Business school has been an incredible experience for me. Through business school, I’ve had amazing opportunities from going to the southernmost tip of Africa through our new FIELD program, to hearing Tyra Banks talk about managing a brand. I’ve participated in factory simulations as a circuit board manufacturer and was part of a team that went to market with a peer to peer parking space service. And of course, I’ve learned a lesson or two!
If you’re about to start school in the next month or two, here are a few things to consider before you land on campus in the fall.
Think about your business school bucket list (and other lists)
For me, I looked at business school as the last time I could really do the things I’ve always wanted to do. To that end, I left my job early and went skydiving, attended a month-long poetry program, took a solo roadtrip from Boston to Tulsa and back, visited a yoga ashram, drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, and watched sunrise in Maine.
Now that I’m working again during the summer, I look back on those months before business school as the sweetest time of my life: the time I really got to know myself and pursue my one-off passions and interests.
You have one month left: make it count. Sign up for the cooking class you’ve always wanted to take. Take your mom to the botanical gardens she’s been talking about since you can remember. Wait a ridiculously long time in line for The Dark Knight Rises. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s meaningful to you.
The pre-business school bucket list is easy relative to the daunting task of thinking about what you actually want out of business school. Of course you thought about this during the application process, but that seems like a long time ago now. I’d take the time to make a list of things you love doing, things you’re really good at, and things that pay the bills. Someone once told me to the secret to happiness was finding something that was at the epicenter of all three lists. Do this now when your mind is a thousand miles away from getting a job, when you don’t have the pressure of upcoming application deadlines, and when you’re not influenced by what everyone around you is pursuing.
Then, write yourself a letter about what you liked and disliked your last job. Save the list and letter and reopen it later. You’d be surprised at how many of your friends will swear off banking/consulting/other former employment, only to find themselves dreaming about returning to those professions when they end up not enjoying their internship or first full-time job.
By taking the time to reflect on your work experience, you’ll appreciate the more honest perspective when there’s less at stake, and when the memory of the actual day to day work experience is more clear.
Take time to thank everyone in your life who has helped you get this far
There are so, so many people who have helped us in our lives. It’s hard for me to think of any accomplishment I’ve had where I can take sole credit. Invariably, someone provided advice, boosted my esteem, coached an event, or mentored me. In particular, I need to thank Gary Heidt, my debate coach, creative expressions teacher, poetry instructor, friend, mentor, and advocate; in addition, I also need to thank Sondra Myers, who has lived precisely the life I hope to lead.
I think that one of the important things to remember is that no matter how busy we get in life, we have a great responsibility to pay it forward and pay respect backwards. Take the time to send someone a note, even if just to say thanks and to let them know that you’re headed to HBS – and they played a role in you getting there.
Beyond writing cards and emails, if you happen to go home and your family still lives where you grew up, I’d make a phone call and get back in touch. Go visit your high school teachers or little league coach who you haven’t seen in years. It may seem a bit awkward, but I think you’d be surprised at how happy this might make both you and them. (Coach John, my first grade Odyssey of the Mind coach at Cheltenham Elementary School in Denver, CO: If you’re out there, please contact me. I’ve been trying to track you down for years!)
Give yourself a project or a goal
Business school is an interesting paradox where you are simultaneously the busiest you’ve ever been in your life, while you also have the fewest demands on your time since you can remember. There are no deliverables. There are no slides to make. There are no numbers to crunch. There isn’t even any homework to turn in!
I think it can be easy to have so much fun in business school participating in the social aspect of business school, that you lose sight of why you are there in the first place. So give yourself something to work towards. Maybe you want to have the experience of building a website. Maybe you want to do a pilot test for a business model you’ve been working on. Maybe you want to attend speeches by at least 5 CEOs. This may sound trite, but I find that my classmates who have a goal they’re working towards, however big or small, business-related or not, are more fulfilled than others who are not.
If you can, go to the summer events organized by other admits
You’re probably getting emails or Facebook notices of events that are being organized in your city by other admits, and you might be tempted to say, “I don’t want to go meet up with other admits when I’m just going to see them in a month.”
I’d strongly encourage you to consider otherwise. Some of my closest friends are people I met at these seemingly random admitted students events. One of my best friends at business school is a girl I met at a dim sum for Boston-area admits. When I spent two weeks with friends in San Francisco before school started, I posted a message to our Class of 2013 admitted students group to see if anyone in San Francisco wanted to meet up. One of them ended up being a sectionmate who in addition to being a good friend, is also the person who helped me most with internship recruiting. Another ended up being interested in the same internships as me, so we were able to share information with each other on what we learned from those employers. Another guy I met at another city meetup also ended up being my sectionmate, and his fiancee who I met at this meetup is now one of my closest confidantes.
Point is: don’t be bashful. You’re part of an amazing community of interesting, talented, engaging, passionate, and humble people who are also interested in meeting you!
You’ll be at business school before you know it, and having the best two years of your life.
Lilly Deng is entering her second year at Harvard Business School. At HBS, she contributes writing to The Harbus newspaper, the TechMedia Club and the Women’s Student Association. Lilly graduated from Harvard College and was an associate at the Boston Consulting Group. She just finished her first poetry manuscript and hopes it will be available in a bookstore (or ebook reader) near you soon.
This article was originally written for the Harvard Business School admitted students blog. It has been revised and reprinted with permission.