MBA Orientation Survival Guide
The real business of classes is still ahead of you, but first you've got a week of orientation. A time for fun and games, right? No way. You'll be hit over the head with so many career sessions, workshops, and social events-many of them mandatory-that your head will spin. "School begins when orientation begins," says Nayla Bahri, assistant dean of student life at Columbia Business School. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of the week.
Get Organized Early. You're starting a two-year stint in a new city. You need the basics: furniture, a phone, cable TV. Word to the wise: don't plan to do all this during orientation. "Even though we give students lots of notice and guidance, some still spend orientation worrying about when their mattress will be delivered," says Bahri. "Take care of housekeeping in advance."
Network Your Butt Off. Even though orientation days are long, don't take the end of sessions as a cue to kick off your shoes and veg out. Sure, you'll be overloaded with casework, information, and classes during orientation. But meeting your peers, the faculty, and the staff is every bit as important. "Developing those relationships on the front end helps your entire B-school experience," says Consuela Sawyers, associate director of admissions for the MBA program at the Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate School of Management. The social demands of orientation will probably take you away from your spouse, partner, or children. Best to call ahead to give those nearest and dearest a sense of how much they'll be seeing you that week. The good news: some schools have programs for partners during orientation, allowing family members to connect with others in similar situations.
Pencil In a Career Goal. Yes, you have some time to figure out what you're going to do with that $80,000 degree. But you'll be offered a number of orientation sessions devoted to specific careers. Focusing in on your career goals will help you pick and choose. "There were so many sessions [at orientation], you couldn't go to everything," says Duncan Smith, a student at UCLA's Anderson School of Management. "Being able to narrow down my interests really helped me make the most of my time."
Be Selective. Orientation week is all about information overload. You're hit with a mountain of data on classes, programs, administrative services, and social opportunities. The trick is to home in on the information that answers your own needs and concerns. In the words of Fran Langewisch, assistant dean of student services at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, "Just focus on the resources you need to think about so you'll be able to find the right information."
MBA Jungle, August 2008