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What Do You Need to Succeed?
What skills does an MBA student need? While students entering business school have tremendously different sets of skills, all students need at least a minimal amount of proficiency in certain areas. Without these abilities, you'll have a hard time adjusting to the b-school world. So what are they?
It has been said that mathematics is "the language of business." But many MBA programs are moving away from the heavily analytical approaches that predominated several years ago and are giving increased emphasis to the "soft" areas of communication and interpersonal skills. That said, the quantitative elements of business studies have not gone away.
The actual level of mathematical knowledge that you'll need varies widely from program to program. Some schools expect you to have studied statistics before entering the program. Some will expect you to use calculus on a regular basis. Generally speaking, you should certainly feel comfortable with college algebra and brush up your quantitative skills if they're rusty.
It's a tech world out there
In an ongoing effort to adapt to technological change, almost all business schools have integrated personal computers into their programs. Many schools will require you to have your own laptop. The extent to which you'll be expected to use a computer will vary from program to program, but you should make an effort to have at least a minimum comfort level with word processing, spreadsheets, and databases before starting school. You may want to check with the schools you're interested in to find out the hardware and software specifications.
Are you a team player?
One of the ways schools are mimicking the business environment in their academic programs is in the use of student teams. As corporations have increasingly turned to teams to work on projects and to solve problems, MBA programs have converted an increased share of course work from individual work to team work. Many programs now incorporate training in teambuilding somewhere in the program — either as part of new student orientation, in team building workshops, or as a topic in organizational behavior courses.
Teams may be formed for the purpose of one project in one course or they may remain together for months, working on multiple courses. In the often competitive environment of MBA programs, the cooperation required of teams doesn't always come naturally. Since team work is almost always time consuming, students in schools that use teams may find that activities and even policies on work during the academic year reflect the heavy time commitment of working with others.
The fundamentals of business are taught in every MBA degree program. Accounting, economics, finance, organizational behavior, marketing, statistics, and operations form the primary business disciplines and skills and are in the expected repertoire for any MBA. How and when students cover the basic skills varies, however. In most programs these subjects will be taught in a group of core courses required of every student. These core courses consume most or all of the first year of study in a two-year fulltime program. In some programs, students who have a prior background in business can be exempted or waived from some or all of the core courses, on the basis of either a special examination or an evaluation of the undergraduate transcript.
Some programs regard a few areas as background knowledge and expect you to have learned the material before you start your graduate program. Statistics, economics, and accounting often fall in this group. When you're comparing the length of programs and calculating time to degree, be sure you remember to consider any program prerequisites. (Calculus and computer skills are also common prerequisites for MBA programs.)
Other programs take another approach, offering the core courses within the structure of the program but requiring this course work only of those students who have not mastered it previously. If your program has two tiers, with different entrance points—for students with undergraduate degrees in business and those with degrees in nonbusiness areas—you may be exempted from some or all of the first year of the program if you were an undergrad business major.
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