Here’s what I say to people who think a part-time MBA isn’t worth it.
In my three years as an evening MBA student at Emory University, I’ve had a number of potential students reach out to me. Curious about my experience balancing an MBA program with a demanding job, they wondered why I chose to pursue an MBA part-time rather than full-time.
Now that I’m approaching the end of my career as a grad student, I want to share my thoughts on the advantages and risks of pursuing a part-time MBA.
Advantages of a Part-Time MBA Program
Learn it today, apply it tomorrow: The structure of a part-time program is ideal for people eager to develop their professional skills — you can study a subject that night, consider the lesson in the context of real-time challenges, and then apply a new strategy the next day. Though full-time students can accomplish this to a lesser degree through internships, co-ops, or part-time employment, your level of investment is higher when lectures can give you an immediate edge at the office.
True (Professional) Grit: There are many reasons why people choose a part-time MBA over a full-time program. But there’s one trait that all part-time candidates share — grit. In a part-time program, you’ll meet some of the most determined and persistent individuals in the professional world. It takes a special kind of person to willingly take on 80–100 hour weeks, when everyone else gets to drive home at the end of a demanding work day.
“Can you tell me about a time when you’ve had to juggle multiple projects at once?” If you decide to enroll in a part-time program, you’ll have no problem answering this question. In fact, many hiring managers will see you as a more attractive potential employee because of the intangible skills a part-time MBA develops. They know that juggling multiple spheres — family, work, school, etc. — has made you crazy good at organization, compartmentalization, and prioritization.
Challenges and Risks of Part-Time Programs
No Internships: For those potential students who are interested in changing careers or getting an “in” with a specific company, an MBA summer internship will facilitate that process. Without investing three months in building a bridge from one position/company/field to another, you’ll need to rely heavily on networking with alums in order to transition into a new organization.
Burnout: Getting up at 4 a.m. to pore over reading assignments, suffering through an hour-long commute, working at a furious pace for nine or ten hours, and then sitting in another hour-long commute to get to campus for a three-hour class is brutal. By the end of the day, both your mind and body are exhausted and if you aren’t careful, you will start to scrape the bottom of the mental barrel very quickly. Part-time MBA programs are not for the faint of heart, but you’ll build a level of mental and physical stamina you never thought was possible.
Strain and Stress in Your Personal Life: Don’t forget that your personal life goes on while you’re pursuing your MBA. During my program, my three-year relationship collapsed, I changed jobs, my dog died suddenly, and I bought my first house. You’ll either need a supportive and understanding partner or a team of “support staff” (think lawn services, dog walkers, flexible babysitters, etc.) to help keep your life intact when work and school get crazy — and they will.
A part-time MBA did not help me change careers. After a decade as a classical musician and entrepreneur, I completed a full-time Master’s program in advertising at the VCU Brandcenter to shift my career focus to marketing. My intent with the MBA wasn’t change fields. I wanted to combine the creative, qualitative skills I gained at the Brandcenter with the quantitative mastery an MBA provides. That being said, a number of my classmates changed industries and/or roles over the course of the program, so it absolutely can be done.
(If you’re curious about my career change, you can read more about how and why I switched fields in my Medium post “How Quitting My Career Changed My Life: From Musician to MBA.”)
If I had to do it all over again, would I still enroll in the evening MBA program? Yes — I’m no stranger to demanding academic programs, and I can say without a doubt that Goizueta provided an amazing educational experience that will benefit me for the rest of my life.
Would I recommend a part-time MBA program to others? It depends — on your life, on your job, and on what you want to accomplish in your career. An MBA is not a one-size-fits-all remedy to help you get a promotion, change careers, or find meaningful work. Ask yourself some tough questions about where you are in your career, taking on more debt, your lifestyle, and your life goals before committing to the idea of an MBA.
At the end of the day, all graduate programs require personal sacrifice and risk in exchange for possible — but not guaranteed — reward.
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