Full-time MBAs are called that for a reason – if you sign up for one, you’re going to have to wholly dedicate yourself to business education for 12-24 months.
However, this doesn’t mean that some enterprising students don’t work while they study. One such example is ESADE MBA candidate James Doherty, co-founder of Origin, a startup that lowers costs for small businesses in India by aggregating costs.
The main challenge, he says, is ensuring neither is neglected: “A potential drawback is losing focus; am I going to devote time to making sure the business runs smoothly or spend that time making sure I pass classes?”
The tension has become especially pertinent due to the business’ success – Doherty and his co-founders have made the final six of the 2013 Hult Prize, the winner of which will receive a $1 million investment. The pressure, therefore, is very much on.
Despite the challenges, there are benefits. For one thing, the founders of Origin have become more confident in business as a result of what they’ve learned at school: “It feels like our conversations have become more structured and strategic as we learn more. Because of education and hands-on experience, the business is completely different to where it was when we started.”
Doherty is perhaps a special case. For those who want to continue working while they study an MBA, perhaps a more plausible option might be to consider a part-time format – a partially online program in which modules can be taken at the candidate’s own pace, or for the more experienced candidate, an executive MBA (EMBA).
Alejandro Casasempere is enrolled in the latter format at IESE Business School. He warns that, even though the EMBA is part-time, time management is still a major challenge: “It is difficult to give 100% of your attention to a management position and an EMBA simultaneously. Both require your undivided attention.” Finding time for fun, he adds, can be a challenge, while not answering the phone can become a necessary tactic.
However, these time-management challenges are edifying in themselves, says Pamela Brady, who heads up the EMBA program at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Naveen Jindal School of Management. “One of the unexpected outcomes of working while pursuing an MBA is the refinement of your time management skills, which is transferrable to all facets of your life. Diplomacy and discipline are also required.”
Setting up a support network, including someone to whom work can be delegated, is essential, she adds. The benefit if you pull it off though, is that you can “learn on Saturday and apply on Monday.”
To do this successfully, those working while enrolled in any MBA format would do well to heed Doherty’s closing words: “Make absolutely sure you’re passionate about both things; if you’re less passionate about working or studying, it’s going to become a hassle.”
Working while studying: Five top tips
1. Make a realistic appraisal of how much time you can devote to an MBA program. Discuss the program with the school and current students to get their opinion of the time required. Consider online courses based on your job and travel requirements. –Larry Chasteen, director of the online MBA program at the Naveen Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas.
2. Establish good study habits early. Find a time that works for you – in the wee hours of the morning before the rest of the family is awake, after work and before you go home, or after the kids go to bed – and commit to that time each and every day. Find a quiet place free of distractions for maximum performance. –Pamela Brady, director of the executive MBA program at the Naveen Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas.
3. Ask yourself some questions: are you sure you want to give up your spare time, your holidays, your hobbies, your sleeping hours? Do you have the requisite financial resources? Are you sure that you are committed to take this great responsibility? –Alejandro Casasempere, executive MBA candidate at IESE Business School
4. Understand when time constraints mean you need to say no. You might feel bad to start with, but if you communicate effectively with people, they’ll understand.
5. The No. 1 thing – understand how much sleep you need to get! –James Doherty, co-founder of Origin and full-time MBA candidate at ESADE Business School
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