Many professionals reach a point when it becomes obvious that an MBA degree is the ticket to career advancement. In a slower economy, an MBA can improve earning potential and promotion opportunities. At the same time, many people are unable to leave their current job to pursue an advanced degree on a full-time basis, especially true if they have family obligations.
In response to mid-career students’ personal and professional obligations, an increasing number of business schools are offering flexible MBA programs that allow students to schedule classes and coursework around a full-time job. Part-time programs that include evening and weekend classes and executive programs that leverage a professional’s work experience are two options for students who have full-time jobs. Many business schools have also embraced the concept of the virtual classroom. Online MBA programs use digital technology to provide a learning environment for students who never step foot on campus. The highest quality of these programs require the same coursework and award the same degree as a school’s traditional MBA program; the only difference is that lectures, exams and interaction between instructors and students takes place over the Internet.
Students who have found their best fit for a part time MBA program that compliments their work schedule will next need to balance work and business school. Students will need to figure out the best times for them to do their school work. Do weekends work better than evenings? Can you take a long lunch to read over a business case? It matters less whether you like to study in the morning or evening and more that you figure out what works for you and have the discipline to stick to that schedule.
The key to this juggling act is time management. An online calendar or spreadsheet can help manage a hectic weekly schedule full of personal, professional and academic activities and deadlines. For clarity, give each item a priority and allot a block of time. In addition to scheduling work and school responsibilities, set aside time each week for family, personal responsibilities and relaxation. Finally, don’t forget to include some leeway for emergencies and unexpected time drains.
In order to get the maximum return on an MBA degree, it is important to give equal focus to work and school. One way of achieving this is to immediately apply what you are learning to your work life. MBA students can gain an employer’s support by explaining the commitment to improvement and the increased benefit that they’ll bring to the job during and after they’ve earned their degree. It’s important for working students to keep the lines of communication open with their employer so managers will know when their employees will be busy with key MBA projects. Most employers will make reasonable accommodations for employees who are working towards an advanced degree; some employers will even actively assist with tuition reimbursement and extra time off.
Many MBA fellow students will also be working professionals who are also struggling with the work/school balance. Connect with other students for support and discussion; take advantage of teamwork when appropriate. Networking with other students and MBA faculty can enhance your academic experience and provide valuable career contacts in the future. Students feeling challenged by work and school commitments, should reach out to instructors and academic advisors who can provide suggestions for achieving balance.
It is critical that working students don’t let their health and well-being suffer. Taking time to exercise and eat healthy food helps manage stress. Students with a strong family support system should consider restricting their social life to avoid shortchanging family; there will always be time for friends and social activities after earning a degree. Students with a strong support system of friends should set aside time to get together and stay in touch.