Get Ready for Business School by Brushing Up on Quantitative Skills
If you’ve been out of school for a while—or if your undergrad coursework was light on math—it can be daunting to enter an MBA program where quantitative skills are important.
And you’re not alone, according to Don Harter, associate dean for masters programs at the Whitman School of Management. “Students have the most challenges with the quantitative classes,” he told Yahoo! News. “Get ready before you even apply to these programs.”
We sat down with Harter to gain some additional insight on what the general challenges are, and what people can do to improve their skills and become a more competitive candidate.
When we say quantitative classes, what topics are we referring to?
There are three groups of quantitative courses in a graduate business program: mathematics intensive, statistics, and optimization. The math intensive courses tend to be in finance, where simple NPV or more complicated options calculations are performed; or in supply chain management, where there are formulas for inventory control.
Statistics deals more with probability distributions, statistical testing and regression, and can be found in introductory statistics courses, business analytics or advanced six sigma process improvement classes. Optimization can be found in supply chain management, usually in a management science course, where minimization and maximization problems occur.
Other coursework, such as economics, marketing research, and logistics systems, can include quantitative components.
What are the general fears related to quantitative skills in an MBA program? Why are they more challenging for some?
Students often have two different perspectives based on their backgrounds. Those students with non-quantitative undergraduate degrees, such as the arts and social sciences, frequently have less math coursework in their undergraduate programs and generally have not taken a math-related course since the first year of college.
Students with engineering, science, math, or other quantitative undergraduate degrees, but who also have extensive experience, potentially have not used their math skills for years. Students’ fears are generated from a lack of confidence in their mathematical capabilities.
In both groups of students, it’s the lack of use of math skills over time that makes it challenging for some students to quickly comprehend the application of quantitative concepts to business problems.
What opportunities exist both through Whitman and beyond to brush up on these skills?
We recommend that a student first assess math skills by reviewing a GMAT or GRE prep book and taking a sample test. Identify weak areas, review suggestions in the books for improvement, and practice with problems to overcome weaknesses. If you still find that you have difficulty, identify whether it is algebra, statistics, or something else that confounds you, and review a refresher book on that topic. Online videos on YouTube, Udacity, or Coursera can help those who learn better from someone else.
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