I'm starting to get the "so, was the MBA woth it?" (some in a sarcastic way...) question. The answer is an emphatic yes.
Intellectual: It wasn't just the raw knowledge that came with star stud professors; it was the type of thinking that the professors want you to engage in. Quantify everything. Challenge every assertion. Prove everything you say. You become trained to be "that guy" in the boardroom who is the Devil's Advocate.
Social: Somehow, the GSB gets the reputation for being a quant school for geeks. I tend to think that the free market approach to education (i.e. take any course, bid for course, open evaluations, open historic bids, no attendance, options for finals, etc) means that geeks can certainly come to the GSB, but so can the others. And there are plenty of great friends that I will take away for a life time.
Professional: The career service is top notch and will bend over for you. I trust that the friendships I've built will become networks.
Nonetheless, the MBA is not for everyone. I was very lucky in that I achieved exactly what I set out to do prior to business school - work in strategy in Asia. Plenty of people get lost and plenty of people had trouble getting to the finish line. Part of it is the free market approach. If you don't know what you want, you try a little bit of everything and (oh boy) fail to retain a competitive advantage.
So... in simpler words, in order to enjoy a successful (success as defined by the above terms) MBA life, you should:
- Know what you want. This is the MOST important thing to do before you step into school. If you don't, have a reasonable set of targets. Else, you are dashing around like a mad chicken. I have seen many people who have the brains to do anything they want, but ultimately don't know what they want to do. They are lost. They do whatever the others do or others tell them to do. They don't think about what they themselves want to do. Two years past, they have become smarter and made great friends, but still on square one as far as career change or advancement goes. You do not want to be that person.
- Be active. Sometimes, you are lost. It happens. You thought you wanted consulting but the traveling seems unreasonable. You thought you wanted marketing but you haven't got the passion for any particular industry or product. You thought you wanted private equity but the industry is ignoring you. Be active. Talk to many many many people - current students, alums, career services, professors. Most people are eager to help and their combined networks are much bigger than yours.
- Be social. Although some at the GSB (we wouldn't know them, I presume) disagree, I think the MBA is valued by the friendships and networks you build. You don't have to be class president. But you should pursue student activities in either a leadership role or just as a member. I am of course biased since I was blessed to lead the Chicago Asia Pacific group. Even if you are not leading, it's not a big deal. There are many ways to contribute. As for the social social scene, I'd say participation is important. Afterall, friendships are built over time.