Many professionals decide to pursue their Master of Business Administration (MBA) part-time to maintain their salary and career trajectory. This is a great opportunity to advance your skills, but it requires careful consideration. Follow this advice if you are a chemical engineer considering earning a part-time MBA.
Have a purpose
When I started to think about graduate school, the one question that everyone asked me was: What do you want to get out of it? You could get an MBA to advance in your current career or switch industries. Whatever the reason, it is important to have a purpose, which will help you to pick a school, get the most out of the program, and sustain you through tough times.
In addition, you will be spending a lot of time and money on earning this degree, and you do not want those precious resources to be wasted. A part-time MBA program can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $150,000, and take from two to five years to complete.
Pick your school
Many schools offer MBA programs, and each program is unique. Some require 10 courses without the option to choose electives or concentrations; others require 20 courses that can be tailored to your interests. Part-time programs offer classes on weeknights, weekends, or both. These classes can be in-person, live online, pre-recorded, or a combination. Find a program that works with your goals, schedule, budget, and preferences.
Most schools offer information sessions or allow you to sit through a class, which are valuable opportunities you should not miss. Another option is to ask your school for a schedule that includes classes, professors, dates, and times for a term or year. These details are often more illuminating than what is posted on the website. Also ask for employment statistics and reports that show industries, companies, and salaries for graduates to evaluate your return on investment.
If you are considering an online option, try a virtual class prior to committing to the program. (There are a lot of excellent free ones.) Virtual instruction may be different than your previous experiences, and it is good to know what you are getting into.
Work with your manager
You will need support from your employer to help navigate stressful times that necessitate scheduling changes or time off. Tight deadlines, major projects, and/or extensive work travel will impact how you approach school. It is important to manage expectations, and it is easier to do so with a supportive boss.
Budget your money
Part-time students are generally not eligible for as many grants and scholarships as full-time students. Therefore, as a part-time student, you will likely be responsible for paying the full tuition.
You will need to carefully manage your budget, and you may need to dip into your personal savings. Loans are also an option. However, be aware that federal loans are subject to yearly and lifetime limits and private loans may have high interest rates. Look into any tax benefits for students that you are eligible for based on your income.
Some employers offer tuition reimbursement, which can drastically offset costs. Taking advantage of these benefits may require a service commitment or other concessions.
Do what scares you
My favorite graduate school professor advised that the best students seek out the best classes, professors, and experiences. The class or opportunity that intimidates you might be one of your greatest experiences in the program. Talk with classmates and professors to identify the courses that will (and will not) challenge you and force you to grow. If your program provides opportunities to study abroad, definitely consider this option.
Be ready for long nights
A full-time job and a lengthy commute can add up to a long day. Add onto that school at night or on the weekends, and you may quickly become exhausted and burned out. You might need to adjust your work or personal schedules to ensure you can be productive. Decide if you want to go straight from work to school, or if you want to carve out time to eat dinner and unwind. I personally enjoyed the latter and found it helpful to bring snacks to my evening class.
Balance work, school, and life
Earning my MBA was much less technically intense for me than earning my chemical engineering degree. That said, be prepared to spend a lot of time reading, doing homework, and preparing for classes. You will need to do all of this while balancing friends and family, exercise, and hobbies. The additional demands on your time, energy, and finances will likely add on some stress.
You will not be able to keep work, school, and life in perfect balance all of the time. I tried to prioritize exercise, for example, but sometimes a big project or final impacted my workouts. You might need to get creative with how you use your time, such as studying on your lunch break, to accommodate the rest of your life. When life becomes really hectic, you may be able to take a term off, but do not make it a habit or else you might never finish. Finally, do not neglect your family and friends, who I found to be an immense source of support when facing this challenge.
While earning a part-time MBA can sound intimidating, remember that lots of people have completed this journey, and you can too!
This article originally appeared in the Emerging Voices column in the July 2021 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at www.aiche.org/cep.