Entries in Theme #6 Expert Classmates (12)

Don't Underestimate Depth of Student Peer Backgrounds

Chad Troutwine, Yale MBA and founder of Veritas Prep, made the following comments about the depth of prior experience of fellow students in a podcast over at MBA Podcaster about Words of Advice from Recent MBA Grads:

I underestimated how hard some of my classmates really worked, but I really underestimated the depth of their background. When someone starts a MBA program they will be surrounded by people who have been working as investment bankers, people at top consultancies for the last several years. Much of the work will be very easy for those students. For those of us who came from very different kind of career path, in my case it was as an entrepreneur and real estate developer I was all of the sudden surrounded by people who had a leg up on me and my other classmates. We had to work a little bit harder to compensate for it but it can be done.

Posted on Saturday, March 24, 2007 at 10:30PM by Registered CommenterPeter Regan in , , | CommentsPost a Comment

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.

More Intensity and Teamwork at Georgetown

Rachael Klein writes in her BusinessWeek MBA Journal about her first term at McDonough School of Business at Georgetown.  She makes an interesting point about the wide range of student backgrounds and the experience level to which professors pitch their teaching:

Our class has about 240 people divided into four cohorts. We all have the same core classes in our first two modules—each module is six weeks long, goes by in what feels like two weeks, and by the end, the beginning feels like a year ago. Business school flies by at lightning speed, but the beginning feels as far away as high school.

Fortunately for the smart people, the professors teach to the top of the class and then make themselves readily available outside of class for the students who are seeing z-scores and time value of money for the first time (gently termed "poets" by a favorite economy professor). Since we all have the same classes, we help each other. Touchy-feely perhaps, but trust me, it returns full circle.

There is no way to make everyone happy in first year classes.  Each prof makes a choice, balancing the desire to challenge the more advanced students while not abandoning the "poets".  As with other schools, students get through the workload by working together and sharing strengths:

But they also admitted to being pretty exhausted from their first year. And it's true. It's exhausting. The workload is ferocious. But the solidarity of the student body is what gets us through. The fact that everyone has the same work is a relief, and well, let's be honest, misery loves company.


The next thing we know, the four of us are sitting around in the school study area, nursing glass bottles, discussing game theory, and painlessly finishing the assignment. Only drawback, we have about five other assignments to tackle before bedtime. But still, the experience and the overly sentimental unity we feel during times like this can't be helped. It's a great feeling, and one none of us will forget.

But remember, you take your exams alone, and beerless!

Intensity and Teamwork at MIT Sloan

Brian Glenn writes in his BusinessWeek MBA Journal about his first term at MIT Sloan.  He describes the intensity of the b-school experience:

I remember reading some of these journals last year. One in particular mentioned something along the lines of, "no matter how much you think you're ready for the experience, it will surpass your wildest imagination in terms of time commitment, intensity, and of course what we all signed on for—fun!" Well now, standing in a similar pair of shoes, I echo these thoughts. So far, it's been the eye-opening experience of a lifetime. Literally as well, because sleep is the last of your priorities and something you can catch up on during the morning Intro to Finance class.

He discusses how his study group's mix of strengths and weaknesses helps them to get through the work, and closes his piece by suggesting that prospective students consider carefully the teaching methods (case vs. lecture) of the schools they are considering:

But for practicality's sake, can one effectively learn rule-based subjects such as accounting or regression modeling through case-only lectures? I'm probably a biased source in this argument as Sloan teaches lecture-style for most hard-core subjects, but it's certainly worthwhile to think not just about what you want to learn but how you want to learn it.

However, once we have mastered the material, or at least figured out how to come up with a reasonable answer, then we will apply these methods, sometimes cross-subject, through a case homework assignment. Homework seems evenly split between individual deliverables and team hand-ins. These are great for classes like Data, Models, and Decisions—a pseudostatistics class with a genius quant professor by the name of Bertsimas who can model anything into Excel—where we apply all sorts of Excel features and software add-ins to solve case problems. You name it, we've done it: Monte Carlo simulation through Crystal Ball, Regression Analysis, and Linear/Binomial/Non-Linear Optimizations. Eric (the Google guy) and I have jokingly pondered the possibility of adding all these tools together and whether that would simulate Marty McFly's Back to the Future DeLorean by actually seeing into, or at least predicting, the future.

You're Not As Smart, Nor As Dumb, As You Think

Observation #1 from Hugo Lorenson, the Rotman first year introduced in the previous post:

Sitting in my first business school class, I was immediately struck by the incredible diversity of the student body. Age, gender, race, professional interests and a host of other variables contributed to a classroom of markedly different people. Of course, some will have more direct business experience than others, which may provide a strong advantage in some of the introductory business-centred courses (accounting, finance, etc.). However, there are also courses where previous business experience is no more helpful than any other sort of experience, where better speakers and writers get the leg up. The bottom line is: there will be people in your class who "get it" better than you do, and some who have more difficulties than you. Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses in each class and seek to leverage the former and improve upon the latter. Don’t get hung up upon comparing yourself with others.

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.

Fast Pace and Confidence at U Washington

Anne Turchi writes in her BusinessWeek MBA Journal about the mixed backgrounds and fast pace of first-year core courses

Some people in my class are CPAs but have never supervised staff before. Others come to the program with a BA in Economics, but couldn't tell you the difference between a balance sheet and a balance beam. For this reason, our classes begin with the basics and take off from there. The trouble is, it seems we're covering from freshman level to graduate level material in one quarter. Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but the first two sentences out of my economics professor's mouth covered the entire quarter of preparatory economics I took at Portland Community College.

She focuses in on the issue of confidence as a key to first-year survival:

All of us here have spent time fighting off lack of sleep, brainwashing, and insecurity demons during these last few weeks. Lack of sleep and high demands make those little voices in our head louder — whether they are telling me, "You can't do math!" or telling another student, "Nobody can understand you when you speak English!" A large part of the MBA core is getting us to confront these voices and reject them. To realize that our insecurities consist of 90% lack of confidence and 10% lack of skill.

#6 Bankers, Engineers, and CPAs, Oh My!

Not everyone needs to do quantitative preparation before their first year.  Many students, perhaps even most, have sufficient quantitative experience in their academic and professional background to start business school and learn on the way.  But those who don't should keep in mind that they'll be sitting down in finance classes with bankers and in accounting classes with CPAs.  Professors have to manage a serious tension between supporting those students with limited prior experience and pushing those with significant prior expertise.  Make sure that you clarify expectations with your MBA program office as the start of your program approaches so that you can plan and prepare accordingly.

Posted on Thursday, November 16, 2006 at 12:50PM 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.