Most Master of Business Administration (MBA) candidates don’t begin their studies fresh out of college. Instead, it’s typical to spend several years building their career before pursuing an MBA degree. Luckily, you don’t have to leave the workforce to complete your studies.
Thanks to online MBA programs, flexible work arrangements and modern organizational tools, it’s easier than ever to earn your MBA as a working professional. Read on to learn more about how MBA students balance their academic and career goals and responsibilities — and what this enriching experience could look like for you.
Can You Complete an MBA While Working?
Working while studying is a popular choice for experienced professionals. No matter where you are in your career and education, you’ll have several options when it comes to balancing your career and academic goals. MBA students often choose to work while completing their studies, either on a full-time or part-time basis.
Which Is Better, a Full-Time MBA Program or a Part-Time Program?
There really is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether a full- or part-time MBA program is the better choice. If you’re eager to continue working during MBA studies, it’s important to determine what type of schedule would best suit your professional and academic interests and responsibilities.
The age of an MBA applicant and the amount of work experience they have on their resume might impact the type of program they choose, as well as how much time they dedicate toward work and school.
A 2019 U.S. News & World Report survey of more than 120 full-time MBA programs, more than 200 part-time programs and nearly 30 executive MBA programs revealed these trends:
- Full-time MBA students began their studies having gained an average of four years and three months of professional work experience following their undergraduate studies. The average age of new students was about 27.
- Part-time MBA students had an average of six years and 10 months of work experience prior to enrollment. The average age of new entrants was about 30.
- Executive MBA students completed an average of 13 years and eight months of work experience before enrolling. The average age of new students was about 37.
Essentially, a younger and less experienced professional is more likely to choose a full-time MBA program. Having spent less than five years in the workplace, they might be more comfortable stepping away from their current role to devote more time to their studies. The type of student who is actively seeking new and more advanced professional roles will be well-positioned to seize opportunities available through job fairs, recruiters and networking events.
A working professional who is slightly older and further along in their career will more likely opt for part-time study while they work full time. After advancing in their field over nearly seven years in the workplace, a part-time MBA student might be interested in remaining at their current job.
Some employers will subsidize business education expenses for valuable workers, with the expectation that they stay with the company after graduation. But, even when this is not the case, a more seasoned professional may be hesitant to exit the workforce for several years while going back to school.
How Many Hours per Week Do MBA Students Work?
It’s not usually possible to carry on with a full-time job and a full-time class schedule. Instead, your options will be to:
- Work in a part-time job (fewer than 35 hours) while completing a full-time program
- Work in a full-time job (at least 35 hours) while studying through a part-time program
Either way, flexible online MBA programs enable you to keep accelerating your career while making progress toward an advanced business degree.
What Are the Top Reasons to Consider Working During MBA Studies?
Pursuing an MBA is a great way to advance your career, increase your earning potential and become qualified for new and exciting opportunities in your chosen field. But there are also advantages to maintaining employment while studying.
While working during MBA studies, you can:
- Continue making progress along your career path
- Avoid any loss in earning potential that could happen if you exit the workforce
- Apply your day-to-day work experiences and observations to the material you’re covering in class — and vice versa
- Seize networking opportunities in your own field as well as through the business school community
- Prove to your employer that you’re ready to take on new responsibilities and leadership roles
- More easily finance your graduate school expenses on a full-time salary
Still not sure about how to strike the right work-school balance? Consider these five helpful strategies when evaluating business schools and beginning your studies.
1. Choose an Online MBA Program
An online MBA program affords far more flexibility than a traditional on-campus degree program — and is one of the most convenient and accommodating options for someone who wants to keep working during MBA studies. The Online MBA program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business is designed to support working professionals while they complete their coursework.
You’ll have more flexibility in determining your class schedule and will have the opportunity to choose courses that fit around your existing professional and personal demands. Plus, there’s no waiting around until the fall semester. With three possible start dates to choose from, you can begin your MBA coursework whenever you’re ready.
Through an online program, it’s possible to receive a high-quality education without uprooting yourself — and you won’t be limited to higher learning institutions in your region. As an Online MBA student at the University of Maryland, you’ll participate in two short on-campus residencies. The rest of the time, you can attend classes and complete coursework wherever you want.
If you’re not sure about taking classes in an online environment, rest assured that you’ll benefit from the same quality education as you’d receive in the physical classroom. A survey by the Online Learning Consortium found that 90% of students agree that online learning experiences are equal to or better than their traditional counterparts.
Increasingly, students with busy work-life schedules are taking advantage of the many benefits of online learning options. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than 6.9 million students participated in distance education courses as of fall 2018, so you’ll be in good company as an online MBA student.
2. Arrange for a Flexible Work Schedule
If your company supports it, consider establishing a flexible work schedule that leaves you enough time to get your work done and attend online classes. Options could include:
- Finishing your day early one day a week to accommodate an afternoon class, or starting a bit later after a morning class ends
- Taking a two-hour lunch break so you can eat while tuning into a mid-day lecture
- Working from home on certain days to eliminate your long commute and buy back more time for your studies
- Requesting paid or unpaid time off during finals week
Will Your Employer Provide Flexibility to Accommodate a School Schedule?
Of course, every company takes a different approach to job flexibility, so you won’t know your options until you ask.
If your employer doesn’t allow the wiggle room you need in your schedule, there are plenty of other companies out there that will. Workplace flexibility around location, shift schedules, mealtimes and breaks has increased in recent years — and this trend has only gained steam in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2019 report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) noted that:
- Roughly three in five employers offer flextime during core business hours
- Close to one-third of employers allow workers more flexibility outside of core business hours
- One in three employers facilitate compressed workweeks, during which the employee completes 35-40 hours of work in fewer than five days
- A small portion (15%) of employers support four-day workweeks
Can You Take on Freelance Work or Self-Employment During Your MBA Program?
If you’re interested in working during MBA studies, remember that you aren’t necessarily beholden to a traditional workweek. Part-time and full-time students can look for part-time job opportunities that offer a bit more leeway. Or, professionals can shift gears and take on freelance work or self-employment. Under this type of arrangement, you can truly work and study on your own terms.
The idea of going out on your own might sound intimidating, especially if you’re already established in a traditional or corporate career. However, a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that self-employment is more common among older, more seasoned professionals than younger workers.
If you have the right level of financial stability to take on graduate school and a startup enterprise concurrently, your MBA years can be a great time to focus on growing your own business. Throughout the program, you will have the opportunity to direct course projects around solving business challenges firsthand and growing your brand.
3. Plan Your Work and School Projects in Advance
Whatever your work arrangements and class schedules look like, it’s critical that you establish a plan for how you’ll get everything done.
Do some forecasting at work to determine when larger projects will be coming down the pipeline, and how these line up with your anticipated course load. If your job requires business travel or attendance at conferences and other important events, speak with your management team about choosing dates that work for you. Alternatively, you might discuss sending a colleague in your place for a certain trip or finding a way to host an event virtually. These arrangements will be much easier to make if you plan in advance.
How Can You Prepare for an MBA Program While Working?
Once you receive your syllabus at the start of the term, take note of the class times and all the major due dates, including midterms and finals. Work with your employer to build a little slack into your work schedule during those especially demanding weeks — or consider taking time off so you can focus all your energy on completing big projects and studying for exams.
And when it comes to getting your MBA coursework done, try to get a head start on as many assignments as possible. Finishing homework assignments earlier will leave you with time to relax and unwind — and will also keep you on track even if unexpected personal or professional demands arise.
4. Keep Open Lines of Communication at Work and at School
Communication is key to success when working during MBA studies.
Rather than keeping your exciting academic pursuits a secret at work, be transparent with your management team. Let them know what your plan is — and how your MBA experiences can add value to the team and business as a whole. If you can earn buy-in from your supervisors, they’ll likely be much more supportive and enthusiastic about finding ways to help you succeed at work and at school.
Be clear about your educational requirements as well as the type of flexible arrangement you desire. If your supervisor agrees to a particular plan, be sure to get a confirmation in writing.
Similarly, be communicative with the faculty members and advisors at your MBA program. If you’ll miss a class due to a personal or professional conflict, coordinate a way to get notes from a fellow student or a recording of the lecture. If you’re proactive about managing these types of hiccups in advance, your professors will be happy to help you find the best possible way to work ahead or catch up.
Additionally, if you’re working during MBA studies, you may be able to use your job to fulfill the school’s experiential learning requirements and get internship credit. But you won’t know until you speak with your professor or academic advisor.
5. Find a System That Helps You Stay Organized
Finally, when preparing to balance a full- or part-time job and the demands of an MBA program, you can set yourself up for success by following a reliable organizational system.
If you haven’t explored digital productivity tools, note-taking apps and online document management systems, now is the perfect time to start. These tools can help you keep your class notes organized and file your papers and projects so they’re easy to find at a moment’s notice. And you’ll never have to worry about forgetting your term paper on a flash drive.
Look for tools that sync through the cloud and are accessible across multiple devices — from your smartphone and tablet to your laptop and even your smartwatch. Whether you use a calendar app or a physical planner, make sure you can view upcoming activities even while you’re at work. This way, you won’t suddenly panic about whether that exam is tonight or next week. A reliable system will make it easier to keep track of what you need to do, no matter where you are.
What Is Work Like After an MBA?
Once you graduate with a master’s degree in business, you’ll find there are so many new doors open to you. With an MBA degree, you’ll gain access to challenging and engaging new roles where you can demonstrate your leadership abilities and business acumen. Plus, you’ll have opportunities to advance your career beyond where you could with just a bachelor’s degree.
Ready to take the first step? Discover what’s possible through the Online MBA program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Tips for Getting The Most Out of Your MBA
Online, Full-Time, Part-Time or Executive MBA?
U.S. News & World Report, How Work Experience Influences MBA Admissions
Online Learning Consortium, Edtech and Online Learning Are Making Higher Education More Accessible
NCES, Fast Facts: Distance Learning