How to Survive as a Liberal Arts Major Turned MBA

When you hear “debit,” do you think about your bank card? What about statistics? Does it make your stomach churnI Regret Nothing - Friends GIF just a bit? Is Excel only a program that’s used to conveniently sort rows and rows of data? In undergrad, did you purposefully avoid expensive calculators and figuring out what X was (again!)? If so, you’re probably one of my fellow liberal arts majors: Journalism, human resources, psychology, history, the list goes on and on.

While we know that most of our majors are divergent in practice, there is at least one glaring common thread that binds our educational and professional experiences together: Relatively minimal math.

Now, this is definitely not a slight to any of you that may actually regularly use quantitative skills on a daily or even weekly basis in your current position. However, notice that I said “relatively minimal.” Compared to many of your classmates who will be sitting next to you on the first day of class, you’re behind the math curve, and in the MBA classroom, learning these skills isn’t just part of the curriculum – it’s an expectation, and if you’re less familiar than those who have more advanced skills in these areas, the effort to maintain pace can become much more exacerbated.

So, let’s assume that you’ve taken the GMAT, you’re pleased with your score, and you’ve submitted your applications. Now what? Well, as you prepare for interviews, and even after you’ve plunked down your deposit on your choice program, it’s time to strengthen those quantitative muscles so that you’re able to flex them on day one.

Pro Tips! Here’s a list of things I recommend for those idle days pre-MBA:

    • Take an Intro to _____ class: Fill in the blank on this one. At McCombs, our core classes are very quant-heavy. In the first quarter of the semester, you’ll take Accounting, Finance, and Statistics, and in the second quarter, you only build on the skills you learned in the first, so it’s very easy to become overwhelmed if you’re not familiar with the material. Further, many in your class will have been a strong business or engineering background, so many of the concepts will be more review for them and may be completely new and foreign to you. Taking an MBA-level stats class as your first statistics class has a very steep learning curve, so audit a community college Intro to Statistics or Intro to Finance class during the spring or summer. If you’re able to know what a Z table is before the first day of class, you’re already one step ahead of where I was. An added advantage of taking a class at a local junior college is that it begins to prepare you to actually be back in the classroom, which will help with the initial transition from work back to school.
    • Read up on Excel: I used to think I was really good at Excel, but it turns out, it was only because everyone around me was not as good. Lesson learned: It’s all relative. I have a classmate on my study team who is a former IT analyst, and when we worked on Excel models together for homework, I would never, ever see him touch his mouse. He was a true Excel ninja, and the rest of my study team were in absolute amazement. Don’t take this to mean that you have to learn all of the Excel functions, shortcuts, and formulas before you begin your program, but you should have more than a basic understanding of what Excel is able to do prior to your first class. I recommend reading Marketing Analytics by Wayne Winston, which is our textbook for Analytics of Markets. It’s not a book that you read at leisure (it’s over 700 pages), but it does show you step-by-step how to use Excel functions in ways that you will be expected to know. The best part is that on the book’s website there are a ton of Excel spreadsheets that serve as companions for the exercises in the book, so you’re actually getting hands-on experience. Also, you may ask someone who knows Excel pretty well to sit down with you and teach you the basics, but it’s a bit more difficult to do this when you don’t know what you don’t know.
    • Don’t be scared of numbers: It took me a while to decide to come back to get my MBA because I was honestly scared of numbers. Studying for the GMAT helped me to mitigate that avoidance a bit, but I wish I had done more to really prepare for MBA-level math because the concepts come quick and it only builds from there. Go to a used book store and get an MBA-level textbook, read the chapters, and do the practice problems. The best thing you can do as a student who has more qualitative skills than quantitative skills is to recognize that and commit time and energy into strengthening those areas. On the first day of class, you want to feel like you have a reasonably good idea of the segments of the curriculum, which will strengthen your ability to positively contribute to the class.
    • Utilize free online courses: There are so many free remote learning resources available, and I would recommend browsing sites such as Coursera.org or Smart.ly to find a course that is most tailored to the skill gaps that you may have. My favorite site pre-B-school was Coursera. It includes dozens of free MBA classes that are taught by top MBA professors. For instance, I enrolled in a free accounting class, which allowed me to really understand the basic and more advanced concepts before I began my actual coursework. An alternative to these sites is MBAMath.com. It’s a bit dry in its delivery, but the content is absolutely necessary. Although it does have a flat annual subscription fee, it’s minimal, and you are able to access the site throughout the year for supplemental learning as you continue through your actual MBA coursework.

Good Luck and Hook ’em!

2 Comments

  1. This was actually really good for me. Thank you for taking the time to write out and put it out to the world.

    • Kimberly Jones

      June 11, 2018 at 9:42 am

      Hi Danna,

      So glad this helped! If you have any additional questions about the program or the application process and where your experience may fit with our program, don’t hesitate to reach out to us: TexasMBA@mccombs.utexas.edu

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