Prepping for an MBA: Taking Classes Before Coming to Campus

by Vault Education Editors | July 13, 2009

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Let'sface it: getting into the MBA program of your choice isn't always easy.  This may be especially true for younger peoplewith less work experience, or would-be applicants with liberal arts or sciencebackgrounds--valid pursuits, but not directly linked in an admissions director'smind to making someone B-school ready.  Andonce you matriculate, will you be able to keep up with the math wizards sittingnext to you in class?  The best way toensure you hit the ground running and don't stumble your first year is takingclasses that will help boost your skills and prepare you for the rigors of yourfirst year as a business school student.


The experts we talked to agreed that the first semester of yourMBA is not the time to be scrambling to understand the basic concepts.  They also note that, in this very competitivelandscape, MBA applicants need to do everything they can not only to preparefor the MBA course work, but also to convince admissions committees that theyare ready to take it on.

 

Continuingeducation classes

 

Adult extension divisions of universities are a great first stopin your search for the best places to get the course work you need to get intoand succeed in your MBA program.  Universityof California Berkeley Extension Program Director Keith Gatto recommendsstudents take something like the Business Studies Certificate Program hisinstitution offers.  "I'd have thaton my application to to prove to the committee that I can do post-baccalaureatework," Gatto said.

 

TheSchool of Continuing Education at Columbia University also offers a BusinessStudies Certificate program.  The directorof business programs there, Charissa Asbury, said her program is really gearedtoward potential MBA applicants who may have practical experience working inbusiness, but don't have a strong academic background in the subject matterthey might encounter in business school.  "These students are looking for ways toenhance their applications," Asbury said.

 

Studentswho have already been accepted to MBA programs also take continuing educationbusiness courses at Columbia to better prepare for the first year in an MBAprogram.  Yet another group of studentsmay be considering going for an MBA but have a less-than-stellar GPAs.  As UC Berkeley Extension's Keith Gattomentioned, for this group getting a business studies certificate can be a greatway to show schools that they can handle the rigors of an MBA program.

 

Columbia'sAsbury said students who get a business studies certificate and then go into anMBA program have reported back that they were relieved to have had that course workdone before entering the first year of their MBA.  "With the exception of some of thehigher-level math classes, our course work is pretty close to what you couldexpect in your first year," Asbury said.

 

If the course work is so close to the real thing, is the creditearned in prep courses transferable to MBA programs?  Not at Columbia, said Asbery.

 

"As a general policy at the top-ranked schools such asColumbia, they do not accept credit from anywhere," she said.  "If you take a business class fromHarvard's Graduate School of Business, they will not give you credit for it.  You can take an exemption exam so youpass out of a class."

 

Nevertheless, Asbery said that doesn't diminish the value oftaking prep courses in her program before your MBA.

 

"If you can sucessfully complete a very demanding series ofgraduate courses from what's basically a world-class university, it makes animpression.  How can it not?" shesaid.

 

Brushing up on yourmath

 

Wherecan a student go to learn the advanced mathematics they may need to succeed onboth the GMAT and in business school?  Peoplecoming from liberal arts or non-business backgrounds, or folks who have beenout of school a while and may just be a bit rusty on their quadratic equations,seek out someone like Dr. Dale Maeder.  AtUCLA Extension, Maeder teaches math courses for the MBA-minded--courses likeMathematics for Management and Business Applications of Calculus.

 

"Gettingsome business-applied mathematics coursework under your belt can help you beefup both your MBA application and your ability to tackle tough statisticalanalysis or other practical business problems," he said.

 

Maeder'snot trying to train the next Albert Einstein, but his courses and others likethem can make math make sense for the MBA-bound.

 

Building on what you already know

 

Let's touch base with a student with a non-business background whowent through pre-MBA course work and went on to get her MBA.  Meena Putatunda, a 2005 Vanderbilt Universitybiomedical engineering graduate, seemed poised for a career in just that.  But after a post-baccalaureate year doingglaucoma research in Vanderbilt University's medical center, Putatunda realizedshe wanted a "more people-facing career."  She simultaneously applied for an MBA and fora unique summer intensive business institute specifically for undergrads andrecent grads with non-business backgrounds, Vanderbilt's Accelerator program.

 

"I think a pre-business school program is a great way toactually see if a person even wants to enter the business world at all,"she said.

 

Putatandasaid the Accelerator program gave her a bit of real-world business experience.  Students from a variety of work and academicbackgrounds come together to solve real-life business problems in theAccelerator program.  Putatunda's groupwas charged with coming up with a sure-fire plan to market the Dodge Caliber tomillennials--not exactly what Putatunda had been doing up to that point in herlife.  Plus, the students in Acceleratorare not doing this work in an academic vacuum.  "We had to present our plan to a team ofexecutives," Putatunda said.  Afterthe Accelerator program, many students got to work with Dodge on furtherrefining the marketing campaign.  "Itwas the real deal," Putatunda said.

 

Ontop of 100 hours of MBA prep course work, students did five main businessprojects.  Putatunda said the course work,plus the teamwork, plus the contacts she made with the professors and workingprofessionals in the business world, prepared her very well for her MBAprogram.  And with her non-businessbackground, having the Accelerator acceptance on her resume (she hadn't takenthe summer course yet when her MBA applications were due) probably didn't hurther applications, either.

 

Anotheradvantage to this type of program for non-business grads, Putatunda said, isexperience learning how to problem-solve in a business setting. "Inengineering, problems are cut-and-dried, numeric," she said.  "In business, you have to understandpsychology to target solutions to clients."  Putatunda added that she learned to use theskills she had and apply them in a different way.

 

Putatundaearned her MBA from Vanderbilt's Owen School of Business in 2008 with a health careand operations concentration.  She'scurrently working for McKesson Provider Technologies as an implementation consultant.

 

Do MBA prep programs actually get people into business school?  Both Asbery and Keith Gatto of UC BerkeleyExtension don't track their students after courses are over; however, they havenoted that more and more candidates are striving to set themselves apart fromthe crowd and many are relying on courses such as theirs to help boost theirapplications to the admission's committees.

 

 

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