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Students in front of a school bus with medical face masks in various poses. Student wearing a mask. Prevents, swine flu and other transmittable diseases. istock photo


Alanna Petroff is taking her MBA at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford in Britain.

If you are an incoming MBA student, you know firsthand that August is a month for panicking.

August is the time when you are signing and submitting countless university forms, finalizing loans and completing pre-course readings. August is the time when online MBA forums, populated by incoming classmates, are brimming with enthusiastic messages, and your e-mail inbox begins to overflow. Meanwhile, August is also the month when you want to try to spend extra quality time with your family and friends. There is simply too much to do in August.

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If you are preparing to study abroad, you also have to find housing, pack your bags, ship your boxes overseas, sell your car, sell your house, quit your job and buy international plug adapters for all your electronics.

Despite all your best efforts, there are a few issues that you never consider as you prepare for your MBA studies. Most students learn these lessons the hard way. Below is a list of the three main pitfalls to watch out for as you embark on your MBA.

The September Cold

Many MBA students become seriously ill within the first month or two of their studies. This is due to the initial stress associated with starting an MBA, the lack of sleep, the parties and all the socializing and handshaking that come with meeting new classmates. MBAs come from all different parts of the globe, bringing with them foreign germs that can knock out your immune system. All this can lead to a vicious cold. (Even if you're lucky enough to avoid a cold in September and October, you may not be so lucky when the "Pre-Exam Flu" begins circulating the week before exams.)

To avoid 'The September Cold,' bring hand sanitizer with you everywhere you go and wash your hands frequently. You should also try to get a decent amount of sleep.

I got in the habit of taking a multivitamin and immune-boosting pills every day. I'm not sure if this really helped my immune system, but then again, I have been relatively healthy all year.

If you are a bona fide germaphobe, you might be thinking about avoiding handshaking altogether. But this is ill advised. In the business world as in the MBA environment, you must shake hands. Otherwise, you risk a very awkward greeting and a potentially awkward future relationship with the owner of the hand you spurned. Just grin and bear it, and keep your hand sanitizer at the ready.

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No one is ever prepared for the stress an MBA can put on their relationship with their significant other. But the stress will most certainly crop up and it will cause heartache, and possibly even break-ups.

At the beginning of my MBA, the business school hosted a luncheon for the MBAs, their partners and families. The course director addressed the crowd, saying something along these lines:

"We at the school would like to apologize in advance for stealing away your spouses, fiancés, boyfriends and girlfriends. Please be understanding. They will be very stressed and busy over the next year. You should expect that you may not see them for days at a time."

From that day forward, there was a steady stream of break-ups taking place between MBAs and their long-distance girlfriends and boyfriends. Many MBAs complained that their significant others simply did not understand the stress they were under, nor could they understand why they were never available to talk on the phone.

Even MBAs who moved to Oxford with their spouses reported relationship strains. Classes, extracurricular activities and recruitment events kept MBAs at the school all day; when they finally got home they had to do homework.

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It's a good idea for incoming students to warn their partners about the upcoming gruelling schedule. Prepare them for the harsh reality of MBA life so they are not caught off guard. Furthermore, from what I have seen, a little bit of forgiveness, compromise, communication and understanding can go a long way to keeping your relationship strong.

Weight Gain

It's the "Freshman 15" all over again.

Studying keeps you tied to your computer; gym visits decline and classroom breaks encourage excessive cookie consumption. Furthermore, it seems that MBA students consume far more alcohol and late-night shawarmas than the average worker of the same age and affluence.

My New Psychology of Marketing class helped me make sense of this situation. Our professor taught us about "licensing," where people who do something good (i.e. volunteering) then feel that they should treat themselves. In the case of MBAs, after a long day of studying, students feel "licensed" to take a break and eat some comfort food.

To put this in perspective, I estimate that my class of 230 students gained a total of 700 pounds this year alone. In all honesty, this is probably a conservative estimate.

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A word to the wise: drink less, eat at home more often, refrain from junk food, snack on veggies and always make an effort to go to the gym.

While this article may add to your August pre-MBA jitters, perhaps forewarned is forearmed. Knowing about these three MBA pitfalls ahead of time will help you prepare and keep your sanity during your studies.

In the meantime, add the following to your August To-Do List:

- Buy hand sanitizer

- Buy healthy snacks

- Have a serious chat with [insert name here]

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