Tiffany Handley




United States



By Tiffany Handley

To Future Oxford MBA’s: You Will Survive Michaelmas Too

We are headed into week two of Hilary term—our second of three. All of our Michaelmas exams are finished, our papers are turned in, and the communal ban on rehashing exams is an unspoken pact. We have spent our week murmuring of dreaded retakes—though we are all secretly relieved to hear we are not alone in the boat. After each exam, many would laugh it off with the one liner “See you in the retake?” before we each headed off to the library to study for the next day’s exam.


Future MBAs, you will hear time and again from alumni that Michaelmas is the hardest and most rigorous. Having lived through it, I can say it was hands down the hardest schoolwork followed by the hardest exams I have ever taken. To which I say good—that’s why I came to Oxford. I came here to be challenged, to be completely immersed in a cohort where my peers were much smarter and more accomplished than me.

In my undergrad, I was the one teaching my peers who were floundering days out from finals. Last week, I was the one painfully aware of my non-profit background, filled with panic and anxiety, being taught by people who had been traders and investment bankers prior to the MBA. It was humbling. But to reiterate: good. This is why one chooses to go to Oxford.

In just nine months, you will be in the Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre during September launch week, nervous about courses called Analytics and Technology and Operations Management. The weight of realising you enrolled in a one year MBA course will hit. You will see your schedule and wonder how you will manage the coursework of eight classes in ten weeks. Press into your nerves. Become familiar with them because at some point you will realise that you are handling everything that comes at you, and what’s more? You are thriving.

Tiff2You will learn to ask questions about six sigma processes, and not only will you understand the Financial Times, but you will question the numbers authors use, and the conclusions at which they have arrived. You will not only be able to define and derive the cost of capital, but you will be able to think through whether you agree with the assumptions made in arriving at a company’s valuation. You will be able to do this because you will be surrounded by professors and classmates who will continuously help you make sense of the things that sound like an obsolete foreign language, and you will in turn be able to return the favor in other subjects.

In a year’s time, you will be sitting at the Oxford Union library or the Radcliffe Camera on a cold and rainy January day, putting pen to paper to promise the incoming MBA class that they too can and will be successful, that they can and will survive Michaelmas, that they can and will pass four back-to-back exams after the holidays. It is part of the life cycle of Oxford MBAs. We may never overlap each other in the school, but the lessons and reflections get passed from one cohort to the next because we understand the mixed emotions of exhaustion and excitement of this shared experience.

Future MBAs: good luck in Michaelmas. Again, embrace the nerves, the massive gaps in your knowledge, and the feeling of not being the smartest person in the room. The awareness of these feelings that will make surviving the first term all the more palpable and thrilling.

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