If you’re considering earning your MBA, you may be furiously researching and visiting schools, studying for the GMAT, or starting your applications. What you might not have considered is how to get ready once you’ve made up your mind.

Whether you plan to attend an immersive, two-year residential program or go part-time to a school nearby, there are things to consider and five practical steps you can take to get ready for day one.

How to Prepare for an MBA

1. Talk to Students and Alumni


Learn from those who’ve gone before you. Current and former MBA students can provide perspective on what they wish they knew before embarking on their MBA. Talk to friends who’ve gone to business school, but also reach out to those who are currently enrolled or recent graduates of your program of choice.

While the school’s admissions team can arrange for campus visits and provide introductions, it may be even easier to find current students on LinkedIn or Instagram. Students and recent grads are proud of their achievement and likely have spread their good news online.

Related: Students Share Their Experience Transitioning from CORe to the MBA

2. Read Books


Much of what you gain from an MBA program is problem-solving and leadership skills, so you may want to build your expertise in those areas by reading up. HBS Online Management Essentials Professor Joe Fuller shared a couple books he suggests to students with Business Insider.

Fuller recommends Loonshots by Safi Bahcall and the George Marshall biography by David Roll.

“Loonshots brilliantly conveys multiple lessons about problem-solving, group dynamics, and the value of thought and reflection in an immensely entertaining way," Fuller told Business Insider. "A work of genius.”

Regarding the George Marshall biography, Fuller said, “I believe he was a brilliant manager and judge of talent. I find our students often learn more from reading books about historical figures and reflecting on their attributes as managers and decision-makers.”

Other books frequently recommended by top executives and business school faculty include The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Moneyball by Michael Lewis, Good to Great by Jim Collins, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and The Innovator’s Dilemma by HBS Online Disruptive Strategy Professor Clayton Christensen.

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3. Warm Up


If you’ve taken a break post-undergrad, or studied liberal arts and feel at a disadvantage, you might want to consider taking an online business school primer.

There are thousands of courses to choose from, but HBS Online offers a three-course preparation program called the Credential of Readiness, or CORe, that was specifically designed to help individuals get ready for an MBA. Led by HBS faculty, CORe is made up of Financial Accounting, Economics for Managers, and Business Analytics. Depending on how much time you have to dedicate to coursework each week, you can choose a 10-week offering or the same program spread out over 17 weeks.

By taking CORe, or another business school prep program, you’ll learn vital concepts to help you through your MBA curriculum.

One former CORe participant, Malachi Koop, originally took the program as an MBA alternative. The experience instead inspired him to pursue his graduate degree.

“HBS Online is what confirmed for me that I wanted to pursue an MBA," Koop says. "I was worried about being able to prove to an admissions committee that I had what it took from a quantitative perspective, but HBS Online gave me another data point on my resume to prove it wasn’t going to be an obstacle for me.”

Koop is now enrolled in Georgetown University’s Flex MBA program.

Related: Why You Should Study Business

4. Pick a Concentration


Many business schools are known for specific strengths, like entrepreneurship, marketing, or international business, which might guide you in your school choice. Most also offer areas of concentrations or specialization.

It’s important to figure out what specialty you want to pursue based on your career aspirations. The decision will inform your elective choices and prepare you to take advantage of on-campus recruiter visits. Recruiting starts in the fall on many campuses, so choosing your concentration early will help you get a jump on finding the right internships.

5. Mentally Prepare


Most business school candidates expect a rigorous academic program that will be intellectually challenging, but may not expect the social demands of business school. Many former MBA students believe that the social aspects are nearly as beneficial as what you learn in the classroom.

Working hard and playing hard could offer advantages post-school, but it can pose particular challenges to students with families. Knowing what to expect in advance will help you mentally prepare. To make sure you’re up for the academic and social demands of business school, be sure to get plenty of rest.

Taking the Next Step

An MBA program can help you develop the leadership and management skills needed to advance your career. But to achieve that goal and succeed in your program of choice, you first need to prepare. 

Do you want to take your career to the next level? Download our free Guide to Advancing Your Career with Essential Business Skills to learn how enhancing your business knowledge can help you make an impact on your organization and be competitive in the job market.

Michele Reynolds

About the Author

Michele Reynolds handles brand marketing and PR for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to HBS Online, she led communications for TripAdvisor and Gazelle and has been widely quoted in national media outlets, including CBS News, Reuters, and The New York Times. Michele earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Outside work, she spends time with her teenage daughter, plays tennis, and visits her enormous extended family.