Jason Scharf, Langone Contributing Writer
Hey, bright-eyed future business leader, are you sitting at your desk at work, weighing the costs and benefits to the part-time MBA you’re about to embark on? I understand where you’re coming from. The benefits are clear—take this path and you’ll continue to earn an income, have your employer foot (some of ) the bill, bring your experience from the classroom directly to work the next day. At the end of a couple years, you’re smarter, better prepared and have a Stern MBA on the wall, all without missing a paycheck or a beat. But, before you purchase your textbooks (or start that part-time application essay), I have some words of wisdom regarding what, exactly, you’re getting yourself into.
“Time” Is Just a Four Letter Word
The most obvious challenge of the Part-Time program is a semi-theoretical skill called “time management”. You might think work-life balance is a challenge—but you have yet to try and tackle work-school-finals-core group networking-life balance. On days you have class you are out of your apartment from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (give or take your normal commute time). That is a long, fully booked day. On days you don’t have class? Pure, lazy freedom! I kid, I kid. These days are sort of a “choose your own adventure” (with the caveat that you still have to go to work). Do you go to the gym? Spend time with friends? Schedule a date? Homework? Netflix? An hour of semi-catatonic drooling? Don’t worry, a semester in you’ll learn the most important lesson—there are a fixed number of hours in the day and not everything will get done. Sacrifices will be made. Muscles will atrophy, bellies will fatten, friends will check in to make sure you still live in New York.
Living for the Weekend
In a former life, my opinion was that weekends should be for relaxing. While pursuing an MBA? Not so much. From the get-go, you will eagerly look to the weekend as endless temporal real estate for. . .playing catch up on everything you failed to accomplish during the week— grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, homework, studying, socializing, calling your parents. I’ll admit, it is possible that my time management skills are not superb, or perhaps, I’m a single male living in New York. But work, school and life can feel like an overwhelming combination.
Testing the Limits of Your Brain
Another obstacle I’ve found with the Part-Time program is that, balancing so many activities at once makes it tough to excel in any one of them. Research has shown that working memory cuts off at around seven items. Therefore, multiple ongoing projects at work, statistics homework, an Econ final, your best friend’s birthday, family, etc. tend to battle for the last remaining active neurons in your brain. My suggestion? Make lists and use calendars (even if you think you’re a scheduling master). And above all, take time each week to assess the delicate balance of work and school; it may mean easing up at work, or taking fewer classes per semester – you just don’t want to walk into the nightmare of missing deadlines and making mistakes at work and school because you were overloaded. Got it? Good, because I’ve forgotten what we were talking about.
I Feel Like I Hardly Know You
Finally, from my experience, there’s no way around the fact that this program will inflict some collateral damage on your relationships. From my personal experience, the workload has made making small talk and fostering relationships pretty exhausting. The experience changes and focuses you; and you’ll find that your sense of urgency and newfound interest in Emotional Intelligence and Balance Sheets isn’t shared by your friends hanging out at the bar. To put it more bluntly, I want to get things off my to-do-list so I can accomplish everything I think I need to, and in turn, I find that I’m focusing too much on myself and not enough on other people. My suggestion is that you’ve got to be upfront with your non-school friends about what you’ve taken on. And when you get the chance, put school and work out of your mind and spend some quality time with people you care about.
So, is it Worth It?
Thus far, one year into an MBA, I can say: It hasn’t been easy and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I’ve met a lot of great people, many of whom share the same goals and ambitions that I do. I can see that there will be a ton of career opportunities, and I just have to continue to work hard. To be honest, if the Full-Time MBA was an option for me, perhaps I would have taken it. But the Part-Time MBA, as complex and taxing as it is, is a great alternative. And in the end, I know that one day, somewhere in the future, when I apply for a cut-throat investment banking or start-up job and an interviewer asks me, “How do you know you can handle the intense hours?” I’ll have a pretty great answer.