5 Tips for EMBA Success | TopMBA.com

5 Tips for EMBA Success

By john molony

Updated March 2, 2021 Updated March 2, 2021

This article is sponsored by the part-time, executive MBA program at Ashridge Business School.  Learn more about Ashridge Business School

On top of the basic pressure of earning an MBA, older students can usually add additional work and home-life stresses to the mix. To find out how they managed to successfully achieve a balance between those often conflicting demands, TopMBA.com recently spoke with three graduates of Ashridge Business School’s executive MBA program and Steve Seymour, director of MBA Programs at the school.

MBA students, Seymour says, and executive MBA students in particular, need to know the program won’t be easy. “One thing we look to explore during interview is commitment,” Seymour explains. “If students are committed to the program, when things don't go to plan they will find a way to deal with them. Those lacking commitment will use problems as reasons to withdraw.”

So, what are our interviewees' top tips for EMBA success?

1. Time management

“Time management is one of the hardest aspects of EMBA,” notes Carl Glover, who is now a vice president at AAR Aircraft Turbine Centre. “I found myself sitting on many a flight with work reading HBR and academic papers, alongside reading proposed by the Ashridge faculty for modules, while others enjoyed the in-flight movie and a glass of wine.”

The first step is to schedule. According to Seymour, “The students who are most successful in balancing work, MBA and family are those who find a regular weekly pattern that works for them – and to which they can commit.”

Good time management may mean viewing your normal Monday to Friday schedule as work time. Saturday and Sunday mornings, or all day Sunday can be MBA time. Of course, this is a challenge if you have a young family, and have traditionally reserved weekends for them. The solution might be devoting an hour or two in the morning and evening for focusing on study. Some EMBAs have also succeeded by listening to podcasts during their daily commute.

Of course, today’s 24/7, global work schedule can mean making all sorts of adjustments. Christopher Danner’s work at the airline Lufthansa meant half his month was, well, literally up in the air, leading a cabin crew, while the other half was spent on the ground managing regional flight attendants. “When I was studying, on one hand, there were no defined times like weekends or great stability in planning ahead, and I was also occasionally dealing with time differences from flying,” he recalls, “and, on the other hand, after my work obligations, I sometimes only had a few full days to study or undertake assignments. I would plan ahead and set strict deadlines, with contingency built in, and then procrastinate and find distractions, which of course overthrew my planning!”

 “No one pattern is 'right' or works best for everyone,” Seymour points out, “but the sooner students find what works for them – and stick with it, the better able they are to deal with things.”

2. Develop support systems with cohorts and family

Demands can lead to stress, and even, in extreme circumstances, feelings of failure. It’s important to know you are not alone. A support system – a network of friends and family can help enormously. Compartmentalizing may work for some, but it can help to discuss your family challenges with fellow MBA students, while discussing your educational stresses with family and friends. Support systems function best when they are in place before a crisis. It can be helpful to have certain discussions even before you begin the admissions process.

“Your family also goes through the MBA with you,” Glover points out. “They’re a support system and remind you why you’re doing it.”

Ashridge’s Seymour reflects, “[It’s important to] recognize that while you may benefit from the program, while you are enrolled your partners, family and friends may only experience the downside.” In the short-term this can mean you will have far less time to spend with your loved ones. But this stress can be reduced when you have a strong support system.               

Having worked for years for an airline, Danner’s schedule-busting, globe-crossing life that demanded his friends and family were well trained. “In my experience you learn quite quickly which people you can rely on and are true close friends. When I had to do more work for an assignment and had to cancel on a friend I just tried to make up for it another time and not give up.”

Besides friends and families, many MBA students also rely upon their cohorts (especially in a lockstep program); for many an EMBA, a lifeline.

“The advantage to Ashridge is that my cohorts are in my age group and a number of them are also in my level positioning career-wise, with the high level of responsibilities and associated work pressures,” reflects Dr Jasmina Fischer, senior field marketing & business development manager for Merck Millipore Advanced Analytics.

At Ashridge, Christopher Danner’s fellow students quickly became his close friends. “[We formed] a learning support group during the first half year of studies based on how we would like to succeed and what we would like to achieve. We were a mix of characters, with different ways of tackling the study and pressure. The most important part for me was that I could trust and rely on the study group.”

3. Finding a Balance

It’s important to recognize that throughout the course of your studies there will be peaks and troughs. You may have a day when you feel that everything is organized and the very next you’ll feel overwhelmed by the workload. This is why finding a balance between your EMBA studies and the rest of your life is so vital.

“I am a quite pragmatic, goal-oriented person and know through my experience while doing my PhD that times can be tough,” explains Fischer, “but having the goal clearly in front of me and telling myself that the mountain of work is only big when it remains untouched; this gives me the motivation to just do it. I tell myself then:  ‘It is ok to be slow; the most important thing is to keep on going and not to stop.’” 

Accept the fact that you will endure large dips in your enthusiasm – especially when you are working hard but graduation seems years away. “This is down to personal drive and self-discipline,” Glover believes. Still, occasionally taking a break can be the best way of finding a balance. “Sometimes you simply have to do something different then go back to the MBA stuff afterwards,” he notes. “Applying some rational thinking to why you are waning.” 

Fischer admits that “I have had days and weeks I took off MBA topics, to just be free and play sports and go out with family and friends without thinking about it – and that is important; it helps to find the balance.”

4. Learn from those who have gone before you

No one can relate to your challenges like someone who has already graduated from an executive MBA program. When you talk to those who have completed the program years before you will see that they successfully faced the same issues you do. If you meet someone who has managed a job, a young family and still turns in their assignments on time then it can give you extra motivation to succeed.

“I can’t emphasize enough,” says Seymour, “the importance of taking strength from other positive people in the group – who can help others in their network through the difficult times – which we all will have.”

Fischer spoke with colleagues at work who had done an EMBA. As she remembers, “It was helpful to hear about their approach and their challenges as well as their solutions. It also confirmed and corrected some of my own thoughts and how I thought certain situations should be handled. All in all it was very good to talk about them and get full confidence.”

5. Use what you know

Employers will probably be more supportive if you can tie your assignments into your day job. It’s more than just an efficient use of time. Students can use an assignment to deliver something of value to their employer long before earning their degree. If an employer expresses concerns before enrollment, however, this can alter their perception of the EMBA and the time students spend away from the office.

Fischer’s studies were helped by the fact that most of her assignments were easily relatable to her work. “I wanted to examine certain situations and the MBA gave me a professional environment in which to do so, which was good for learning and very insightful.”

Though it can also increase the pressure, if your professional life, like your education, is on a calendar it can make planning easier. Accountants who must produce monthly, quarterly or annual reports with set deadlines, for example, should have the benefit of a schedule. By making arrangements at the earliest stage possible, you can avoid clashes between work and school.

At Ashridge, the EMBA program utilizes numerous ‘live cases’.  Here groups of students work on a real business issue for a real business. They then present solutions to management thus providing what is, in effect, free consultancy along with a unique perspective from students studying the latest business management techniques. You may find that your employer is keen to participate in this sort of program.

Every individual has their own journey, with unique obstacles. Yet sharing these with a group of cohorts and coworkers can make the challenges less daunting.

In the end, for our recent EMBA grads, the journey paid off. After Carl Glover earned his degree, he recalls that, “One of my colleagues made the statement that ‘there’s something different about you since you went on the MBA… and not just less hair!’”

This article is sponsored by the part-time, executive MBA program at Ashridge Business School. 

This article was originally published in November 2014 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

Content writer John began his career as an investigative reporter and is a prolific educational writer alongside his work for us, authoring over 100 nonfiction books for children and young adults since 2000.


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