Business Major Survival Guide: Time Management

I recently attended a speaker panel that featured five students from a top-ranked MBA program in California. The panelists were asked a wide variety of questions about the vast opportunities, experiences, and challenges associated with pursuing a graduate degree in business. One question in particular stuck out to me: what is the hardest part of being an MBA student? To my surprise, the panelists all had very similar answers to this question; in essence, the most difficult aspect of a business degree is choosing how to spend your time. Each panelist described their MBA program as a consistent pattern of choices… 

  • Attend the CEO keynote or grab lunch with my cohort group?
  • Meet with my faculty mentor or stop by the “Career in Venture Capital” event?
  • Study for my accounting exam or work on my startup pitch? 

MBA programs are similar to undergraduate business degrees as they are limited by 24-hour days and seven-day weeks. Just like MBA students, business undergrads experience a similar decision-making pattern…

  • Have a coffee chat with a recruiter or spend time applying for jobs on Handshake?
  • Work on my group project or meet with a career coach?
  • Apply for a leadership position in my consulting or finance club?  

How can undergrads best manage their time to take advantage of the value of a business degree? After much trial and error, I’ve come up with four guiding principles to keep in mind when forced to decide how to spend your time:

  1. Understand the value of experimentation
  2. Constantly and consistently apply yourself
  3. Establish work-life balance 
  4. Embrace competition

1. Understand the value of experimentation

My favorite aspect of being a business student is the emphasis on experiential learning, essentially “learning by doing.” Student organizations at many business schools are unique in that they provide opportunities to work on real-world problems through project work, initiatives, and competitions. Some student organizations even offer members the opportunity to work with real business owners on fast-paced, competitive client projects.

One piece of advice that I’ve stood by wholeheartedly as a Peer Career Coach is to utilize experiential learning through student organizations to grow skills and explore different career paths. I recommend treating your extra-curricular involvements just as you would academic work.

Incoming freshmen should scout student organizations they find the most interesting and get involved from Day 1 on campus. Alternatively, upperclassmen should determine which student organizations and experiences will most directly transfer skills relevant to a career of interest. I often coach upperclassmen who feel as if they’ve missed the train with business clubs and other extracurriculars. This is a common error– many clubs offer valuable opportunities to a wide range of students. (I worked with many new-member upperclassmen in my early club projects in college).

In addition to taking the first step with on-campus involvement, it is essential to experiment in a diverse range of clubs. Many students feel as if they’ve pigeon-holed themselves into one career path by sticking to one club, one major, etc. Experimenting with multiple clubs throughout your undergraduate experience allows you to diversify your network, experiences, and career opportunities. As a business student, you want to keep as many doors open as long as you can!

2. Constantly and consistently apply yourself

Apply, apply, apply. You won’t receive an internship offer without submitting a job application and you won’t be accepted into a competitive club without filling out that first form. The more work experience you have alongside the transferable skills you concurrently build, the more likely you will open doors to exciting opportunities. I advise students to do two things (especially when applying for internships):

  1. Create an “application tracker” spreadsheet organized by employer, role, date of application, deadline, and employer contacts.  
  2. Update the spreadsheet with new applications and maintain connections with employer contacts.

WARNING: Whether it be pristine branding, an insider friend, or a high salary– when applying to a company, it can be easy to put all your eggs in one basket. Never put all of your energy into one company. Your post-grad job is just one blip in your long-winded career path filled with many twists and turns. Being laser-focused on one company can set you up for failure and discourage exploration.

3. Establish work-life balance

This is one thing that I’ve grappled with in my time as a college student. If you are motivated and competitive, it can be easy to fast-track your undergraduate experience and focus solely on launching into your dream career after graduation. I’ve learned over time (through my experiences and many mentors) that college is a unique time to specialize in independence and establish what it means to be you. College can help you answer questions such as:

  • What do I value in life?
  • What kind of people am I drawn to?
  • What areas of myself do I need to improve?

In addition to investing in independence, friendships outside of your classes, clubs, and companies are extremely valuable. Your friends are what make you, you! Being social is just as important as excelling in your academics and extracurricular activities.

4. Embrace competition

I’ve come to learn that no matter how hard you work, there will always be someone outperforming you. Although seemingly discouraging, this idea can catapult you on a path to personal success. How so?

Instead of competing with others, compete with yourself.

Competing with yourself is setting visionary goals and working diligently to achieve them. It means dreaming big and moving fast in how you respond to failure, whether through pivoting directions or re-attempting what you previously failed to achieve. It’s about finding a balance between feasibility and striving toward what’s understood to be impossible. The business world is all about competition. If you can transform your personal and professional life into a one-man race, you can challenge yourself to exceed your expectations and settle for nothing less than excellence.

Disclaimer: I am currently a junior in college. My thoughts, perspectives, and advice are likely to evolve! Take my words with a grain of salt and always go with your gut.


Post Written By: Ryan Breuer, Peer Coach