Entries in Theme #2 Arrive Prepared (16)

Between Admission and School: Basics and Excel for Notre Dame

Here's a response from Michael Shannon, a first year at Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, to my question about what students wish they had known in the spring before starting b-school about how best to use the time between admission and arrival on campus:

One thing I wish I had known in the spring before I started the MBA program was how important some of the basic classes are to your success within your respective program. Finance, Economics, Accounting, and Marketing cover some extremely important topics that will be used in many of the other classes taken later in your program. I think it is vitally important to gain mastery of such terms as discounted cash flows, price elasticity, present value, breakeven, contribution margin, etc.

The preparation that I found most useful was to try to gain familiarity with Excel before you start if you do not have this already. Having this knowledge will allow you to have an edge in the classroom because you will not have to spend as much time just trying to figure out the computer program, as opposed to trying to figure out the solution to the problem or case.

Posted on Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 06:00AM by Registered CommenterPeter Regan in , , , | CommentsPost a Comment

Use MBA Math to Arrive Prepared at Chicago (Booth)

Here is a testimonial from Joshua Izzard, finishing up his MBA at Chicago's Booth School and member of the MBA Math Board of Advisors, looking back at the MBA Math quantitative skills course:

I have just looked at the modules included in the MBA Math program and after going through Chicago Booth I am equally impressed with how correctly you chose and built the program for incoming students.

I reminded myself that I was incredibly busy when preparing to move to Chicago and the critical thing was to be really prepared for the beginning of class.

That being said, the fire hydrant that a Chicago MBA is trying to drink from gives very little time to review additional fundamental material during the MBA, and if you are reviewing it-- you're likely giving up on time that needs to be spent building relationships.

Significant Excel Requirements for Fuqua EMBA

Comments from a Fuqua EMBA student:

We had some significant Excel requirements in Term 1 Decision Models.  The class had heavy use of Crystal Ball and Treeplan.  The training for these programs was front-end loaded during the two-week residency, so those students who weren't proficient in Excel suffered immensely.  There was no time for them to get up to speed and I don't think they ever really recovered.

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.

Quant Prep: Looking Back From Spring Break

Here are some comments from a Tuck first year, who looks back at the fall and winter terms.

Given my background (Chemistry Undergrad followed by pharmaceutical manufacturing) I will try to describe my approach and what I would do differently.

Pandora's Box. Tuck sends a big box of pre work material, to me the box was frightening and just looking at it filled me with fear.  I decided that because accounting was first and the book seemed reasonable I would start with it.  The accounting book is pretty self explanatory and a good warm up. 

Hindsight is 20/20. What I wish I had done sooner was back up what I had learned by reading the other accounting/finance material.  I looked at MBA Math too late, and looking back the content is really good.  I would recommend that for anyone coming from a non quant or non business background to look at their MBA syllabus and at the very least do the MBA Math sections that apply to the first term. For me those would have been accounting and working with spreadsheets (decision science). 

You, Yes You! The first term is so overwhelming that any preparation you do up front will be worth it.  If you are like I was and ignoring the pre- work material then you are exactly the person who should be doing it!

Searching for Elusive First Year Equilibrium. One of the sections that I did from MBA Math was economics.  Being familiar with the basics such as supply and demand curves and how they shift provided me with a solid foundation, if you haven’t got it by the first micro econ class you will be left behind.

Finance Basics Not Covered in Class. The most fundamental thing I learned at math camp was understanding the concept of NPV & perpetuities and being able to apply it.  That stuff was never really taught in class and I was so glad I had gotten to grips with it before hand.

Algebra Algebra Algebra. Algebra was not a problem for me but do make sure you are comfortable manipulating equations and substituting variables as you will do this all the time.

Listen Up, Becoming a Student Again is Tough. One last thing, it is actually worth listening to the MBA Math lectures and practice learning from lectures.  MBA lectures will be more interactive but it is a skill to listen and process information for any significant period of time.


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.

Quant Struggles Are Emotional: Boy Is That True!

Some more Tuck first year feedback:

I just finished reading some of the topics of your blog and they are right on target. I especially like the one about quantitative struggles being emotional. Boy is that true!

I came to Tuck with great business experience in marketing and strategy, but the large, well-respected company that I worked for was not big on quantitative analysis of our marketing programs. Even the strategy work that I did was mostly research and writing, rather than calculations. Using mbamath.com during the summer and attending math camp gave me the basics I needed to start ramping up for the highly quantitative fall terms.

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.

Keeping Your Cool at Tuck

More student feedback on the Tuck quant experience:

My main thought from going through Fall A and Fall B is the importance of keeping one’s cool. There is a huge amount of work on top of other commitments. This stress adds to a tendency to become very uncomfortable with new terms / topics in class. The beauty of having been to Math Camp was knowing that the material wasn’t new. Even if the student can’t remember exactly what it is, they know they have seen it before and can reference notes.

Business School is Like Living Abroad in a Foreign Country

Here are some quant prep perspectives from a Tuck first year, including a great metaphor at the end:

I spent six years doing communications-based work before coming to Tuck, and in the four years of college before that, my only quantitative class was called “Math and the Arts”. I knew I would have a different background from many of my classmates, but I was unprepared for how that would affect me.

Some of your classmates will have spent the last 3-8 years working in environments that use many of the concepts and language you will be learning in class. This is an enormous advantage for them in the classroom, and it’s important to remember that in the first semester, you may have a very different experience than that of some of your classmates as you adjust to this new material. Business school is as much about what you learn as how you learn it. And if your background isn’t quant-heavy, you get to experience both parts of that equation in the first semester.

I took an accounting class at a community college the summer before Tuck and found it to be invaluable. Doing math camp, mbamath.com, or using your pre-matriculation materials can also help you identify which areas you’ll be weakest in and which areas you’ll need to spend more time on when classes start.

My favorite metaphor about business school is this one: your first semester of business school is like living abroad in a foreign country. You should study the language as much as you can before you leave, but you can’t become fluent until you get there and have to live it.

Goals Drive Time Management Choices

Thanks to the Tuck students for sharing their perspectives.  While there may be some specifics unique to Tuck, I suspect that the sentiments are relevant for prospective students targeting top programs other than Tuck.  I welcome input from students in other programs. 

Below is another Tuck student's perspective.

My Background:

The highest math course I ever took was pre-calculus back in senior year of high school. I graduated from Harvard in 1999 having taken only one vaguely quantitative course. I did IT consulting for two years after school and did very little quantitative work there. In 2001, I moved to an environmental consulting firm. I built some Excel models and routinely used Excel to create budgets, but my job wasn’t very quantitative and involved almost no finance, mathematics, statistics, or accounting.

Protect Your Investment by Arriving Prepared

This is a must. It took me until the middle of Fall B to be comfortable doing math long-hand again. Even something simple like solving a pair of equations for two variables can be challenging when you haven’t done it in a few years. I could have used more preparation, but I’m very glad that I didn’t do any less. I had used Excel quite a bit at work, but people without that background really struggled for a bit.

Another aspect of preparation for me was figuring out exactly what I wanted to get out of the program. Knowing this helped me navigate some of the choices about time that I had to make this fall. The times when I was most frustrated were the times when I forgot this.

Know Thyself: Confidence is King

This has been a hard one for me. To be honest, I’ve really sucked at accounting and capital markets, and it’s been hard not to let that affect how I feel about other courses, in all of which I’ve done better than I expected. There was one night in Fall B when I was feeling especially miserable about life in general when I said to myself, “well, stats is going great…economics seems fine…mancomm [Management Communication] seems intuitive and I seem to be doing very well…I know most of the people in my class, no real complaints on the social front…the weather’s been great…but I’m really stinking up the joint in capital markets.” That class alone managed to give me a negative perspective on pretty much all of Fall B.

Summer Before B-School is Chaotic

I can’t relate to this too much in retrospect. Compared to the fall, it seems like a halcyon period of calm and tranquility.

"Knowing About" Is Not "Knowing How"

I agree; I’d add, “knowing how now is not the same as remembering how in 2 weeks” and “knowing how now may not be as valuable as remembering where to go to figure out how.” If that makes sense.

Bankers, Engineers, and CPAs, Oh My!

Having an analyst in my study group this fall definitely helped me enormously. I don’t know if I’d have made it through accounting unscathed without him.

(Limited) Time is of the Essence

You might consider re-naming this “you will not have enough time no matter what you do.”

Quant Struggles are Emotional

Couldn’t agree more. It’s easy to let frustration with a particular problem translate into “there’s no way I can understand this topic” in my head. It’s also easy to let that frustration extend into other unrelated areas, as I mentioned above.

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.

#2 Protect Your Investment by Arriving Prepared

"What were they thinking?" is what crosses my mind when I talk with or hear from faculty colleagues about students in the midst of fall-term meltdowns who did little or no advance preparation before arriving on campus.  It's one thing to pay $100K+ for the privilege of being put through the wringer at b-school, building skills, experiences, and a network to accelerate and sustain your career.  But to experience the first-year of your MBA in a state of intellectual and emotional freefall from the outset due to a lack of adequate preparation seems so unnecessary.

Posted on Thursday, November 16, 2006 at 12:16PM by Registered CommenterPeter Regan in , , | CommentsPost a Comment
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