11 Tips for Earning Your MBA While Working Full-Time (Without Pulling Out Your Hair)
By Noelle Hartt on 11/14/2023
Earning an MBA while working—sure, there are people who do it, but there are also folks out there who can breathe fire.
How do you even begin to prepare for such an undertaking?
Maybe you’ve always wanted to attend business school, and just haven’t done it yet. Or your interest in pursuing an MBA is a newfound one. Either way, you’ve got a full-time job now, with only a few hours free on your weeknights. How can you use that time to balance an MBA program?
If juggling work with a class schedule sounds like a circus act, hang tight. You might not need to write off the entire idea yet.
We spoke with six MBA degree holders who all held down jobs while attending graduate school. Check out their recommendations for maintaining work-life balance, raising a family and keeping up with a school schedule—all at the same time.
If they can do it, maybe you can do it too!
11 real-world tips for pursuing an MBA while working full-time
1. Share your MBA plans with your boss
Many of us prefer to keep our work and personal life separate. But MBA students can really benefit from communication here. Business school imparts skills most of us can bring to our current jobs. Your employer probably knows that. And, they might be all too happy to help.
“My biggest worry was the scheduling of the classes and how this [would] affect my work responsibilities,” says Shailesh Kumar, founding editor of Create Wealth Blog, who worked full-time at Ford Motor Company while he attended his MBA program.
“I involved my managers in my decision to pursue my MBA, and they were very considerate of my scheduling needs,” Kumar says. He decided to enroll in an evening program where he could take classes after working hours. “That helped tremendously.”
Don’t wait until your study schedule starts to conflict with your work. Tell your boss now that you’re thinking about pursuing an MBA. This way, you’ll have a much smoother transition back into student life.
2. Take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits
The terms, “student loans” and “higher education,” have become nearly synonymous by now. Sure, loans are great for degree-seekers requiring financial aid. But, tuition reimbursement benefits are better.
Employers provide these educational benefits to help working professionals save on their MBA programs. Yet, there’s a second, less obvious perk of having your employer finance your advanced business degree.
“Because my company had invested money in my education, they had an incentive to help support me while I finished it,” says Anna Ohler, owner of Bright Lane Gardens.
That’s another great reason to let your boss know you’re pursuing an MBA degree.
“There were some days when I would need to stay late at work, and it would impact my ability to finish homework or attend classes. These instances were few and far between; I just had to be open with my instructors and my boss about prioritizing certain things,” Ohler adds.
Had her boss not known she was pursuing her Master’s degree, those instances could have easily gone much differently. And much worse.
So before you take out a new loan, ask your human resources department about tuition reimbursement benefits. (By the way, those student loans we discussed? Turns out, employer benefits may even help you pay those back, too.)
3. Look for part-time MBA programs
Even the greatest multitaskers can struggle to keep up with a full-time MBA program while working 40 (or more) hours a week.
Instead, consider a part-time MBA program—that’s why they exist! Part-time programs follow the same curriculum as their full-time counterparts. The difference? The time commitment for part-time students is way more practical.
4. Compare business schools with online MBA programs
In-person classes and working professionals don’t always mix. Commuting to campus alone can easily eat up hours each week. That means cutting into the limited “free time” you’ve budgeted for studying and assignments.
Online MBA programs are much easier to attend.
But, they’re not all created equal. Some online MBA programs are completely virtual. Still, you’ll need to know whether classes meet at select times.
Others may follow a hybrid format, requiring some in-person attendance. When you’re a working professional, that could be a non-starter.
The sweet spot? An online, part-time MBA program that allows you to manage your pace. You’ll need to keep up with important dates (project deadlines, exams, etc.) regardless, but this type of online MBA program is formatted precisely to accommodate full-time employees.
These options allow you to attend your program from almost anywhere, and their hours will often be flexible enough to let you schedule your coursework around your job. (For more information about how online MBA programs work, check out our article, “6 Things You Should Know About the Rasmussen University MBA Program.”
5. Request to work remotely
Does your current role mandate onsite attendance? And, if so, is it possible to complete your work remotely?
If there’s room for appearing in person less often, you’ll free up some transit time for your MBA program.
Speak with your employer about potentially working offsite. You may be able to work out a hybrid schedule—where you spend some days in-office, and others remote. Or, maybe you’ll strike gold and get permission to work fully from home.
6. Set aside some PTO (if you have it), just in case
MBA programs—including online MBAs—often incorporate group projects. You may also be required to write a thesis.
Time-consuming assignments like these might not come up every week. When they do, though, time away from work could be a lifesaver (especially when that doesn’t require you to forego a paycheck).
“The week of my capstone project (the final project before graduation) was intense. I took a full week off from work with PTO,” Ohler says. “My team for the final project was wonderful and accommodating, and a lot of us had to balance work with our final project.”
7. Know your limits and avoid burnout
As a working professional in an MBA program, you’re going to put in some long days. Take care of yourself along the way!
“After a long day of work, I would go home and try to eat dinner or take a power nap before the evening classes. I was able to find a system that [worked] for me, but some days felt longer than others,” shares angel investor, Devon Horace.
This leads directly into the next tip.
8. Give yourself extra time when you need it
Most schools advertise their MBA programs in terms of how quickly students can graduate. Makes sense! Who doesn’t want to hear they can reach their career goals in only a few years or even less?
Still, your student experience will be unique to you. Some people finish their part-time MBA programs in the expected time frame. Others need more time. Ultimately, it all comes down to your course load and class schedule.
But, in the end, whether it takes you 18 months or three full years, you’ll still have your Master of Business Administration. And that’s the whole point.
“Having a newborn, job, and school was extremely difficult. Time is a finite resource, and I was truly stretched to the limit,” says John Brandt, senior vice president of Rokk Solutions.
“I realized I had to take a step back and lessen my course load for about 6 months to manage all the responsibilities I had going on in my life. As much as I wanted to be done, I know this was the right decision,”
We’re all on our own schedules. Brandt encourages MBA students to slow down when needed and make sure they get the most out of their experience.
Whether you’re looking at part-time MBA programs or full-time programs, just remember: what works for other students may not always be right for you.
9. Capitalize on networking opportunities
Even online MBA programs offer priceless access to connections. You’re going to meet instructors and classmates who can help you transform your career path. Plus, many business schools host networking events and job fairs. Taking advantage of these, too, can unlock new possibilities.
“I really got to know my professors and [classmates]. Today, they make up a significant part of my professional network” Ohler says.
This doesn’t happen just by accident. But if you put some effort into it, you can create lasting connections during your program. Ohler says she spoke openly with her cohort about what was going on in her life or at her job. “For the most part, everyone was eager to help support each other.”
MBA programs are even great for making new contacts within your current organization. Kumar’s MBA coursework inspired him to collaborate with more of his colleagues.
“I immediately started taking interest in the bigger picture ideas and found a mentor in a different part of the company to sponsor me on a cross-functional project team. This also helped me grow my network within Ford Motor Company,” Kumar says.
10. Plan ahead whenever possible
“The more you can plan ahead of time, the fewer surprises there will be!” Emilie Schario, founder and CEO of Turbine, says.
When it comes to time management, planning is everything. Know what’s in store for you each session, so you can properly plan around your obligations.
In between quarters, Schario would spend one full week creating a schedule for the next session. This helped her manage her personal, career and academic commitments all at once.
Brandt also created a schedule to help him stay on track with classes. He could easily see when a big assignment was on the horizon, and he would plan around work events.
11. Don’t panic if something goes wrong
“One of the hardest moments I experienced was when I got a bad grade on a midterm exam,” says Amiyah Watts of Lake County Florida News. “I was really disappointed in myself, and I thought about giving up.”
Instead, Watts studied even harder for her next exam and got a much better grade. “This experience taught me that it's important to persevere even when things get tough.”
Work emergencies happen, too.
“I was involved in an urgent project at work,” Kumar says, explaining that this temporary—but very imminent project needed to take most of his attention for a time period. To manage things, he was open and clear with his professors and peers. “I also worked to get additional resources in the project team at work so the responsibilities [could] be shared, and I was able to find more time for school.”
You don’t have to be a superhero to earn your MBA while working
But you do need to have some dedication. It’s not an easy balance, and you’ll have plenty of bumps in the road. But if you want this degree and see the potential it can open up for your life, you can find the grit to stick with it.
With supportive instructors and other MBA students in your program, you don’t have to do this alone. And if you can also get your boss, your family and friends on board—your time in the program will be even better.
Whether you’re working full-time hours, running a household, caring for family or all of the above, your MBA degree doesn’t have to be out of reach. Get more details at Rasmussen University’s Masters of Business Administration program page.