1. Learning occurs both inside and outside of the classroom

I realized after my first semester that business school provides much more than academic classroom learning. Learning takes place in nearly every aspect of life at HBS. 

The section experience provides a daily way to connect and learn from classmates - not only in class but also between classes and at section events. The school also draws myriad speakers who share topics they are passionate about, constantly expanding my learning in new areas. 

Through courses like FIELD you learn skills for working productively on team projects, time management, feedback and coaching, and creating a community among diverse people. Second year, working on an independent project requires you to learn in a different, self-motivated way. While important, things like reading financial statements will be just one of many takeaways from HBS. 

2. You will be forced out of your comfort zone daily

Each day in class, you will take a position on a variety of choices presented in case studies. HBS requires you to defend that position while being open to critically listening to opposing views. This is the best test of public speaking and debate skills, and it’s something that you will continue to refine each day. 

In the first year we spent a lot of time giving and receiving feedback, even videotaping and watching ourselves in action. While extremely uncomfortable, those sessions provided a safe space for me to step outside of my comfort zone and practice something new.

3. Time is limited – it’s important to define individual priorities and goals

People come to business school for many reasons, including academics, networking, and career transitions. It is easier to manage your time (and not let your schedule overwhelm you!) if you have created a list of priorities and reasons for being at business school before you start. For each decision or trade-off that you make, this list helps you correctly allocate your time. 

For me, coming to HBS was about making a career switch. When deciding between attending an interesting company presentation or attending an academic review session, I chose the company presentation knowing that this choice aligned with my priorities. It helps to make those tough trade-off decisions a little easier.

4. You will not be the only person who did not take finance or accounting as an undergrad

On the first day at HBS, our professor asked if we were “bullish” or “bearish” on the company in the case study. Having no idea what those terms meant, I had to restrain myself from getting up, giving up, and leaving the classroom out of embarrassment. After getting over that shock and sharing this fear with some sectionmates, I was surprised to hear that others shared my fear. 

This group of people became my study group and we pushed through the quantitative material together. It helped us learn these new concepts in a smaller space before getting to class. Even those who had finance experience were willing to help, and I discovered that I had different experience and knowledge that they were lacking. The environment is such where everyone has a specific background that they can share with others, and I share my operations knowledge with those who lacked it.

5. It provides a truly transformational experience

Making the choice to come to business school is difficult for many because it feels like a “time-out” from advancing careers. However, the two years are a chance to take a quick detour to explore areas and interests that you may never get the chance to otherwise. 

These two years provide time to expand your view and explore new passions. For example, I have been able to explore my interest in health care and learn a lot more about the industry than I had time for while working. I have also been able to create an extremely diverse network that will last a lifetime. And last, but not least, I have developed a strong group of friends that I know I will share my biggest life experiences with for years to come because of the closeness we developed through our shared experience during our time in business school.