After spending a whopping four whole years as a Langone student – from pre-pandemic, to the peak of Covid, to this new world we live in – I feel I’ve learned a lot in how to optimize the MBA experience as a part-time student. From making friends, to selecting classes, joining clubs, networking, and having fun, it is A LOT with a full-time job. However, you did not come to Stern so you could attend two evening classes a week for a few years and take nothing more from the experience. It’s also the people you’ll meet and the experience you get outside of the classroom that will leave you satisfied with your time here.
For starters, get over your imposter syndrome. From conversations I’ve had with many students, most of us have it to a varying degree when we first start. It will dissipate with time. My biggest insecurity was that I had such a different professional background from my classmates. I had absolutely no foundation in any of the coursework. I hadn’t taken a non-science class since high school. All I knew about Excel was how to open it on my computer (unfortunately, those skills have only marginally improved). I knew none of the business buzzwords and frameworks. It was intimidating and overwhelming. After some time, I realized there were also benefits to that though. I was a blank canvas with no pre-imposed biases. Yes, I had to work harder in the foundation classes than my peers, but the material was (usually) fun to learn. I was able to bring a fresh perspective. Ironically, it was my finance-based classmates, the ones who I was so impressed and intimidated by, that gave me that perspective. Once I realized that I earned my seat at the table solely on the merit that led to my admission to Stern, I was able to get out of my own way and embrace the experience.
I knew very little about what an MBA entailed when I started. I wasn’t even entirely sure what I wanted to do with the degree. Fortunately, you have some more time when you’re a Langone student to figure it out. See what you enjoy from the foundation classes. Specializations are great but they don’t matter that much. Find the classes and professors you will gain the most from, and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. I knew I was going to stay in the healthcare industry because that’s my passion. However, after Foundations of Finance, I began to understand what a benefit it would be to have a more in-depth understanding of financial statements (at least in theory). Math is not my strong suit, but I pushed myself to get a Finance Specialization. It was a lot of work in comparison to some of the more “fluffy” classes, but I am so glad I did it. The other classes I selected based on what interested me. Pro tip: You can make a case for a lot of classes to be included under different specializations too. I kid you not when I say I have emailed MBA Specialization once every other semester for the past two years to make a case as to why a class I wanted to take should be included as a particular specialization. I had a 50% success rate and I have made some speculative arguments. But again, the specializations don’t really mean much, so don’t over stress them.
If traveling is your thing, then travel, travel, travel during the MBA. I have used my vacation time at work to take as many classes as possible outside of NYC. The pandemic put a dent in that, but international travel at Stern has made a comeback. The first DBi I did was in China after my first year in the program, and it was probably the best experience I’ve had at Stern (which is saying a lot because I’ve had many). I made the best friends from that trip, learned the importance of forming friendships with full-time students, and was handed over The Oppy from someone who wanted to pass it off to someone who wanted it. You’re supposed to have all your foundational classes completed in order to do a DBi but the international office will make exceptions if they are trying to fill courses. I got three credits, explored China, and learned so much in those two weeks. I later went to Oktoberfest in Germany, London, and Morocco (all social trips) as well as countless domestic trips during lockdown with friends made from that DBi. My next DBi will be to Mexico City right after graduation, which I am also excited about.
But there are other travel courses that are not DBis (you’re only allowed to do two DBis where credits can be applied to the 60). Professor Harry Chernoff runs two of the best travel classes at Stern. The first class I took with him was Operations in Entertainment, where you go to Vegas for a week to learn all about the gambling, gaming, and nightlife industries. I have absolutely no background or real desire to go into any of those industries, but the class was so informative. We had a great time and boom, another three credits completed. In March, I spent spring break in Panama, taking a course straightforwardly named “Operations in Panama.” We learned about the building and running of the Panama Canal, real estate projects, infrastructure and social issues, and got an understanding of how Panama’s economy functions (plenty of corruption).
Truthfully, I never selected these travel courses with the intent of learning. I wanted to travel and I wanted to get class credits on the way. Ironically, I am now so passionate about talking about the Chinese or Panamanian economies or the gaming industry. I keep a soapbox to stand on for such special occasions. And all those travel courses have added up to a total of 10.5 credits, nearly 20% of my degree. Just know for the Operation classes with Chernoff, you have to have taken, or simultaneously be taking, Operations Management. It’s a requirement for Langone students, but take it sooner rather than later if you want to go on those classes. Another great course, which I unfortunately got waitlisted for was the Craft and Commerce of Cinema, which includes a trip to the Cannes Film Festival. Again, three credits for an incredible time in another country, where you will learn a lot about the entertainment industry and spend a decent time in black tie on the red carpet. Just look at the requirements before applying. Lastly, clubs typically organize school-organized trips to places like Patagonia and Machu Picchu, which I predict will be making a comeback next year.
Go on the ski trips hosted by Stern Adventures! It’s four days during January break and it’s a blast. Both times I went without knowing anyone. Yes, nerve-racking, but I left with such great friends and plenty of people to see at events now. I don’t even ski! I did a mix of snow tubing and alpine running while everyone else hit the slopes. We all met for apres ski and then enjoyed the hot tubs, the bars, or house parties.
As for time management, let’s just say that I’m writing the first draft of this article on the Notes app on my phone as I ride the subway to class. You will find ways to make things that are important to you work. Don’t underestimate yourself. At the same time, you don’t have to do everything. It’s not feasible, it’s boring, and you will burn yourself out. As events come up, prioritize what you really want to do each week. Just make sure you include the social events, which leads me to “networking”… One of the most intimidating things I made myself do during my time at Stern was go to social functions where I knew no one. The truth is that people come to these events to talk to fellow Sternies. No one is focused on you or worried who you are or aren’t with. The more Beer Blasts and happy hours I went to, the more familiar faces I got to know, and before I knew it, I had my group that I was texting to make plans with before or after the event. Full-timers are really good at going to all the social functions. I think Langone students struggle more with finding the time or utility, but it’s worth the effort. Full-timers and Langone students are going to be your future contacts in your career, and bonding over a beer is a great way to develop that connection. Prowl CampusGroups regularly to stay on top of academic and social events happening at Stern. A lot of events aren’t too broadly advertised, so it’s a good way to stay in the know.
Join clubs and find one or two that you’re passionate about and become heavily involved. Being on the boards of Langone Student Government and The Oppy opened up so many doors for me. First of all, I met so many great students, alum and faculty that led to great relationships and professional networking. By being so involved, whenever administration needed someone to do something fun, PR-wise, they’d reach out. The roles’ responsibilities gave me a sense of purpose and belonging. I became a confident leader from club boards, as cheesy as that sounds, and got a crash course on marketing, financing, group culture, inclusivity, public relations, and pretty much everything besides excel. While the professional clubs are wonderful to help with career development, the affinity clubs also lead to many of the same results. Also, despite the common confusion, Langone students can serve as any member of a club board (even president)! Besides (obviously) LSG, there are only three clubs with Langone presidents. However, that is three more clubs than when I started!
My last recommendation is to do the Ignite program. Whether you want to change careers or companies or are happy staying where you are, it is a nice reminder that you have options. Ignite gives Langone students access to all the recruiting resources and job listings that full-timers have. Even if it’s solely to see what’s out there, you might open that door. The requirements to join Ignite aren’t too extensive considering the benefits of the upside. I (briefly) thought I wanted to do consulting and from Ignite I was able to recruit and interview. Ultimately, I would have made a terrible consultant but I am happy I got that experience on how to case.
There are many perks to being a Langone student. You have a salary (yay for jobs!) and can be as involved (or uninvolved) as you want at Stern. The opportunity cost isn’t as hefty as it is for full-timers. My biggest advice is to make the most of your time here. It’s a rewarding feeling to be graduating and know I have absolutely no regrets about how I spent my years at Stern.