What Skills Will You Need?

Most business schools expect their students to arrive already possessing the basic quantitative skills that every MBA student will need. "It helps if you were quantitative before coming to this program," advised one Wharton MBA in our survey. If you majored in business or economics, you should already possess these skills and are probably ready to start business school. On the average, however, only about half of all MBA students enter B-school with a business or economics degree. If you're not one of these folks, you should consider brushing up on the following skills.


Most liberal arts majors may not have had much, if any, exposure to using spreadsheet computer programs (such as Lotus or Excel) before going to business school. However, an MBA student probably uses a spreadsheet program more than another type of computer software. It is essential that you are at least somewhat comfortable using spreadsheets, and the cheapest way to learn is simply to install spreadsheet software on your computer before you start business school, browse the software's manual, and practice doing some simple functions for a few weeks before school begins. Despite their intimidation factor, spreadsheets are pretty easy to use, and a few weeks of playing around with one is about all you will need to prepare for business school.


Many B-schools require their incoming students to certify that they have an understanding of college-level math, usually calculus, before arriving at B-school. A college calculus course will normally satisfy this requirement. If you haven't had such a course, you usually must promise to take such a course during the weeks before business school classes begin or register for such a course upon arriving at business school. Even those who have taken calculus may need to review, since some MBA programs require all their incoming students to pass a basic calculus exam before they will be allowed to register for classes. In short, quantitative analysis is the backbone of any MBA program, and business schools take these skills very seriously. If your math skills are weak, you should talk to your school in advance to see what the school requires in terms of math or calculus knowledge before you start school.

Statistics, Accounting, and Economics

B-school professors will expect that most students have had a basic undergraduate course in statistics, accounting, and economics. If you avoided such courses in college, you will have to learn the main concepts of these subjects somehow, either before you arrive at school or as soon as you get there.

Fortunately, many business schools now offer crash courses in computers, statistics, economics, and accounting for liberal arts majors. These review courses are usually designed for beginners and are intended to put business majors and liberal arts majors on an even footing when classes begin. If you need such a review, find out from your school whether review courses will be offered either before regular classes begin or in the first weeks of the semester. If so, you can wait and do your review when you get to business school.

This article was excerpted from The Princeton Review's Business School Companion, by H.S. Hamadeh.

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