Making The Most of the Business School Experience

Posted by Kathleen Hebert

Having recently graduated from Harvard Business School and not yet returned to the professional world, I have a lot of time to think. Of late, my thoughts have focused on my time at business school. Did I learn everything I was supposed to? Will I stay in touch with the friends I made? Did I make the right career choice? Was it worth it?

Business school is touted as a “transformational experience.” You enter, generally after having spent two or three years behind a desk 15+ hours per day at one of the major investment banking, consulting, or Fortune 500 companies, eager to have more time to meet people (maybe even date?), cook, exercise, travel and so on. The choice to take two years out of the workforce to complete an MBA is not one that is taken lightly: you forgo your salary and spend a lot of money on the aforementioned activities. For many, it is therefore important that you “make the most” of the experience.

My advice: After you get the basics down (i.e., attending class and figuring out what job you want to get when you graduate), find something you care about and volunteer your time towards that goal. It took me a bit of time to find my passion, but it both changed and made my business school experience.

In January 2010, Haiti was hit by a major earthquake that left the country devastated, killing over 200,000 Haitians and costing over 100% of the small country’s GDP. Prior to the earthquake, Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest countries in the world, beset by political instability, economic underdevelopment, and susceptibility to natural disasters.

After hearing reports of the disaster in Haiti, many students at Harvard were interested to find out how they could help. I was in the midst of my summer internship search and had been looking at international development opportunities. I met two other students who were in a similar situation and we came up with the idea of leading a service trip to Haiti. The thought was to a get a group of students together to work with partner organizations in Haiti and offer our entrepreneurial and business skills to assist in the disaster recovery efforts on-the-ground.

After discussing the idea with other students, faculty, and administrators it was clear there was a real opportunity – but that it would have to take place in January 2011 rather than the summer to allow for adequate planning. Over the course of the summer and fall, our team developed a vision and value proposition, identified a set of target organizations to work with, and proposed the initiative to leaders of the various organizations. Given the country’s situation, there was a tremendous opportunity for students to lend their business background, training, and skills to real world problems facing Haitian and international organizations in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. In return, the students received invaluable experience in the practical application of our education in an unusual and likely more complex environment. We also were able to visit a very special place and share some memorable experiences, such as playing soccer on a field behind our hotel with some of the neighborhood kids and meeting the U.S. Ambassador, Ken Merten, and his staff at the Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

So, what are my practical tips to find your own Haiti experience?

(1)  Be open to new opportunities that might not have anything to do with your past experience or future goals. I had never been to Haiti, nor did I know anyone directly affected by the situation there, yet I was able to make a meaningful connection with the country through our work.

(2)  Find people that share your goals and work together. And try and branch outside of your business school social circle so that you meet new people along the way. Working with others is a great way to practice other important skills you will need in the real world.

(3)  Be patient and persistent. Keep trying even if you don’t find something right at first. Timing is everything and you don’t want to rush into something that, in the end, won’t be meaningful.

Finally, if you want more information about our Haiti trip, I kept a blog about the experience at


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Posted by Kathleen Hebert on Aug 22 2011. Filed under Opinion, Top Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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