The Olin community: How full-time MBA first-year students find support and guidance

  • April 29, 2024
  • By WashU Olin Business School
  • 4 minute read

The first days at school, from kindergarten to university, are important and can be anxiety-inducing milestones.

This is equally true for first-year MBA students. Preparing for an MBA program involves navigating a mix of apprehension and uncertainties, regardless of one's prior educational experiences.

The experience of a first-year MBA student  

All attendees of a full-time MBA program are likely to experience some nervousness. For some, it's returning to school after years away, while for others, it's adjusting to a new country's challenges and customs within an international classroom setting. Additionally, many students worry that their undergraduate background in fields like theater, art or humanities may not have adequately prepared them for the demands of an MBA.

We spoke to Olamide Mabel Omotosho, MBA 2024 and a Forté Fellow, about her experience.

It felt like I was leaving everything I once knew behind.  

Olamide Mabel Omotosho

"I was anxious about how I was going to adapt to the culture... and unsure of how the educational system worked in the U.S. I didn't know what to expect."

MBA programs draw participants from varied backgrounds, and feeling nervous is normal. Being part of a program that offers a welcoming environment and guidance throughout your career path can significantly impact your experience.

How does Olin create a culture of community and guidance for first-year MBA students?

Olin implements various programs to alleviate the anxiety associated with beginning an MBA program, recognizing the importance of connection and guidance for new students. The following are ways Olin helps new students feel integrated and confident in their academic journey ahead. 

Pre-programming with dedicated advisors 

At Olin, MBA Academic and Career advisors initiate communication with incoming students as soon as they enroll. This period, known as pre-programming time, allows students to communicate academic concerns, explore the beginnings of their career expectations, and set themselves up with the classroom support they need, all before their program starts.

Diverse orientation teams

During orientation, leaders assign MBA students to a team. These core teams, consisting of four to five students, work together in their core classes throughout the first semester. Core teams are pre-assigned by Olin leadership and are selected to be diverse in nationality, educational background, and career experience. Students quickly learn to utilize this support system, and core team relationships often become highly collaborative, expanding into future opportunities and business ideas. "The orientation program was very helpful," Olamide says. "I made new friends during the first week, and my career coach was especially helpful. I didn't feel as alone as I thought I was going to be."

Student groups   

In addition to core groups, MBA students have access to over 25 student groups that span a wide range of missions and purposes, from career-focused to social, affinity, and often multipurpose, enriching their campus experience and fostering connections. These clubs add another layer of support, with student leaders collaborating with GPO advisors to develop programming for all MBA students. The recent formation of the Olin Beer and Mead Society and a Golf Club highlights just how vast these programs are.

Intentional support for international students 

As orientation begins, current international students welcome incoming international students from their home countries and regions. This can be a huge comfort for those transitioning between cultures. Quick friendships are often made, and it is not uncommon for first-year students to share housing with current students they meet during this period.

Student-run events

Olin supports its first-year students by embracing innovative, student-run events that reflect its global and diverse community. For example, the Olin Africa Business Forum is a highlight, offering a two-day spring event that brings together international businesspeople, Olin MBA alums, and national leaders. They share innovative ideas and insights into global business initiatives in Africa, culminating in a "Taste of Africa" celebration featuring African music, food and fashion, led by Olin's African graduate students.

Similarly, the Diwali celebration, enjoyed by both the Olin and the broader Danforth community, incorporates food, music and theatrical performances. Additionally, our Chinese students lead the annual Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year celebrations, sharing these traditions within Olin and beyond. While traditional for our international students, these events offer wonderful new customs for the entire Olin community to embrace, enriching the first-year experience with diverse cultural insights and a sense of global connectedness.

Travel opportunities   

MBA students engage in global immersion courses and Venture Advising, traveling with their entire class or in smaller groups. Despite the size of the group, a familial bond often forms. 

Beyond shared classroom experiences, students participate together in cooking classes, museum visits, meals, and endure long flights.

These experiences not only bring new friendships upon their return to Olin but also serve as valuable lessons in collaboration. Managing coursework alongside diverse personalities, especially while far from home, teaches students the critical workplace skill of open-mindedness, an understanding that extends well beyond their time at Olin.

Olin provides numerous opportunities for first-year students to feel like part of the WashU family. Understanding that students come to their program from various cultural, geographic, and familial backgrounds, Olin has specifically designed their program with inclusion and empathy at the forefront.  

About the Author

Washington University in Saint Louis

WashU Olin Business School

Firmly established at the Gateway to the West, Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis stands as the gateway to something far grander in scale. The education we deliver prepares our students to thoughtfully make difficult decisions—the kind that can change the world.

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