For Katia Beauchamp, attending business school wasn't just a "pivotal moment," it was also where the Birchbox CEO found her co-founder.
The pair met while attending the same Harvard Business School class and later launched beauty start-up Birchbox, which has raised $71.9 million in funding to date.
Beauchamp describes her time at business school as "monumental." Her best advice for current and upcoming students? "To really be there," she said.
"It's a real opportunity to really question what you really want your life to be," she said.
While getting an MBA comes with a steep price tag (lost wages, tuition and housing costs to name a few), the degree can help students transition careers and move up the corporate ladder.
So how should students maximize the investment?
It's crucial for students to stay in their "stretch zone" rather than their comfort zone, said Maura Herson, MIT Sloan School of Management's MBA program director.
This can be a tough mental transition to make, especially for students who are used to being superstars at work and then arrive on campus surrounded by equally driven people.
"If you come into it thinking you're an expert, you're not going to maximize your learning," she said.
"Equally if not more important than the knowledge you're acquiring" is the network you're building, Herson said.
She cited the example of a student who had tea with someone new each day to get to know more people at Sloan.
At the end of the day, what's the marginal utility of one more problem set versus getting to know a couple more classmates, she added.
"Everyone seems to be doing something cool or interesting so how do you focus on your experience rather than what everyone else is doing," Herson said.
Fight the fear of missing out and focus on yourself rather than the social media documentation of your peers' latest trips or accomplishments.
Between extracurricular activities and trips and the looming pressure to find an amazing job after graduation, students' focus can drift from the classroom — a missed opportunity since professors are often conducting cutting-edge research in their fields in addition to teaching best practices.
"It's often easy to get distracted from the core and what happens inside the classroom," said Sheryle Dirks, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business' associate dean for career management.
She stressed the importance of developing skills not just for near-term career goals but also for long-term ones.
It's crucial in today's interconnected business world for students "to be able to embrace that global mindset of business," Dirks said.
This starts on campus, where student bodies are increasingly international. Don't be shy about connecting with students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Also, take advantage of travel and exchange opportunities to learn more about how other regions conduct business.
Most students enroll in an MBA program to make some sort of change in their career.
"The clearer you are on where you want to be post-graduation, the more the school can help you," Dirks said.
Goals change. People change. While MBA students are action-oriented, Herson stressed the importance of scheduling time to reflect and reset goals as they change.
Business school only last two years, but the network acquired lasts a lifetime.
That's been the case for Birchbox's Beauchamp, who has recruited some of her fellow alums to invest in the company and has gotten advice from professors.
The more you stay engaged down the road, the more the people you've met can help you as your career unfolds, Dirks said.
"You tend to think about getting your MBA as a two-year investment. ...Yes, time on campus is two years," but viewing the degree as a lifelong investment is the best mindset, she added.