What to Expect From a Part-Time MBA

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Many students pursue a part-time MBA so they don’t have to leave the workforce or sacrifice a pay check, but they often underestimate the challenge. It’s no easy feat balancing work, study and family life, so what you should expect from a part-time MBA program?

Time management

Jacqueline Elliott, an online MBA student at the US’s Tepper School of Business, says a part-time degree requires an adjustment to your life: “I find it exhausting to dive deep into homework and projects after a long day of work and have to be really intentional when that’s needed.”

Elliott says it’s important to schedule. “It’s for sure an adjustment to your life, and it takes time to find that optimal way that works for you to split your time.”

But unforeseen events may throw your calendar into chaos, so it’s important to be flexible, too. Elliott says: “When I started on the part-time online program, I had more than enough time to dedicate to classes and homework, but since the program spans a few years, there are ebbs and flows in my personal life that make it more difficult at times.”

For instance, she got married and took a honeymoon, plus got promoted into a managerial role. “Each of these [events] have brought intense challenges to the program and have made that schedule even more important,” she says.

For Kim Nguyen, a part-time MBA student at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, time management has been a valuable learning curve. “It’s made me much more aware of my own inefficiencies and actually has been a great exercise to take stock of what’s truly important in my life,” she says.

“Every student deals with it differently, but my routine is: go to class Monday and Wednesday, designate Saturday as my fun day and Sunday as my day to get all my work done for the week,” she says.

“When I hit one of those especially hard weeks, I remind myself that at the end of the day, doing an evening MBA means I’m able to progress simultaneously in my career and education.”

Degree formats

There are multiple ways to study a part-time MBA. Some courses are online, using technology to help students beam into lectures virtually from around the globe, making it simpler to study while working. 

The Tepper Online-Hybrid MBA is a mix of in-person, live-online and offline course delivery. This gives students the opportunity to meet faculty and connect with colleagues — important because the mantra of the MBA is that you learn as much from peers as you do from professors.

“We use Vidyo web conferencing software,” says Cindy McCauley, executive director of Tepper’s online master’s programs. “Faculty see all students in the class…Having this technology means they can attend from home or the office, making it possible to earn a top-tier MBA from anywhere.”

Plus, you don’t have to quit your job to do so. “[Students] keep gaining valuable experience, earning a salary while honing their skills to take their career to the next level,” McCauley says.


Preparation for work

It can be a challenge to re-enter education after a long spell in the workforce, however, so part-time students should brush up on their quantitative skillsets such as statistics or economics to prepare, says Patricia Russo, managing director of part-time MBA programs at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

At Ross, part-time MBAs typically work full-time, have about five years of professional experience and are seeking to move into leadership positions or change careers entirely. “A community college course or online course is a great way to do this – a calculus class would be great preparation,” she says.

One option is HBX, Harvard Business School’s digital learning initiative. HBX runs online courses known as CORe in economics, financial accounting, and business analytics that are regarded as a good way to prepare for an MBA in the summer before you begin.

Classroom experience

Once you’re in the classroom (or virtually), learning can take many forms. At Georgetown, part-time courses are a mix of case study, lecture, group projects, simulations, discussion and debate.  

One of the school’s more hands-on classes is the Global Business Experience, a consulting project spanning six-to-eight weeks, in which students work with an international client to solve a problem. They travel to that country to present their recommendations while also touring cultural sites, meeting with alumni and visiting employers.

Such experiences form a sense of community. “The MBA classroom is designed to allow you to learn from your peers as much as you learn from your professors,” says Shelly Heinrich, interim associate dean for MBA Admissions.

Peer learning

Georgetown part-time MBA participant Elizabeth Johnson, says the connection to her classmates has been strong. “We see each other two days a week and often spend more time with each other through group work,” she says. “[And] we try to see each other in non-school related activities at least once a week.

“The network formed has been strong because of personal and academic relationships, which I have no doubt will translate to future professional success.”

She adds that a strong support network for classmates, family and friends is vital to making a part-time MBA program successful. “They are my biggest motivators for success. They have completely understood the elevated work I have been putting in. They are truly the best bunch of teammates and without them this program would have been more challenging.”


It certainly is a challenge to pursue a part-time MBA, but with support from peers, preparation, and deft time management, it’s one worth taking on.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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