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Dear MBA Candidate,

Newly admitted MBA candidates often get advice that sounds like this:

Congratulations on getting your MBA offer letter! Now relax and enjoy yourself because you are not going to get any time to relax once your MBA program starts.


You do not need to prepare for your MBA because they are going to teach you everything you need to know anyway!

WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! In fact dead wrong!!

Unless you are a candidate with significant experience in investment management, finance or consulting, it would be wise to prepare well for your MBA.

MBA Programs Starting Blocks do not start at Zero

Most MBA courses and business school faculty do not start teaching from basic concepts such as algebra, arithmetic, interest rates, etc. If they do start with the basics, they skim over it very quickly so you do not have much time to absorb it and build a foundation before you go on to more complex concepts. This is due to multiple reasons:

  • Different levels of students: MBA faculty do not start teaching from the basics in depth because the level of understanding of the core business concepts in an average MBA class varies widely. While many students in class may be new to the world of business, many other students may have business backgrounds or quantitative/engineering backgrounds. Therefore faculty perform a balancing act to keep the class interesting for everyone. This forces them to spend little time on the foundation concepts including algebra, arithmetic, interest rates, definitions, business frameworks, etc.
  • Pre-MBA courses: Most MBA programs offer pre-MBA course work or pre-MBA boot camps (online and in class) for their new admits. Most faculty expect students to attend these courses if they do not have a business or quantitative background and so assume that students in their MBA program have the basic quantitative skills .
  • Large volume of content to cover: MBA programs have large volumes of content they need to cover in a limited amount of time. So faculty drop the basic content at the graduate level assuming that students either know it or will pick it up on their own so that they can focus on other content.

Benefits of a Good Foundation for an MBA Candidate

Having a good foundation or strong quantitative skills helps MBA students in a number of ways.

Keep up with the class: Most MBA programs are fast paced and climb the difficulty levels rapidly leaving MBA students little time to go back and learn the basic quantitative skills. Not having the basic quantitative skills can cause a student to fall behind.

Go deeper: Good quantitative skills allow MBA students to focus on the finer points of the new concepts and theories rather than stress about keeping up with the class or figuring out the basics. This allows them to engage with the professor at a much deeper level and maximizes his or her gains from the MBA program.

Save time for networking and other opportunities an MBA program provides: Having good quantitative foundation allows MBA students to finish their case studies, projects and assignments faster leaving them more time for equally important activities such as networking, other extra curricular activities, job hunting and building relationships with their classmates.

Personal Branding: A good foundation allows an MBA student to participate actively in and strongly contribute to class discussions and team / group activities and case work. This builds a positive and strong personal brand that the MBA student will carry into the rest ofhis/her careers.

How should I prepare for an MBA program?

This really depends on your background and experience. There is no one-size- fits –all solution. Speak to friends or colleagues who may have recently graduated from the program you have chosen and plan ahead. Here are some of the areas you should consider.

Basic Math & Algebra for MBA Candidates

If you have been away from college for years or have not done basic math and algebra in college, it may make sense to ensure you have the basic math and algebra skills. You will be using basic math and algebra in most of your core classes including finance, economics, statistics, operations management, etc. Doing these classes without the foundational knowledge will be very stressful.

If you are not sure of your skill sets, test yourself with this basic MBA math and algebra skills test.

If your basic math skills are weak, a good place to start is KhanAcademy.com. Professor Alan Andersen has short listed Khan Academy videos for pre-MBA students here.

Knowledge of Core MBA topics

If your basic MBA math and algebra skills are sound, why not push ahead? Start learning the basics of accounting, finance, statistics and economics. Get a head start on your core subjects. You will be covering these topics in class and having a good foundation on these subjects will save you valuable time during the program which you can use for other important activities such as networking, skill building and exploring other opportunities.

Again Khanacademy is a good place to press ahead with your accounting, finance, statistics and economics understanding. Professor Alan Andersen has again posted key videos on each subject and other resources here.

Business General Knowledge

Read widely. You must start reading the financial press if you are not already doing so. This is essential to get familiar with the business world and key players including companies, executives, customers and regulators not to mention to get familiar with business jargon! If you like reading, biographies of business leaders will teach you a bout business.

Financial Planning

Each student will have a unique financial background and would have chosen one of the different  types of MBA programs(full time/part time) with different cost structures and durations. Whatever is your type of MBA program, think through all the details and get your finances in order. You will have little time once the program starts and you do not want to be dealing with it during the MBA program.

Family and Friends

Spend quality time with family and friends. Make sure they are aware of the intense course you have signed up for. Prepare them and set up reasonable expectations for you and your family.


Each MBA candidate is unique. It is best to evaluate your background and strengths against the demands of the MBA program you have selected and prepare accordingly.

Congratulation on getting your admit. Please choose to spend the few months before your MBA program wisely. I leave you with a few famous quotes:

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Benjamin Franklin

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. Malcolm X

The will to succeed is important, but what more important is the will to prepare. Bobby Knight

Update:  Don’t take my word on this. Learn from the top b-schools :). Here is a WSJ.com article on MBA boot camps: M.B.A. Programs Try Catering to Liberal-Arts Types—With Math Camp