks a lot for the information. It was indeed very helpful to me in writing the essays. I just got the email with the interview invitation on 15th Feb. Would it be possible for you to give me sometime on the weekend for a phone conversation? i would really appreciate that.

        You can reply on my mail id gaurav.gopi123@yahoo.com


  • Pingback: What You Need to Know Before Starting B-School | The YF Professional()

  • arun prakash

    Dipesh, very well said . I agree with you completely. But there are couple of points which I would like to share

    1. Before coming to Business Schools,unless you are unsure about which field you want to pursue you Business Administration ,keep yourself aware about latest ongoing of whether its finance ,technology or healthcare or which ever field seems of your interest.

    2. As discussed by you in point 10 Academics are hard, it would obviously help new joiners to have brief idea about subjects in curriculum for first semester given the diverse background everyone comes from.

    Looking forward to more posts