Getting your MBA Part Time

Posted by Monica Mellinger on
By: Elizabeth Haughton

So, you are thinking about pursuing your MBA part time. Congratulations! This can be a great opportunity to advance your career, but there are a lot of things to consider before starting. Having just finished my MBA at the University of South Carolina, I wanted to give some advice for anyone considering this path.

Know Why You Are Doing This

When I began thinking about graduate school, the one question that everybody asked me was “What do you want to get out of it?” Is it advancement in your current career? Make more money? Switch industries? Something else? Having a purpose will help you pick a school, allow you to get the most out of your program, and help sustain you through the tough times.

You will be spending a lot of time and money. Pursuing any graduate degree without a purpose may be a waste of both. A part-time MBA program may cost anywhere between $15,000 and $150,000. The value you put on a program will be influenced by why you are doing it. All will require some level of sacrifice over an extended period.

Picking Your School

You may have a lot of choices and will have to evaluate the pros and cons of many schools in your area, or you may have decided on one program. Some programs will require 10 courses without choices, and some will require 20 courses with lots of electives and concentrations. Some may have class on weeknights, and some may have class on the weekends. Classes can be live, online, remote, pre-recorded, or a combination. There is a lot to consider! Figuring out which school works with your goals, schedule, preferences, and willingness to pay will help you identify the best fit for you.

Most schools will have information sessions or allow you to sit through a class. Take those opportunities. One recommendation is to ask your school for a schedule, with classes, professors, dates, and times for a term or year. Those are often more illuminating than what might be posted publicly on a website. Second, if you are thinking about an online program, try an online class prior to committing to the program (There are a lot of excellent free ones). Virtual instruction may be very different than your previous experiences and it is good to know what you are getting into. Finally, see if your school has employment statistics and reports, which show industries, companies, and salaries for recruited students. I found this information to be very helpful in learning more about the school’s specialties and think through return on investment. 

Part Time is Not the Same as Full Time

There are benefits of being part time. You can take what you learned and apply it the next day at work, where you are also earning a salary and experience. On the other hand, networking opportunities, willingness to network, clubs, internships, access to professors, and career resources may be different, but take advantage of whatever your school does have. Some individuals or companies may place value on a brand-name school or view a part-time degree differently than a full time degree, but others do not care. Like anything, part time has trade-offs.

Working with your Manager

You will probably need some support from your manager and company. There may be times where school forces you to take an afternoon or a day off. Demanding schedules, major projects, or extensive travel may all impact how you approach school. For these reasons, it is important to manage expectations. It is easier to do so with a supportive manager.

Paying Money to Study Money

As a part time student, you are probably going to pay the advertised cost. In general, part time students do not have access to the number of grants and scholarships that full time students do. Therefore, you will need to use your salary, manage your personal budget carefully, and may need to use personal savings. Federal loans are an option, but they are subject to yearly and lifetime limits. Private loans are also available, but they may have higher interest rates or different terms than federal loans. You may be able to take advantage of tax benefits depending on your income. Finally, your employer may offer tuition reimbursement. This is a good way to reduce your costs, but it may require a service commitment or other concessions. It is worth looking into. 

School Nights Can Get Long

If you think you have a long day now, just wait until you add class onto it. A long class after a long workday can be exhausting, so you might need to adjust your work or personal schedules and figure out what you need to do to be productive. Deciding whether you want to go straight from work to school or if you want to carve out some time to eat dinner and unwind a little is another consideration. I found great value in the latter. Picking the right meal (Spicy quesadillas!), snacks, and drinks for the evening class took a while to get right. I wanted to be focused at the end of class, but after all that I also wanted to go to sleep! Find what works best for you and do not be afraid to experiment.

Make the Most of the Experience and Do What Scares You

My favorite professor in my program once said that the best students seek out the best classes, professors, and experiences. The class or opportunity that scares you might be one of your great experiences in the program. Talk with classmates and professors to figure out the classes that will (and will not) challenge you and force you to grow. If your program has a study abroad, just do it. Expand your wings, do cool things, and make your journey worthwhile.

You Still Have a Life Outside of Work and School

In my opinion, an MBA is much less technically intense than Chemical Engineering. That said, you may spend a lot more time than you expect reading, doing homework, and preparing for classes. The additional demands on your time, energy, and finances will likely cause you some amount of additional stress. You will be balancing a lot, like family, friends, significant others, exercise, hobbies, and yourself, but at times some may have to take a back seat. For example, I tried to prioritize exercise, but something like a big project or final sometimes impacted the frequency and intensity of my workouts. You might need to get creative, like studying on your lunch break, over meals, or at unusual times to accommodate the rest of your life. You may be able to take a term off, but do not make it a habit or else you may never finish. You will need loved ones in your life, so proactively communicate with them and make time for them. In short, you will make time for the things you need to make time for, but also realize something might have to give.

Good luck! Lots of people have completed this journey, and you will too!