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What Is the Best Way to Prepare for an MBA Program?

Returning to school for a graduate degree can be a difficult transition, especially if you're entering a rigorous MBA program after time spent focusing on a career. While your business acumen may be honed by years in the trenches, academia can present unique challenges to even the most seasoned professional. MBA programs require a serious commitment of time and effort, and students may find the classroom has changed significantly since they last stepped foot in one.

So how does one prepare for the difficulty ahead? What are the best ways for a working professional to brush up on their fundamentals before diving in? And what if they're coming from another field altogether, such as health care or criminal justice? In the final part of our series examining each step of the MBA admissions process, we asked b-school faculty and staff what students should do to prepare themselves before entering an MBA program. Here's what they had to say.

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What are the best things a prospective student can do to prepare for the rigor of an MBA program?

Julie Barefoot, Emory UniversityEmory University

Julie Barefoot, Associate Dean of MBA Admissions at Emory University Goizueta Business School

"1. Take pre-program Foundational courses seriously. Most MBA programs will require or encourage candidates to complete online preparatory classes and/or require the completion of an in person Boot Camp program prior to the start of MBA Orientation. Goizueta offers these Foundational experiences in Math/Statistics, Economics and Financial Accounting. Prospective MBA students should take these courses seriously as they are good ways to re-fresh your skills and they also help you transition back into the academic learning environment.

2. Read the WSJ, especially if you have not worked in a business setting (such as in a non-profit or the military). Reading the Wall Street Journal on a regular basis is helpful to begin understanding business lingo as well as current issues that corporations are facing.

3. Save money. You will always need more money than you expect when you are enrolled in an MBA program. And, you will want to take full advantage of all the MBA study opportunities, such as semester-long study abroad, shorter international study trips during program breaks or case competitions, all which require additional travel funds.

4. Know your best learning style and stress behaviors. Reflect on your prior academic experiences and consider your best learning style. As you start an MBA program, develop tactics or learning tools that will enable you to keep track of all of your assignments and help you best function on a team. You should also know your stress behaviors and consider ways to avoid situations that add to your stress levels."

David Dams, Drexel UniversityDrexel University

David Dams, MBA/M.S. Admissions at Drexel Lebow College of Business

"#1: Time Management -- You will find through the program that life outside of school still continues, and taking on the added challenges of a MBA program will impede on that. The best quote I heard from one of our former MBA students was "When I was working on school work, it was only about school work. When I was with my wife and family, it was only about them. Going through the program taught me to be 100% focused on one thing at a time, and that made me a better team member to my classmates and a better father and husband to my family." Whether its family time, personal time, or getting enough sleep, you need to prepare yourself by managing your time effectively.

#2: Don't get overwhelmed -- Life comes at us all very quickly, and it's easy to get caught up and start stressing out. If you go into the program thinking of reasons why you won't do well, then you won't do well. You would not have been admitted if the Admissions Review Committee didn't think you would be successful in that program. Remember, good MBA programs have lower acceptance rates because everyone wants to go there, and top candidates are chosen for a reason.

#3: Enjoy yourself -- MBA programs are hard and time consuming and at times, stressful. But remember, your peers are going through the same thing and the faculty has seen students go through the program many times. It's a great time to meet new people with different experiences and backgrounds, and you have the advantage of learning at the same time."

Isser Gallogly, NYU SternNew York University Stern School of Business

Isser Gallogly, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions at New York University Stern School of Business

"Brush up academically. NYU Stern's MBA program is rigorous, and it may have been a few years since you set foot in a classroom. Take the time to brush up on your core business knowledge by checking out a book on the fundamentals of business from the local library or by taking a self-study online course about economics, statistics or accounting.

Get up to speed on current events. At Stern, our faculty provide examples from current events along with their real-world perspectives. To prepare for the classroom discussions, you should keep up on daily events and news related to business. You can also subscribe to business magazines and periodicals to keep abreast of current affairs and different industry trends.

Continue to develop professionally. Take a look at your resume, make a list of the skills you would like to develop and seek out opportunities providing relevant experience. You should also reconnect with members of your network and talk to them about your future career plans including why you are pursuing the MBA.

Get some rest. Two years goes by very quickly and it's important to take time to reflect and prepare for the academic, personal and professional experience that awaits you. Think about what you hope to accomplish including classes you're interested in, programs you would like to participate in and places you would like to go. Before you know it, you will be graduating with your MBA."