Let’s make sure we have an accurate perception of what we are getting into. We often don’t take time to really consider, assess, and reflect because we jump on the MBA and JD bandwagon without researching one key element, and that is….. This shit is hard!!!! Not to say we shouldn’t pursue graduate education because of its difficulty, but our eyes should be wide open before we commit to anything. I mean you don’t really hear stories about glorious JD experiences because that degree is transparently difficult, especially the gruesome 1L. But when you hear about experiences from b-school students and alumni, they always reflect positively. More poignantly, they talk about it as though it’s the most off the chain experience. I don’t think they’re intentionally lying. It’s possible they choose to remember the academic flexibility and countless international excursions of the 2Y (second year) instead of the turmoil of recruiting and the horrors of accounting from 1Y (first year). Another explanation is that one of the core competencies acquired from a MBA program is the ability to make shit smell good—an ability to sell anything. So, they could just subconsciously be good ambassadors of their programs.
However, I have an obligation to you as well, and that’s to keep it 100. Not to say I don’t owe loyalty to my business school, but I also have a fiduciary and personal obligation to Applying While Black and the two obligations don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And as always, my point is never to discourage, but rather to ensure we have all the relevant info. No more blindly jumping into the deep end of competitive ass professional schools. Cool? Let’s start with what you need to know about law!
- No hand holding. Academic hand holding, as I call it, is having checks and balances along the semester to ensure your comprehension of the material. That is what quizzes, homework assignments, and projects really are. You are able to determine your comfort with the material prior to the exam and adjust accordingly. This doesn’t exist in law school. The final will be approximately 80% of your final grade with classroom participation accounting for the remaining portion. So to be successful, you have to be a steward of time management. Law school rewards hard work and preparation. If you are not that OCD student and interested in law school, I highly suggest you consider another career.
- Cold Calling: So some undergraduate courses employ this method of instruction, but every law school does this. So, showing up to a Constitutional Law class and having 200 pages of reading and the professor asking you the most asinine question without you willingly raising your hand to answer the question. Not only are you embarrassed in front your peers, but you look stupid.
- Legal Writing. Lol so it’s ironic. The course you really need to help you prevail on the exams is not always well executed from an instructional standpoint. Your legal writing course is arguably the most pertinent course you’ll take all year, and I’m still waiting for someone to tell me “My legal writing course equipped me with a flawless template for legal writing.” I’m sure some people are satisfied with it, but I don’t think law schools give legal writing a sufficient pedagogical investment. And properly developing that skill will be integral to not only law school success, but also your career success at your firm.
Now why is b-school hard?
- Mad homework. Mad homework is an understatement. Think of your homework as if you were Beyoncé doing a world tour and you were on stage every night, dancing and sanging your little face off. It’s that stamina, work ethic, and consistency that you’ll need to emerge victorious. Homework also manifests in multiple forms—cases that include written and excel components, problem sets, and pointless reflective write-ups aimed at giving you more career clarity. In addition, there exists significant overlap in deadlines, so the pressure is on throughout the first year. If you want to hear about academic hardships, just find someone fresh out of their 1Y at Darden. They’ll have some good tea for you to sip.
- Groups: A lot of the work is group oriented. Thus, your group dynamic is really Pandora’s box. You never really know what you’ll get. You would think that when you’ve elevated yourself to the upper echelon of elite schooling, and, thus, everyone would be on fleek. But honestly, some people are just dumb. You’ll discover that. I would say no shade, but I just called people dumb. Can’t hide behind that one. Also, we all know we don’t want to be that black person who isn’t carrying his/her weight on the team. We have to bare the cross of unfortunately representing our race well in conjunction with our own conceptual shortcomings, whether they may be quantitative or writing oriented. Smh. Regardless, we have to find a way to manage team dynamics in a way where we over deliver with a smile on our face.
- No vacation. So b-school is not a vacation! This is probably the worse and biggest misconception floating around the MBA applicant realm. You will find very few people who are not hustling for something. Whether it’s grades or jobs or both, the momentum is on during that 1Y. One difficult part is eventually you have to focus on the singular thing you want to prioritize and hustle for. It’s not easy to return to our glory of well roundedness we achieved in undergrad. Recruiting is definitely a curriculum in its own right, regardless of industry. Something will have to give if you want to be successful. The vacation can begin when you secured your internship or full-time job.
And when vacation time does arise, participation is really contingent upon your financial situation. People often matriculate with thousands of dollars of savings. On the other hand, people spend money luxuriating with ski weekends because they think in terms of their future earnings. So, they are spending money earned tomorrow today.
Now, how can we smooth the transition somewhat when we enroll?
When I was in undergrad, I often leaned on the various Black cultural centers and support systems to help foster my success, but those structures, especially Diaspora oriented, are probably only present in the affinity groups at the graduate school level. You don’t have to be an avid member, but being familiar with said organizations can prove to be helpful. You can meet the students ahead of you and they can provide some insights on your success. Regardless, understand we can’t always climb by ourselves. Neither Martin nor Rosa did.
Furthermore, trying to climb solo can be costly. We often avoid soliciting assistance because again, we constantly carry the burden of our color and are overly cognizant of how our actions affect people’s perception of our capabilities. I am giving you permission to abandon that burden for your individual success. You’ve already made it if you’re at the school of your choice, and this school of hard knocks doesn’t have to be conquered independently. I’ve seen people dismissed, albeit very silently, from schools due to an inability to meet the academic standards. While these academic standards are definitely not overly difficult to meet, dismissal is both a possibility and sometimes, a reality. Their dismissal purely could have been a product of poor time management, and, more importantly, not asking for help. I think that will be your biggest detriment. If you can’t ask for help, I suggest you learn or revisit law school or business school. Your pride is not worth failing the hard knocks curriculum. And this is not to inject fear, but I promise you this happens more times than you think, especially for people that look like us. Have the right mindset going in, and, as you begin to apply, you might as well prepare for a rigorous, and not a restful, new chapter.
IF YOU REALLY BOUT THAT LIFE, quickly identify friends who have strengths in areas you fall short. For example, if you are averse to quantitative work (which is slightly problematic because it’s business school), find a CPA who can help you with accounting or finance. If you’re not the best manager of time, it may be good to organize a study group (which could be beneficial to both JD and MBA candidates). Also, as for any academic endeavor, don’t bite off more than you can chew. For example, recruiting for banking and consulting amidst the intensity of the 1Y rigor may not be the best idea. Also, quickly assess your learning team’s strengths and weaknesses and use that as a compass to identify what unique value proposition you bring to the team.