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If you want to advance your career, getting an MBA part-time while you’re working a full-time job can be a smart idea. According to the Wall Street Journal, both men and women reported more than doubling their salaries after graduating with an MBA, giving them six-figure incomes. And, if your employer offers tuition reimbursement, you can earn your business degree at a reduced cost!
However, juggling your current job, school, and your own schedule can be challenging. Working 40 hours or more a week is exhausting enough, but you’ll also need to set aside time to attend classes, finish readings, and complete coursework. And, if you have other responsibilities in your personal life, such as raising children or caring for a relative, it can be difficult to fit everything into the day.
5 Tips for Managing Work and Your MBA Coursework
We talked to five different professionals who worked full-time while pursuing an MBA to learn about their experiences and get their tips for success. If you’re wondering how to maintain a positive work-life balance while pursuing an MBA, here’s what you need to know.
1. Master time management
To finish your coursework on time, keep up your work performance, and have any sort of personal life, you need to come up with a schedule. That was the biggest lesson for Jessica Samuels, a Sales Development Manager.
For Samuels, the most significant challenge while enrolled in a part-time MBA program while working full-time was setting aside time so she could commit to her education on course days. In her two-year program, the class met in-person on designated days.
“My program had a set day of the week and we would have class for 4.5 hours,” she said. “I would schedule my time with my group projects on another night. I would then work on my individual coursework in the days or evenings opposite my work schedule.”
When deciding what routine works best for you, think about when you are most productive. For example, you may be able to carve out some time early in the morning before work to do your coursework. Or, you may be better off waiting until the evenings when your kids are in bed. Samuel recommended that you be consistent, and to try and keep things in perspective.
“Stay focused and stay disciplined,” she said. “It is hard to balance your schedule. You will have to make sacrifices as well! I gave up a lot of my personal time with friends so I could have time for my school work.”
2. Stay organized
When you’re juggling work and class, it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks. That’s why Lee Huffman, the travel rewards and credit card expert behind BaldThoughts.com, advised that students focus on getting organized.
“Being organized helps,” he said. “You have to compartmentalize all of your to-dos so you can focus on the task at hand even when there are a lot of other items due in the days ahead.”
Whether you prefer a paper planner or a digital calendar, use a system that works for you to track commitments, deadlines, meetings, and other key dates. Keep a to-do list that you break up into digestible tasks so you don’t get overwhelmed, and focus on one area of your life at a time. Otherwise, you risk becoming burned out and exhausted.
3. Use down time wisely
Between work, school, and your responsibilities at home, free time can be a rare treat. While binging on Netflix can seem like a great idea, you may be better off using your free time strategically to get ahead on your work.
Miranda Marquit is a freelance writer currently enrolled in an MBA program. She’s 18 months into the program, and expects to graduate within the next six months.
“The thing that’s really made it [managing work and school effectively] possible for me is the fact that I worked on setting aside time for it,” Marquit said. “I’ve made sure that, if I have a free evening, the first thing I do is as much schoolwork as I can.”
However, Marquit cautioned that you need to have balance.
“It’s also a good idea to take advantage of breaks,” she said. “When you have time to relax, do so. Sometimes you just need to recharge.”
Whether you use your free time for coursework or to unwind, come up with a plan for any free time that happens. If you use it to take care of extra tasks, such as getting a head start on an assignment or even something as simple as meal-prepping for the week, you can be more productive and minimize stress.
4. Consider an online MBA program
Clarissa Wilson is a financial strategist who got her MBA while working full-time. She credited her ability to finish her program in two years with being able to take online courses. For individuals who need more flexibility than a traditional campus program offers, online programs can be a smart alternative.
“My best tip is to complete your MBA online if that is how you learn best,” said Wilson. “Things are much more on your own timeline when you can do your coursework on your own time. It’s much easier to create a schedule for yourself when you can do parts of the work all throughout the week, instead of sitting through hours upon hours of classes and then having to do the homework after.”
However, online courses aren’t for everyone. Make sure you’re comfortable with the technology — and being personally responsible for reviewing lectures and completing coursework — before going this route.
5. Be realistic about the trade-offs
While the idea of breezing through your MBA program as a part-time student and getting your degree in 18 months can be appealing, it’s not a realistic goal for everyone. If you have a demanding job or home life, you simply not be able to take on a full course load.
That was the case for Jon Dulin, the owner of Money Smart Guides. Working all day, leaving in time to make class, and then just making it home to fall into bed was challenging. He decided to spread out his courses to give himself more breathing room, and got his degree after 2.5 years.
“Don’t try to rush through it to get your degree,” he said. “I took one to two classes a semester and with studying and working full-time, my days and weekends were full. I wanted to earn my degree quickly, but realized it was better to pace myself.”
Pacing yourself can give you more time to juggle your competing priorities. And, if you’re paying for your MBA yourself, spreading your classes out can make the payments more affordable.
Full-Time Vs. Part-Time Business School
The question every student needs to ask before enrolling in an MBA program is if this is the right fit for them. Full-time MBAs have more time to dedicate to classwork, networking, and the benefits of a full-time program. Full-time students also might feel less overwhelmed than those in part-time programs who are still balancing work with the added course work.
While working full-time and going to school for your MBA can be tough, it will be well worth the sacrifice if you are unable to leave the workforce to attend school. After the two years or so it takes to complete the program, you can see your income significantly increase, setting you on track for a successful career path.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.