The Business School Survival Guide

Prepare for success in business school with these essential techniques
Expert Contributor

Business school students can start setting themselves up for success before ever entering their first class. Planning ahead and understanding the various resources and opportunities available to them—like course planning tools, major specialization guides, study abroad programs, clubs and networking organizations—can help students earn their business degrees with less stress and effectively transition into the professional world. Discover useful business tools, learn how to build a well-balanced schedule and get expert advice on getting the most out of business school.

Prepare for Business School Before Classes Begin

Students can set themselves up for a smooth entry into business school by doing some research and planning before the semester begins. Creating a well-balanced schedule, choosing a business specialization and knowing what to expect of a collegiate classroom environment can help business students feel prepared on the first day of class.

Plan Your Ideal Schedule

Between academic and extracurricular activities, business students can expect to be busy. Planning before school begins can help students keep their schedules balanced, making it easier to succeed in business school. Students should make sure their schedules allow enough time for homework and studying after accounting for work, social and other obligations. Students can check to see which classes are only offered during specific terms or times of day to help determine where their schedules have the most flexibility. School advisers and course planning tools can help business students create schedules that work for them and help students make sure they stay on track with major requirements.

Choose Your Major

At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, business students may be asked to choose an area of concentration, or major, within the business field. While not required, focusing on a subject like finance, human resources, communication or management can provide students with specialized knowledge and help guide them through their business degree program and the professional world. Students who want to choose a concentration but aren't sure where to begin can talk to an academic advisor or use personality tests, like Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder or True Colors, to determine a good path for them.

Plan Your Course Load

When beginning their studies, business students should familiarize themselves with their program’s curriculum overview. This overview maps out various paths students can take to earn their business degrees and can help students determine which courses they should take each term. Following a general course guideline and knowing when to take prerequisite and required classes can help students keep their schedules balanced and avoid cramming forgotten classes into their last few terms. Students concerned about the workload of individual classes can reach out to professors before the term begins or use online peer-to-peer resources.

Learn Classroom Etiquette

Business classroom etiquette often varies from class to class, but students should err on the side of formality until their professors say otherwise, especially since peers and professors may become colleagues in the future. Unless professors say they prefer students call them by first name, students should address their instructors by last name and with the appropriate title, like professor or doctor. Students should also be respectful of their peers and keep in mind that chewing gum, eating loud or fragrant foods or using technology inappropriately can be distracting and hinder peers from getting the most out of their classes.

Achieve These First-Year Milestones

Between new course material and adjusting to life as a business student, the first year of school can be overwhelming. However, taking the time to develop good study habits and establish academic and social relationships with peers can make navigating through business school a little easier. Students should make a point of accomplishing these things during their first year:

Join a Study Group

Business students will often find themselves working with their peers on group projects, but collaborating with classmates even when not required can have many benefits. In his book Becoming a Master Student, leadership coach and educator David Ellis notes that group study gives peers the opportunity to compare their understanding of course material, improve comprehension by learning from one another and forge bonds with people in similar academic situations. Keep study groups productive by limiting their size to five or six students and setting an agenda at the beginning of each meeting.

Join a Club

Clubs are great ways for students to meet peers and engage with their student community, but for business students, clubs also play an important role in building a professional network that will last long after graduation. Clubs with a business focus can give students the opportunity to collaborate and connect with peers who may become coworkers, business partners or job connections in the future, but professional and social benefits can be had from less professionally- or academically-focused clubs as well. Joining a club, participating in club activities and taking on leadership positions can help business stand out to potential employers or funders.

Get an Internship

Internships give students the chance to gain real-world experience and offer additional opportunities to build strong professional networks. Students can apply the skills and knowledge gained in the classroom in a practical setting and get first-hand insight into the industry. Internships may even help students secure a job. According to the 2016 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Internship Survey, 72.7 percent of interns receive a job offer as a result of their work with an organization.

Business students can find internships by researching companies that offer opportunities in their concentration or by talking with their school’s academic advisors, internship coordinators and business professors. Students should begin their search early and be aware of deadlines to make sure they have enough time to complete the application process.

Your Toolkit for Success in Business School

Developing good study habits and effectively using available resources can help business students excel academically while keeping a good balance between school, social and other obligations.

Study Skills

Effective and efficient studying can help business students successfully attain their degrees and prepare themselves for the professional world. These tips can help ensure students make the most of their study sessions.

  • Break it up Rather than studying the same material in a single marathon session, make time to review the material in shorter sessions over a longer period of time.

  • Keep things interesting While having a consistent study routine is helpful for some students, others may benefit from switching between a handful of different study locations, doing some sessions alone and others with a group or changing up other external stimuli to increase attention span.

  • Practice, practice, practice Research shows that the most successful studying method is practice testing. Recalling information in a low-stakes environment strengthens the memory and improves recall when it is time for the actual test.

Foundational Courses Come First

Students can talk to an academic advisor to help them determine which classes they need to take. A first or second term schedule may be largely comprised of general education and business prerequisite courses. For students coming to business school from other backgrounds, foundational courses in business statistics, accounting and economics are generally good starting points. Concentrations can affect a student’s required courses and when they should be taken, so students should check their school’s curriculum page for suggested timelines for various concentration areas.

Get the Right Technology

Business students can expect to use various technologies throughout their studies, from scientific calculators to cloud-based productivity tools. Many schools offer tools like Microsoft Office, SPSS and Adobe in their computer labs and may also have free or discounted licenses for students. Business students can also take advantage of cloud-based programs like Dropbox, Basecamp, Evernote and Google Office, which allow students to work from virtually anywhere and easily collaborate with peers. A variety of apps are also available to help students study, create presentations and stay organized. Students can check their academic department’s website or office to get information about any specific technology and software the program requires before the term begins.

Building a Diverse Professional Network While in Business School


Establishing strong, positive relationships with professors can be extremely valuable to business students. Professors and other faculty can provide recommendations, career advice and job connections. However, students should not wait until they need a favor before getting in touch with their professors outside of class. Frequent communication along with coming to class prepared, contributing to discussions and getting familiar with the professor’s research can foster positive relationships with faculty.


Along with the skills and knowledge required to enter the business industry, one of the most important things business school provides is the opportunity to connect with potential employers. Many companies maintain close ties with business schools as a means of recruiting talent and often invite promising students to “coffee chats.” These meetings allow students to hone their networking skills and open themselves to career opportunities, and they give companies and students the chance to learn about one another. Often, coffee chats lead to employment or internships. Chats are generally brief, so students should come to the meetings prepared with conversation points and background knowledge of the company and recruiter. Following up with an email will help students leave a positive impression.


Peer-to-peer interactions help prepare students for working in teams and alongside diverse colleagues in the workplace. Clubs and study groups can help business students develop relations with one another, but students can also make good use of online platforms to connect with peers. Social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter play increasingly significant roles in forging professional bonds and finding job opportunities. Students can also use online class forums to engage with peers throughout the term, and alumni associations can help them keep in touch after graduation.

Professional Networking Organizations for Business School Students

Joining professional organizations can help business students learn about the field, get involved in industry events and grow their professional networks. Students can look into joining some of these organizations or search for associations that fall within their specific areas of concentration.

Advice from a Business School Admissions Officer

Stephanie Klein Wassink

A former admissions officer at the Kellogg School of Business and graduate of Wharton, Stephanie Klein Wassink has worked as an educational consultant for 18 years. She currently manages two small consulting firms.

What do today's students need beyond the classroom to be successful in their future career?

Something that students need today, and have needed for some time, is experience. It used to be that business schools accepted students directly out of college, but increasingly they are looking for substantial work-world experience. I do think it brings a lot to the classroom. Even with a degree and classroom experience, you need to know how to navigate the personal relationships and politics in the business world. Not knowing these things can sink your career.

What should students look for in a business program?

I think students need to begin with the end in mind and think about how they will get the job. I would suggest looking at prospective universities’ career services offerings. Almost nobody does, but they should. Ask about who they are bringing to campus each year, and what interesting and compelling companies are they developing relationships with. Even at the big name schools, do not assume that they are bringing the right people to campus. Also, you want to be surrounded by smart people. You never want to be the smartest person in the room. Part of the university setting is being challenged to improve your work and reach that next level.

Are distance learning programs a good option, or should students still pursue a business degree on-site?

A big part of business school is getting some key concepts under your belt. Speaking from my personal experience as an MBA student at Wharton, coming from a liberal arts background at Brown, what I needed from business school was the language and terminology that helped me speak fluently in the business world. However, you can get those concepts, whether through distance or on-site education, it’s important is that you get them.

Business School Tips for Specific Concentrations

Business students may opt to focus their studies on a specific field within the business industry. Choosing a concentration, like finance, entrepreneurship or management is an excellent way to gain specialized training and knowledge. When considering a specialized course of study, students should factor in their desired career path or salary, certifications the specialization may require and how the specialization affects time to degree completion.

There are many specializations from which to choose, but students can get an overview of some popular specializations for business majors below.


Students who are interested in learning about investments, markets, portfolios and assessing risk and value should consider specializing in finance. Graduates who work in finance have many career options, including financial advising, portfolio management, security analysis or investment banking.


The entrepreneurship concentration may be particularly appealing to students who want to start their own businesses, but skills like developing sound business models, identifying opportunities, managing growth and acquiring resources can transfer to many areas in the business field.


Management is a useful concentration for students with business and nonbusiness backgrounds alike. In this concentration, students will learn about all aspects of a company and how it is affected by various internal and external factors, like employee dynamics, professional development training, local and global economies and public relations.

The Extras: Additional Ways to Make the Most of Business School

Employers and schools alike are increasingly interested in student activities outside of the classroom. Participating in clubs, volunteering within the local community, working on personal entrepreneurial or business-focused projects and learning about global business practices and communities through study abroad programs are great ways to learn more about the field, apply classroom knowledge in practical settings and stand out to future employers and academic institutions.

Study Abroad

Study abroad programs allow students to take their business studies overseas, giving them the opportunity to gain cross-cultural skills, learn about different cultures, gain an understanding of foreign business practices and relations and develop relationships with peers around the world. Study abroad experiences are also valued by employers. Many business school programs offer these opportunities along with concentrations in international relations.

Join Extracurricular Activities

The variety of extracurricular activities available varies by school but frequently includes industry-specific groups, service or philanthropic societies, recreational groups or athletic teams. Participating in one or several of these groups is an excellent way to build relationships with fellow students, manage stress and gain skills and experiences valued by future employers.

Read These Business Books

There are tons of valuable literature available to business students, but knowing where to begin can be overwhelming. This list of books can help business students get started.

  • The MBA Jungle B-School Survival Guide, Jon Housman Housman, a business school graduate and successful professional, offers students an insider's perspective with helpful tips for smoothing the path leading to a business degree

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie This classic is considered by many to be an invaluable tool for any business student. Carnegie's insights into what motivates people and how to manage relationships are often applied in the business world.

  • The Excel Bible Most business students will find themselves using Excel throughout their studies and into their careers. This book helps students brush up on their spreadsheet skills or learn the basics of Excel.

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