I'm weeks beyond the final exams of my first semester and partially shell-shocked from the grueling, but certainly not impossible, first semester. I'll argue that one of the best things about B-school is the time off.
Is the workload hard? Yes. Are there plenty of distractions outside of our academic schedule such as clubs, networking events, résumé due dates, interviews, and social events? Absolutely. Is there ample time to "do it all"? I think so. But is the pseudo mini-retirement an excellent use of time while bonding with an extremely talented network of classmates and earning an MBA in the process? YES.
B-school is much like undergraduate college when it comes to the time off—we have a massive winter break, a spring break, and no classes during the summer. While it behooves most students, including myself, to engage in a summer internship (this is especially true for career switchers), the typical summer internship is straddled by two or three weeks of free time in early June and late August.
At Sloan, we have all this and one more carrot dangling from the B-school stick: Sloan Innovation Period (alias SIP). The week-long SIP is conveniently placed after the bulk of midterms. Sloan requires eight SIP credits to graduate, with workshops ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 credits. A single SIP credit is approximately equivalent to six hours of lecture time but varies slightly by workshop.
SIPping and Dipping
Three SIP credits are the most you can take during any SIP week, so loading up on three during the first semester and another three during the spring semester leaves a total of two during a student's second year. Banging out those final two SIP credits in the fall semester of your second year leaves you with two consecutive weeks off during your last semester (one for spring break and one due to a week of SIP with no scheduled workshops).
There are three primary luxuries that result from SIP:
1. Try before you buy. Besides the multiple reviews and ratings available for any professor, you can usually attend one of the professor's SIP courses to test his/her lecture style and enthusiasm.
2. Most SIP courses cover material or research that the professor is working on—most or all of which has not been formally incorporated into any academic MBA coursework.
3. Some SIP courses are condensed, summarized versions of full-semester courses at Sloan—if you're committed to consulting or general management, it might not be a bad idea to see if you enjoy the three-hour SIP course prior to investing in the semester-long version.
Grades are nice, but at the end of your first year you need a summer job, especially if you're a career- or industry-switcher. And besides, it's B-school, meaning as long as you show up to class and hand in your assignments you'll still get a B.
I have yet to test this theory personally but have already seen classmates successfully engage in the practice. To get the most bang for your buck, you must maintain a healthy balance between academic work and industry contacts, networking, and job-seeking. I've found it beneficial to blend my academic classroom learning with the real-world learning offered by the industry-specific clubs.
For me, Sloan's Investment Management Club has offered a great circle of like-minded classmates. Also, most clubs host various events that attract industry professionals. Often recruiting is not the focus, but a positive byproduct of the event.
Sloan's Investment Management Club hosted its 2nd Annual Investment Management Conference (www.mitsloaninvestmentconference.com) this fall, which attracted industry gurus such as Peter Lynch. Some of the club's members had the opportunity to join Mr. Lynch for breakfast before the event—now that's a good investment.
The clubs of the B-school community may host an industry-related competition as well. Two of my classmates and I had the opportunity to represent Sloan at UNC's Alpha Challenge (www.alphachallenge.com)—an all-day event that follows a week of preparing both a long and short stock idea from a list sent out by the competitions committee.
While the judges did not hear the cash register open as we presented our ideas, the event as a whole provided a great opportunity to meet students from many other top business schools. Travel and hotel were fully sponsored, prize money was offered to the winning teams, the complimentary chocolate-chip cookies at the hotel were excellent, and the Chapel Hill pubs quenched our thirst at the end of the day.
Watch the Details
The recruiting process begins early. Companies start showing up for on-campus lunch and dinner presentations as early as the first week of October. The free lunches are great, but by the end of October it becomes a juggling act between attending the company presentation and using the lunch hour to catch up on personal and academic responsibilities (I can't refrain from using the cliché: there's no such thing as a free lunch).
Attendance at these events may help your case for summer employment, along with a visit to the company's office, personal networking with employees, and a few fluffy thank-you e-mails that become tiresome once you've written several dozen. Deadlines for résumés and cover letters crop up by early December, and it's not uncommon to have multiple deadlines on the same day. Just don't make the mistake I almost made—submitting the cover letter you prepared for Company ABC accidentally to Company XYZ probably won't help to earn you an interview spot.
The middle of January brings the first round of interviews for summer internships for the high-octane MBA-hiring firms, particularly in the fields of consulting and I-banking, but also in my desired line of duty—investment management. The interview style depends on the job—consulting relies heavily on case-based interviews, while I-banking and investment management interviewers will demand an opinionated and educated view of current market and economic conditions while quizzing you on ways to value various industries or companies.
Fire and Ice
At the time I'm writing this, all my interviews are just around the corner, so I cannot offer much more clarity in this realm. From what I hear, neither the previously mentioned career fields nor any others are exempt from the typical brain-teaser curveballs that we have all read so much about.
There are plenty of interest-specific clubs to complement the many industry/professional clubs at any B-school. A few of Sloan's nonbusiness clubs are Toastmasters, salsa dancing, ice hockey, ski/snowboard, flag football, golf, and surfing.
For sports-related clubs, the size and student interest partially seems to serve as a reflection upon the school itself—the surf club is naturally going to garner more interest at UCLA Anderson than here at Sloan (based on my visit to UCLA and my attendance here), while Sloan's Northeast presence offers strong support for our ice hockey club.
Some of the Southern schools may have a longer golf season than the Northeast offers; however, this late-starting winter may even the score. All in all, clubs of this nature are a great way to meet friends outside the classroom and either maintain a specific interest (my reason for joining the ski/snowboard club) or try something new (14 years of competitive swimming didn't provide me much of a preparation for ice hockey—but I decided to play anyway).
Similar to the Alpha Challenge but not professionally focused is the annual Tuck Winter Carnival, hosted by Dartmouth's Tuck and attended by about 20 MBA Programs from all over the U.S. There's something for everyone: ski events, snowboard events, and social events. I've signed up for Sloan's snowboard team but plan to put equal effort into the social activities.