You're going to b-school…now what?
Random header image... Refresh for more!

How B-School is Like the NCAA Basketball Tournament

As if the theme of this entire blog isn’t a dead giveaway, I really like analogies and metaphors – I find they are a great way to relate something new to something that is already understood.  So, when I read this post at about a tournament bracket based on BusinessWeek rankings of MBA programs, it got me thinking:

How is B-School like the NCAA Basketball Tournament?

They probably have more in common than you think.  So, for all you sports fans, here are some of the things that quickly come to mind:

1.      The Madness. The Tournament is often referred to as “March Madness.”  The first year of b-school could easily be nicknamed “August-May Madness.”  A little cheesy, but oh so true.

2.      Practice, Practice, Practice. Successful Tournament teams have put in substantial practice time.  The same can be said of successful MBA students — if you haven’t started preparing yet, or if you’re looking for a little direction, there’s no time like the present.  Two places to start are here and here.

3.      In-game Adjustments. Teams that win the Tournament have a strategy that suits their strengths, but are able to adjust as they meet opponents who play different styles of basketball.  The same holds true for many successful MBAs: they have a strategy for approaching school and know themselves, but are flexible enough to adjust to the demands of classes, the job search and anything else that comes their way.

4.      Role Clarity. Good teams usually have some star players, but more importantly, every player has a well-defined role.  Role definition is also a key to successful group projects.  The cool thing about b-school is that unlike the Tournament, where the star players are pretty much set, anyone can step up and be the star on any given day.  (More on this to come.)

5.      Focus, AND Have Fun. The teams that win Championships are focused on winning the title, but they take one game at a time and have fun along the way, celebrating (in some way) each of the five wins it takes to get to the title game.  In b-school, you’re likely to be focused on the end goals — graduation, finding your post-school career — which are important.  But it’s equally important to have fun and celebrate the intermediate victories – the group projects you survive, the internship you land, the events you organize — which will make reaching your end goals all the more gratifying.

With these similarities, there are also a couple of key differences between b-school and the NCAA Tournament that are worth pointing out:

  • It’s Not One and Done. In the Tournament, a bad game will almost always have disastrous results – one loss and a team’s season is over.  In b-school, that’s not the case.  You can recover from an off-day most of the time — if you flub a test or a project, it’s likely not the end of the world.  Of course there are certain big events — like finals and job interviews — that if you mess up, are harder to fix, but that’s why you prepare and, when necessary, make time to stop and think.
  • Everyone Can Be A Champion. A common mantra you’ll hear during the Tournament is “survive and advance.” 65 teams start, but only one can be the Champion. On the other hand, b-school, in most cases, is not a weed-out type situation.  If you’ve been accepted, your school wants you to come and be successful.  Your school wants you to do well academically and land a great job.  They want that for everyone in your class. (A lot more to come on this as well.)

Good luck with your brackets – and more importantly, good luck with your school prep.  In the spring of 2011, I’m sure you’ll all be cutting down the nets and having your one shining moment.

Current and post-MBAs, have any other thoughts you want to share on this topic?  Jump on in by posting a comment below.