Entries in Theme #1 Getting In is the First Foothill (8)

Math Prep Goals for Yale EMBA

Linda Craib writes in her BusinessWeek MBA Journal  about her plans to boost her quantitative skills before entering Yale's executive MBA program:

Because I'm a woman who has had an nontraditional path to business school, I am spending the next year of my life strengthening the quantitative skills I need to become a business leader. With degrees in nursing and art history, this time leading up to Yale provides me with a wonderful opportunity to further prepare academically. My goal for the coming year is to see the beauty of mathematics beyond simple calculation.

Brush Up Your Quant Skills for McCombs

David Thanairongroj, a first year at McCombs School of Business at University of Texas in Austin offers tips to prospective MBAs in his BusinessWeek MBA Journal about prioritizing their efforts during the application process and in the period between being admitted and arriving on campus, including these comments about quantitative preparation:

While waiting for your acceptance letter, one extra tip I highly recommend for non-business majors, even if you're an engineer and are good with numbers, is to take a financial accounting, managerial accounting, and finance class at a local university or community college before school starts. More than likely, you will already be at a disadvantage against a third of your smart classmates who have business degrees. I can guarantee that you'll be better off having some background in these courses rather than learning this material for the very first time in a very fast-paced environment.

Prep Goals: Comfort, Efficiency, and Proficiency

Here are some comments from a Tuck first year that should provide some pointers to prospective students who are willing to prepare but want some help prioritizing their efforts.  I particularly like the emphasis on efficiency and the difference between going to bed at midnight and 2 AM. 

My Background: I have a science background, majored in biology and psychology at Middlebury College, and following that worked in market research, then consulting in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries.

Here are my two cents:

If you are somewhat of a poet, or even if you have seen this stuff before but haven’t touched it in years, preparation before diving into a full-time MBA program can be incredibly useful. Given the time pressures of the first term, spending an hour here and there over the summer before starting your program will go a long way. Here’s what was most useful for me:

  • Familiarizing myself with the basics. You can’t expect to remember specific formulas and all of the mechanics, but to gain or revitalize a basic understanding of excel modeling, the time value of money (e.g. discounting cash flows, annuities, perpetuities, etc.), statistics, implications of supply and demand, etc. will significantly pay off. Remember, though, that no one problem is the same, and therefore no solution is identical to the next. It’s not about memorizing formulas or finding out all the answers, but rather it’s about gaining some comfort, efficiency, and proficiency in how to approach problems and how to employ some simple tools to aid you in rational decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Building the toolkit. Learning simple excel formulas can help cut down the time it takes to solve problems. You may understand how to work financial formulas, but learning to do so quickly in excel can save enormous amounts of time in the long-run. It’s the difference of going to bed at midnight and 2am. Trust me.
  • Stress. We all know the first semester of business school can be stressful, but what amazes me is how easily that stress can be countered. Just taking the time to become comfortable with the basics before you start gives you confidence to excel and one less thing to think about. The mechanics become second nature, and any preparation you’ve done allows you to focus on the big picture – which of course is most important.

Advance Preparation Suggestions

Here are some advance preparation suggestions from a first year at Tuck from the start of winter term.

Coming to Tuck I knew I had strong quantitative skills, but felt that I did not have the necessary background in Accounting and Capital Markets in particular. I would recommend to any student coming to a school such as Tuck to take full advantages of the opportunities available to get up to speed prior to starting the course.

One reason for this is that the core curriculum is so intense that any head start that you have can only make life easier. For this reason I both utilized the materials sent out by Tuck over the summer and attended Math Camp.

I was surprised by just how large a percentage of some of the courses is outlined in the materials. For example, the summer reading on Microeconomics gave background for virtually the whole course. Math Camp backed up a lot of the summer material and also helped to "clear the cobwebs" in a more formalized classroom setting. It introduced a whole range of topics I had not studied before and was specifically tailored for the Tuck course to ensure the information was relevant.

Some concepts which we spent a whole session studying in Math Camp were not even discussed in class once term had started, as their understanding was assumed. For example, I had never used Net Present Value before Math Camp, but was soon using the principle in my regular class homework with ease.

I would also recommend that anyone concerned about their quant skills should look at the Syllabus for their school (Tuck has the syllabus for each course on-line) to get a feel for the topics and material likely to be covered.

I believe that, between them, the summer materials, Math Camp and mbamath.com gave me an excellent grounding in the quant required to be successful at a top business school.

Another Quant Perspective from Tuck

My background:

I was a political science and international relations major in college and worked for the Federal government as a legislative aide in Congress. Thus, I had little quantitative background besides the beyond basic statistics and economics before coming to Tuck.

Getting In is the First Foothill, Not the Mountain –

This is absolutely true. While you should take some time before starting business school to relax, you should also prepare yourself for what will likely be a more rigorous course load than you experienced in college. It can be a shock – especially if you don’t have much experience with economics, statistics, accounting, and finance.

Protect Your Investment by Arriving Prepared

You are spending too much time, energy, and money on business school to risk failing. Preparation and some familiarity with the material will go a long way in helping you stay afloat in difficult and fast-paced classes.

Know Thyself: Confidence is King

Many people are intimidated by their classmates’ intellect and resumes. Don’t be. You were accepted to the same school, so don’t sell yourself short just because your classmates are impressive. This sounds simple ahead of time, but when classes are difficult and people begin to panic, it’s easy to lose confidence.

Summer Before B-School is Chaotic

Yes, you’re going through a big transition, but take the time to travel and relax. You won’t have this kind of opportunity for a long time, so take advantage now. At the same time, many people overspent during the summer and were struggling until loans came. Remember that (if you’re going to school full-time), you don’t have an income anymore, so you should probably adjust your lifestyle. Easier said than done, I know.

"Knowing About" Is Not "Knowing How"

I had heard about bonds but couldn’t price them and didn’t know what the Wall Street Journal indexes really meant. Let’s just say my paper thin knowledge of financial markets was passed over in the first 10 minutes of capital markets. Don’t convince yourself you know a topic because you’ve heard something about it.

Bankers, Engineers, and CPAs, Oh My!

While they may raise the curve in your classes, they can also be your best resource when you don’t understand the material. I was tutored by a CPA for Managerial Accounting. It worked very well.

(Limited) Time is of the Essence

Time management is the most important thing to master in your first year at Tuck. Closing my Outlook when I do work has saved me dozens of wasted hours. I highly recommend you try it.

Quant Struggles are Emotional

The worst thing to do when you don’t understand material is to let it get you down. Getting upset will keep you from asking the questions that you need to ask. The truth is that 20% of the class is probably confused about the same thing, so do your best not take quantitative struggles personally.

Quant Experience at Tuck

I asked some Tuck first years for their perspectives on quant issues as they look back on fall term. I'll be posting responses as they come in. Here's the first, which I've organized along the quant themes that I mentioned in my message to them.

First, the student's background:

Before coming to Tuck I majored in economics and spent three years working for a small executive search firm. This job prepared me very well for most aspects of business school, but did not include much quant experience. I did a bit of brush up work over the summer and came early for math camp, which was tremendously helpful. Not only was I able to remind myself of the accounting and economics I learned in college, but I also learned a lot of useful modeling tools that I had not seen before. Also, math camp was a great way to get to know classmates and get your mind ready for attending classes again.

Getting In is the First Foothill, Not the Mountain

Your quant struggle is directly related to your background and your aptitude for the material. For me I had seen most of the material in some form and learned it without too much pain. However, some of the capital markets material was totally foreign to me so that required a lot of work.

Protect Your Investment by Arriving Prepared

It is crucial to stay on top of the material in school. If you fall behind, it is all over. The amount of preparation also depends on your background. Some people need none and others need to spend most of their summer working on their skills. You have to know where you stand. At first, I did not want to do math camp because I did not think I needed to, but I am very glad I did and it left me feeling very comfortable to start classes.

Know Thyself: Confidence is King

Self-confidence is critical in school and beyond. So long as you are keeping up in your classes (even if you are having to work very hard to do so), this should not be a problem. People come to school to learn and if you are not being challenged it is not a worthwhile experience.

Summer Before B-School is Chaotic

The summer before school takes on a life of its own and differs widely among various students. It is important to get some relaxation in so you are charged when school starts. However, if you are a student who needs quant experience, the summer is the time to do it. Once school starts the schedule gets crazy and the time won’t be there for extra practice.

"Knowing About" Is Not "Knowing How"

B-school is different from college because everything is applied to real life. The other key difference between college and b-school is that the cases don’t give you direction, so you need to know exactly how and when to apply all the concepts you know.

Bankers, Engineers, and CPAs, Oh My!

In the beginning of b-school there is a serious gap in quant expertise across the class. It is important to remember that some people are CFAs and some are CPAs and that they can help you. Along these lines, don’t get frustrated by the fact that you will have to work MUCH harder than they will in the finance classes. That is just the way it is – they already went through this earlier in their careers.

(Limited) Time is of the Essence

Time-management is the key to first year. The programs intentionally overload you and it is important to keep stress in check and make sure to work efficiently.

Quant Struggles are Emotional

The big thing about the emotional side of it is to remember when someone else is having an easier time that they have probably studied this before. The best thing to do is to ask the pros for help if you are lost and not to worry that they are ahead – so long as you get it before the test.

#1 Getting In is the First Foothill, Not the Mountain

Students are understandably proud of their acceptance letters, coming at the end of a long and grueling application process.  But don't let that pride blind you to your preparation needs.  Your acceptance does not mean that you won't struggle with the quantitative demands of the first-year curriculum.  Everyone struggles with the first-year curriculum; that's the whole point of getting an MBA.  The three-part question for each student is:

  1. How much of that struggle will be in the quantitative area?
  2. How will you respond to struggling?
  3. What are you willing and able to do to prepare yourself before arriving on campus?
Posted on Thursday, November 16, 2006 at 12:03PM by Registered CommenterPeter Regan in , , | CommentsPost a Comment

8 MBA Quant Themes

I'll start with some of my thoughts about students' experience of the quantitative demands of the first-year MBA curriculum.  This is the mental landscape that motivates and orients my MBA Math work in the classroom and on www.mbamath.com.  My hope is that laying these ideas out and then asking for perspectives from other faculty, administrators, as well as enrolled, admitted, and prospective MBA students will help me to broaden my views, resulting in improved live and online teaching.

Here's my list:

  1. Getting In is the First Foothill, Not the Mountain
  2. Protect Your Investment by Arriving Prepared
  3. Know Thyself: Confidence is King
  4. Summer Before B-School is Chaotic
  5. "Knowing About" Is Not "Knowing How"
  6. Bankers, Engineers, and CPAs, Oh My!
  7. (Limited) Time is of the Essence
  8. Quant Struggles are Emotional

I'll expand on each of these themes in subsequent posts.