Balancing Full-Time Work & MBA School

 

I have no idea how some people are able to balance full time work, school and a family at the same time. I feel like I’m barely afloat with just school and work! I’ve had some people ask me questions about the workload, how the MBA program is and how I’m balancing everything right now. I thought it’d be a good time to talk about it since I’m currently in the second semester of the program and did well in my first course.

Let me start with saying, it’s a lot of work, but it’s manageable. With every hectic schedule, the beginning always feels overwhelming, but afterwards you’ll adjust to it. I don’t necessarily consider myself to be very smart or naturally gifted, but I think the reason I’ve been able to handle everything fairly well is because I’m extremely organized and practical. This is my personal take on the experience so far and my thinking process in making these decisions. It may not coincide with everyone’s priorities and lifestyles, but it works for me!

For starters, I’m taking one course per semester, when the usual course load for part time students is 2 courses. Although it’ll take me longer than the traditional two year time frame, it works for my life. I’ve been out of school for a few years, so I was a bit nervous about going back. Also, my work has fluctuating busy seasons, from insanely busy to slow periods, so I wanted to see how I’d be able to handle school and work at the same time. Lastly, I’m paying for the entire MBA program out of my own pocket which is a huge investment. I’m reluctant to take out loans when I already have a mortgage to pay. Sacrificing graduating 2 semesters earlier with graduating debt free wasn’t a difficult decision since I’m not in a rush.

I know myself well enough to know that I need time to myself. I’m definitely an ambivert, therefore as much as I enjoy socializing and being a part of multiple projects, I find myself inefficient if I don’t have a substantial amount of time to myself. With having to balance work, travelling to school after work, running around the GTA for client meetings, studying, assignments and projects and other priorities, taking one course was a smart decision for me to still be able to squeeze in time for myself (and even then, it’s still tricky!). Balancing everything is even more challenging if you have a long commute to school or to work on a regular basis. I have plans to increase my course load to two courses per semester, but for the time being this arrangement works for me.

I’ve only taken one course so far and am currently doing my second course. I don’t necessarily think the course work is difficult, but it does require a good amount of research and critical thinking. It’s a good level of challenging material to keep you engaged in the courses. I find the most challenging part of the program is balancing it with your life. I could see how taking five courses would be challenging for a full time student, let alone a part time student balancing school with work! It requires you to stay on top of the material since there’s many deadlines and assignments in each course. For example, the course I’m currently taking requires a 20 mins group presentation based on research and a case, three case studies which requires a 10 page submission each, a final exam on all material (readings, cases, guest speakers, class discussions, etc), and participation in class discussions that account for 15% of the course grade. The regular part time course load would be the above example times two in addition to your full time job.

A crucial part of the MBA experience are your peers. Since it’s small cohort, you’ll have the same people in many of your classes. These peers are pivotal to your network in the future and will be representative of your alma mater. The atmosphere is a lot different from an undergraduate setting. Everyone in your program has similar goals and aspirations as you, which is to attain an MBA degree and pursue higher ambitions. You definitely have an array of people from various professions and industries come into a classroom and share their experiences. I recommend having a couple years of experience before pursuing an MBA, because that experience will really translate into the course materials and discussions. There’s a level of expertise and critical thinking that is clearly apparent in those with a couple years of experience as opposed to those straight out of undergrad or only have one to two years of work experience.

Since it’s such a small cohort and there’s a lot of group work in the program, your reputation matters. You want to be perceived as a good group member, this way you won’t have difficulty finding a good group. This is clearly established early on in the program, where some tend to stick together for most projects, so it’s important to be present in your group and to do your part. This ensures a good mark on your current group project and all future group projects in other classes. You’ll have some that are easy to work with, some who are “so busy” because of work that they’re not as involved as they should be, and others (sometimes multiple people) who are more than willing to take charge and set the direction for the entire project. I assume many of the people in the program have plans to be in management in the future, so their leadership skills are still in the development stages. It’s definitely taught me how to work with people of distinct personalities and strong opinions. Sometimes it’s frustrating but overall a great learning experience. Conclusively, everyone is there to learn and grow at the end of the day.

So far I’m really enjoying the program. It’s a large investment and can be tiring balancing everything sometimes, but it’s a very short term sacrifice for a life long reward. I know I made the right decision in choosing the program I did, for going at the pace I’m going and for doing what’s right for my life. I must admit, it was a bit overwhelming and challenging at first, but I would like to think I’m starting to get the hang of things! My goal is to try to get mostly A- and above in all my classes, but I don’t want to speak too soon since it’s still early in the program. So far I’m off to a good start with getting an A- in my first class!

As I go through the program, I’ll give updates about my experience and how I’m handling everything. If you have any questions about the course load, balancing school and work and anything else related to doing an MBA or graduate school, I’d be happy to answer your questions in the comment section below!

 

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