Making the decision to pursue an MBA may appear to be the most challenging hurdle to pursuing the next stage of your professional development. However, deciding how to fulfill that choice by choosing your school, type of program, and the courses within it can quickly become the daunting task at hand thereafter.
Do you leap off the cliff and just do it, or defer making that choice until “something” moves you? Do you leave your job (even if you hate it), or try push yourself through scheduling hell by working and studying? How do weddings or babies factor in to the picture?
While traditional full-time MBA programs make up the brunt of rankings and guides, “alternative” format programs like Executive MBAs or part-time programs present an opportunity to balance not only work and life – but also learning. Earlier this year, I graduated from the part-time Morning MBA at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.
If you are deciding between one of these alternate format MBAs, I highly recommend being honest about how to get the best out of yourself. Here are four things I encountered after making my choice.
Optimal Brain Time
At one point in the not too distant past, I was up and in the gym at 5:30 am at least 3 mornings a week. Not because I like torturing myself, but because I felt serenity in the quiet morning hum. So making a 7am class, being alert enough to handle a professor’s cold calls, and then proceeding on to a full day of work was totally do-able because of this bizarre morning predisposition.
By contrast, a good friend of mine enrolled in the Morning program against his night-owl tendencies, and quickly reverted to patterns of sleeping past the alarm clock (which led to missing classes and dropping courses). Accept that, either way, your brain is going to be zapped by the time your head hits the pillow. Do not join a program in the hopes that it will help shape your habits or inclinations. Structure your day so it is most fluid by optimizing when you do your learning and working.
Tackling a part-time program does not mean there is less work or that it is somehow easier. On the contrary, when you find yourself shouting “TGIF” – you’ll immediately remember that you have to cram for a test, draft a paper, or practice a presentation. Dedicating time and an adequate space to focus on studying is absolutely critical.
The upside is that you won’t really have many options of when to study – you have to get it done. As such, the vice grip of your calendar will dictate this urgency.
Some people study well in groups, while others excel on their own. I found mixing these worked for me, as did being extremely effective in my shorthand note taking (if you get it right the first time around, it makes life so much easier when you have limited review time!). Chances are you will also quickly learn how to have insanely effective meetings, as you and your part-time peers will have “hard stops” and imminent priorities including work travel, children’s birthdays, or other group meetings.
Many a date night, work social, or movie will be cancelled or skipped. Your friends may accuse you of being neglectful. In my case, I was also labeled “geriatric” or “lame” (waking up at 5:30am means being asleep at a reasonable hour, naturally!).
You will absolutely have to decide between prepping for your work meeting or doing homework. Team meetings that end up dominating the “free” spots in your calendar in order to make deadlines may increasingly irritate your family/significant other/kids. It is extremely challenging, but also extremely rewarding, to conquer your calendar and weather the storm of what a part-time program throws your way.
I have always been a compulsive, colour-coding calendar fiend – and this was the most productive way for me to keep accurate deadlines, meetings, and tasks. My now-boyfriend learned how to send me meeting requests for date night in order to ensure we could carve out time for ourselves.
Health and Wellness
Much in the vein of the scheduling blurb above, making sure to be diligent with health and wellness is a key part of keeping you a well-oiled machine. This may mean pre-booking appointments months advance, or trying to timetable in a workout or yoga class – but committing the time to care for your body (and mind) is a key advantage to maintaining stamina and a positive attitude as you pursue your studies.The last thing that you need is for the flu to kick you while you’re down during finals.
Additionally, pulling late nights or long meetings is an easy way to fall off the bandwagon of eating clean and healthy. Resist the temptation to live off of a convenience store diet and consciously pack snacks for those unavoidably long “war room” sessions on campus. Being proactive to keep your self-care moving will pay off exponentially.
In all honesty, I did not apply to any other schools or types of programs (even within Rotman). I instinctively knew that I wanted to do the part-time version (even though it took longer than a full-time degree) because I wanted to stay close to home, wake up early, and continue working while studying. Leaving the workforce to focus on studies presents a whole other set of challenges including foregone income or potential gaps in career progression.
So my choice of Rotman was a clear one for me.
Maya Chendke is a consulant at mPath Creative Consulting and specializes in marketing and strategy with a focus on digital, analytics, and content. She graduated in 2014 with her MBA from the Rotman School of Management. She loves helping small and mid-sized businesses with their marketing, communications, and digital needs and can be found on Twitter at @mayachendke.