How to Survive Your MBA If You’re Not a Numbers Person

Accounting. Finance. Statistics. Economics. If you’re preparing to get your MBA, know that you’re going to face many numbers-based courses. For some students, this won’t be a problem — many people are specifically seeking careers in a numbers-intensive field. However, if you are more of a right-brain person, you might shudder at so many figures. But there’s no need to worry, as long as you keep things in perspective.

Be Realistic: You Can’t Avoid All Numbers

As much as you might not like numbers, they are unavoidable. Think again if you believe you can gloss over the number-heavy classes and just focus on things like marketing, information technology, entrepreneurship or management. Your career trajectory might not be heavy on accounting, finance, statistics or economics, but you’ll need a rudimentary understanding of these topics to understand financial reports, interpret research and develop budgets.

Consider marketing, as an example. This might not seem to be a numbers-heavy discipline at first, but it requires quantitative research, analysis and the ability to compare your company against its competitors. Guesses and qualitative work won’t cut it.

One thing to keep in mind is that if numbers aren’t your strength, you can seek out positions in which other people are responsible for number crunching. This doesn’t excuse you from knowing the basics, as you’ll need to be able to interpret the reports you’re given and make sound decisions.

The Math is Straightforward

At the beginning of accounting, finance, statistics and economic courses, you’ll probably find the math to be fairly simplistic. There aren’t many advanced formulas, complicated models or complex Excel worksheets to worry about until you’ve progressed in the course.

For example, at the start of an accounting foundation class, the focus is on principles and ledger keeping, such as how to determine what’s a credit and what’s a debit. The math is limited to addition and subtraction.

It’s not until later in the courses that you’ll be introduced to more advanced math, such as how to calculate last-in-first-out (LIFO) and first-in-first-out (FIFO) inventory problems, bond yields and rates, and make-or-buy decisions. These are typically presented with a lot of explanation and examples to ensure you master the concepts.

Remember that in nearly every case, you’ll be able to use a financial calculator to work out advanced problems. These days, no professor will expect you to calculate compound interest by hand!

Focus on Your Non-Numerical Strengths

The best thing about an MBA is that it can take you in many different directions. If you’re not a numbers person, there’s nothing forcing you to seek a career in accounting or finance. Look for opportunities that let you apply your other strengths, such as leadership, entrepreneurship, creative problem solving or communication. To learn more about the different career paths of an MBA, click here.

Seek Help

When you’re having problems with numbers, it’s OK to ask for your professors help; they want you to succeed. Be prepared to do some additional work, as the professor may give you extra exercises to help you apply the concepts taught in class.

You can also ask your fellow classmates for help. Online education is beneficial because classes are accompanied by robust discussion boards. You shouldn’t expect other students to provide you with answers, but they might be able to guide you through difficult concepts and explain them in a way that’s slightly different from the course materials.

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