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  • MBA freshers: A Survival Guide to the first fortnight at your new b-school

    In about a week’s time, most business schools in India would have welcomed the new batch of starry-eyed students, the first-year ‘freshers’. Carrying with them a lot of anxiety and much hope, they would be busy checking out the campus and the classrooms, wondering about roommates, making their first friends or scouting for paying-guest accommodation, all part of the first-fortnight buzz at a b-school. To make this new journey for the freshers less maddening and more enjoyable, ex-students and senior MBA students provide advice and tips on what to carry, what to leave behind, books to buy, software to install, grooves to get into and more.

    Books – both light and serious

    There is no better way to learn life, than to live it, say many second-year MBA students adding that no book can prepare you for life in a b-school. However, there are some books which may help make the process of learning more gratifying.

    Ankush Trakru, a 2007 alumnus of the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), Delhi is certain that books like Mind of a Strategist and Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker are good for a start. “These books will give students a general feel of what to expect,” he says.

    Harshal Modi, ex-Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM), Pune is certain that there is no better book that about-to-be-b-schoolers must read than Welcome to Advertising. Now Get Lost by Omkar Sane. Arun Kapur of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore pushes for Stay Hungry Stay Foolish for those who wish to eventually start thnieir own business. Binoy Cherian also recommends Sidin Vadukut’s Dork or Chetan Bhagat’s books as they will add to the zest of college life. Chetan Shetty from the National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE), Mumbai suggests CK Prahlad’s ‘Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid‘.

    As our own recommendation from PaGaLGuY, we suggest that you read Snapshots from Hell: The Making of an MBA, a funny but intense account of author Peter Robinson’s first year at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

    Apart from the casual reads above, some suggest books to get comfortable with numerical analysis and accounting. Binoy Cherian from the class of 2011 at Chennai’s Great Lakes Institute of Management has a list to share. “I recommend Financial Accounting – Tools for Business Decision Making because this book uses International Financial Reporting Standards and hence is different from the accountancy textbooks recommended in Indian high schools and undergraduation.” Cherian also suggests Business Statistics: A First Course to attain comfort with business statistics.

    Binoy also recommends that all students, irrespective of the MBA they are studying in get a conceptual understanding of statistics, presenting data using charts and graphs in Microsoft Excel, numerical measures such as Mean, Median, Mode, Variance, Standard Deviation, Probability, Probability distributions including Binomial, Poisson and Normal distributions before they join up.

    Deep Agarwal from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), Mumbai has an even more basic list. His list includes How to Read a Balance Sheet for engineering students. For students from the science background, he recommends online resources to get their knowledge of statistics in place. “These will be of practical help,” he assures.

    Those such as Divya Morparia, a 2009 alumnus of the Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA) and Avinav Thakur from International Management Institute (IMI), Delhi feel that just reading the newspapers everyday, especially the pink papers is a good enough start to get around at a b-school. Sameer Joshi from IIM Calcutta shares that view and adds that having cleared the Common Admissions Test (CAT) and other entrance exams, the student already has his basics in place, so no extra reading is really required for the initial days.

    Binoy suggests that before the classes officially start, one should catch up on all the sleep that they can get as it is the only thing that freshers are going to miss in the coming days. “Its good if you learned how to read quickly. With about 150 300 pages of pre-reads (preparation before class) everyday, it just gets difficult if one does not know how to read fast and recollect all that they have read. Quick reading and summarizing is an important art.”

    Laptop and software

    Chetan and Sameer swear by Microsoft Excel and declare that it is by far the most important software that all MBA student need to have on their laptops.

    “Every business process needs Excel, whether it is sales or supply chain. In fact, most companies use Excel so when students go for their summer internship, they find it very difficult to cope with the responsibilities unless they know the software really well,” says Chetan.

    Both Ankush and Harshal stress on the importance of Microsoft Powerpoint and urge that it is a must since all students need to make Powerpoint presentations whether in the classroom or during summer internships. Ankush adds that it is good to acquire basic skills in photo and video editing software because it always helps in enhancing the quality of presentations. Divya Morparia advises that students install software to read all common e-book formats.

    Vivek Khanchandani and Chetan recommend SPSS and Minitab as handy software for statistical analysis. “Since they are statistical tools for any marketing and sales team, students should learn them.” Chetan adds that the student versions of these tools are cheaper and easily available.

    Binoy says that it makes sense to invest in a good anti-virus software. “Students tend to use the school network extensively and share data using pen drives, so having a good anti-virus makes sense. Some colleges might be choosy about allowing downloads. So it is better to download the instant messengers, browsers, games and other tools before going to campus.” Binoy adds that Counter Strike is a big hit in colleges, so it might be a good idea to acquire it.

    For those buying a new laptop, Binoy recommends the Apple Macbook. “It helps in making better presentations. Apple provides discounts to students. Just show the Apple guys your b-school admission offer letter.”

    What to wear

    One pictures the MBA prototype in a crisp suit with a tie to boot, shining leather shoes, all under a halo of confidence. But it is not just suits and sarees at b-school. Senior MBA students say that the new MBA’s suitcase should have a little of everything, as no two b-schools have the same dress code. Binoy says that at Great Lakes 99% of the students wear t-shirts and jeans 99% of the time. He recommends that apart from daily casuals that one wears to class, students should carry at least two pairs of formal wear and a blazer if the college hasn’t specified a uniform. “The formal wear will come in handy during presentations, competitions and summer placements.”

    Some suggest to get formal clothes stitched on campus because a few colleges prescribe a signature colour. Avinav Thakur from IMI Delhi says that in his college, formal clothing needs to be in a particular colour. “Sapphire blue was the colour for the suits and it looked good too. Having a class with students sitting in a range of diffferent coloured suits looks odd.” Avinav suggests that one could also hold stitching formal clothing till one actually settles down at college since many colleges have their own tailors who do a good job.

    Hello Senior

    There are no rules to getting into the good books of seniors at a b-school. Most seniors say that acquaintance with the juniors is an ongoing and automatic process. According to Nikhil Kulkarni from SIBM Bangalore, the process to get to know the juniors begins two months before they actually step into college. “We start meets with new joinees in every city, so students generally meet other students and seniors even before they actually join school. So getting to know the seniors is not a big issue in our college,” he says. Deep from NMIMS Mumbai, which is not a completely residential school, says that being active on Facebook and Orkut is another way to know your seniors and peers. “Knowing them beforehand gives you a headstart once you enter college,” he states.

    Though ragging is legally banned in India, it’s still a paper tiger and just like at other degree colleges, b-schools too have their share of ragging. Avinav Thakur assures that ragging in MBA colleges is very light and harmless compared to engineering or what appears in newspapers and television. Ravindra Kumar from Fore School of Management, Delhi gives straight advice. “Get involved in the ragging process. That’s the best and fastest way to know everyone.” Divya Morparia advises that students should enjoy whatever kind of ragging that takes place. “Ragging will not kill you, it will only make you stronger. So make the best of it and get to know your seniors at one go.” She adds however, “Feel free to ask seniors to stop when you think they have crossed the line.”

    Nikhil on the other hand says that the induction programmes are quite a learning experience for the fresher and nothing extra is needed.

    Making friends, lafdas

    Thanks to social networking, most students get to know each other even before joining. The remaining, they get to know during the college’s induction and orientation programmes. About love stories on the campus, seniors insist that MBAs are humans too and what has to happen will happen. In fact at b-school, apart from a degree, many people also find their life-partners. Ravindra Kumar says that your approach to the opposite sex differs with colleges. “When I was doing MBA in Delhi, I found women taking the initiative but in Pune, the guys usually had to take the first step.” On an average, most b-schools in India have majority male student forces. But as Vivek Khanchandani says that at MBA level, students are already in their early to mid-20s and mature enough to deal with people from the opposite sex.

    Don’t lose yourself

    The unanimous advice that all senior and ex-students give is that MBAs need to enjoy their b-school days. Avinav Thakur says that MBAs have to learn to enjoy life and look beyond their classrooms. They have to know what is happening in the world and stay tuned to it. “Cutting yourself off from everything else and just concentrating on studies is not the way it should be.” Deep states that students should also acknowledge that just getting into an MBA is not the end of everything. “I have seen students who after getting into a b-school forget about doing well in it. They get destroyed as people, because for them getting into a particular institute was the only aim.” Divya says that while hard work is important, stress should be handled by concurrently having a good time too.

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