Why Pre-MBA Summer Internships Help Students Thrive

Why Pre-MBA Summer Internships Help Students Thrive main image

For most, the summer months give us a chance to recharge on vacation, but for incoming MBA students, there may not be much time for respite.

One of the biggest challenges of beginning business school isn’t the rigor of the course but settling back into academic life after several years in the workforce. Many schools are encouraging — sometimes mandating — incoming MBAs brush up on their technical and interpersonal skills via all manner of “pre-MBA internships”.

Summer of work

Inbound MBAs at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business can work with a startup for several weeks before the course begins.

At CEIBS in China, a “boot camp” gives MBAs a sneak peak of the curriculum and chance to adjust to Shanghai life. And at ESMT Berlin, students can spend three-months attending German language classes prior to the start of term.

CEIBS’ MBA director Juan Antonio Fernandez notes that internships are as much about mixing with classmates as they’re about brushing up on technical skills.  

He says, “If you have never needed to learn or use complex financial models in your former career, of course it won’t be easy to pick up those skills and excel in these areas unless you are taught.”

The importance of networking

But CEIBS also encourages MBAs to start building their networks, get to know fellow classmates and professors, the various student clubs and organizations, as well as CEIBS alumni from the fields in which they have an interest.

Antonio Fernandez says, “All these will be useful as they do their MBA, and long after they graduate.”

Now in its seventh year, CEIBS typically welcomes around 70 prospects to join the week-long campus boot camp, which can serve as an attraction tool for candidates sitting on the fence.

The experience is particularly valuable for international candidates, notes Antonio Fernandez. “The MBA workload piles up very quickly in the first few weeks. The combination of exams, case studies and cultural differences can take its toll.”

The pre-course provides international students with a soft landing, he says. “They can grasp the basics of Mandarin and get to know their way around the essential apps to survive in Shanghai before the real MBA work begins in August.”

Going above and beyond

Stacy Blackman, an admissions consultant in the US, says some MBA candidates use the summer to prepare for a career pivot via an unpaid internship in their new chosen field. “This way they can determine if they’re interested, and add some relevant experience to their résumé.”

Others are concerned about academics and really want to prepare for new types of courses. They can take a summer course to beef up their quant skills — a simple calculus or accounting course online.

Many schools offer pre-term quant courses, such as the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Blackman says, “Those can be a good way to ease the nerves of individuals worried about the academic rigor. It’s also a great way to meet classmates and get a head start on campus life.”

AT ESMT Berlin, about 30 percent of admitted students each year participate in the pre-MBA program which includes German language courses.

Learning the lingo

Rick Doyle, head of marketing for ESMT degree programs says although the MBA is taught in English, the German language is important for MBA students because it can improve their employment opportunities. Almost 90 percent of 2017 graduates worked in Germany following the MBA.

He notes that orientation for MBAs can be particularly challenging on a one-year MBA course such as ESMT’s: “Students hit the ground running.”

For those who cannot come to the Berlin campus, there are 40 alumni chapters around the globe, where admitted MBAs can network and seek advice before the start of the course.

ESMT’s small cohort of about 70 students means alumni tend to be open to helping fresh recruits, Doyle says. “Actively connecting with alumni and networking early really pays off during the job search process. In the end, a majority of our students find their jobs through the ESMT network.”

However, while there are a growing number of things to do before an MBA, Blackman says it’s important to enjoy the calm before the storm, too.

“Once school starts you’ll be pulled in a million directions: career prep, classes, clubs, activities, orientation, networking,” she says. “It’s a whirlwind of activity and there’s never enough time to do it all.” Maybe you should take that vacation after all?

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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