4 Tips for Balancing an MBA Program with Your Full-Time Job

Mar 26, 2014 - Joe Matar

Are you a current or prospective MBA student? Our MBA Corner is just for you.

Students pursuing an online MBA face distinct challenges — as well as unique opportunities for growth — when attempting to simultaneously maintain a full-time job. The concept of a work-life balance is a familiar one, but what about a work-school balance? Both areas are important to your professional development, and fortunately, you don't have to sacrifice either.

In fact, the skills that you sharpen in an online MBA program can make you more efficient at your job, and the hands-on experience you gain from working full time can enhance your performance in school. As long as you tackle both ventures with the right strategies, you can overcome potential challenges and succeed in both the workplace and the virtual classroom.

Here are four ways to ace your MBA while kicking butt at your full-time job.

1. Focus on your time-management skills

Because you're balancing schoolwork and a full-time job, it's essential to gain control over how you divvy up your time to ensure your performance doesn't suffer in either area. It can be tempting to procrastinate when overwhelmed, but doing so will only lead to more stress in the long run.

Organization is critical for staying on top of important deadlines. To avoid confusion, consolidate important meetings and tasks from your job as well as assignments and tests from your syllabi onto one calendar so you can easily keep track of your responsibilities for both. Designate specific study times, and you'll be more likely to stick to them. If you know that you're likely to put off a project until the last minute, you may want to set earlier deadlines for yourself to avoid procrastination.

Remember that while multitasking may sound more time efficient, it can be difficult to stay focused when you're juggling several tasks at once. You'll not only finish assignments more quickly if you handle them separately, but the quality of your work will also be better.

2. Develop your presentation skills

From outlining your business plan for a potential partner to promoting your venture at an event or giving a presentation in class, a number of occasions call for strong public speaking skills. It's crucial to tailor the content and tone of your presentation to the audience's interests and knowledge level. Once you have their attention, your points can make a memorable impact.

Practice makes perfect, but overly rehearsed lines can make a presentation sound mechanical. As you practice, get a sense of the timing and flow of your presentation without having every word memorized. Remember to remain enthusiastic when giving any presentation — confidence and energy are far more convincing than a perfectly polished speech.

3. Apply lessons from the classroom to work, and vice versa

Now is a great time to begin fine-tuning your leadership style. Many MBA programs provide opportunities to participate in group projects that allow you to hone your leadership skills. Collaborative projects are beneficial to your career in the long run, because whether your goal is to start your own venture or become the CEO of another company, you'll need to be able to manage and inspire others.

Furthermore, you'll gain valuable insight from your professors, mentors and peers about your leadership abilities that can be advantageous and applicable to your full-time job. Your success in the business world will also depend on your ability to work as a team, so use any group assignments to better your collaboration skills.

4. Network better — at school and at work

You'll be invited to a number of events in an MBA program that will expose you to a variety of professionals whose knowledge and advice can be helpful to your success. Start by drawing up a list of specific individuals, whether alumni, staff or fellow students, that you want to contact. Be proactive about reaching out to them, but don't expect anything in return. It's critical that you know something about your contacts before you get in touch with them, because your discourse will be more meaningful for both parties. Don't be afraid to go outside of the obvious people in your immediate industry. The more you can grow your network, the greater your professional possibilities.

Keep your communications short, friendly and complimentary. In fact, don't start with a request of any kind — instead, send a quick email letting them know it was nice to meet them, or that a speech they gave inspired you. Once they respond, you can ask for a meeting over coffee. Additionally, don't forget that networking is a two-way street, so try to create as much value as you can on your end. Always follow up to thank them for their time, and you'll forge stronger relationship and a continually larger network.

Rebecca Lindegren is the Digital Strategist for MBA@UNC, the online MBA program at UNC Kenan-Flagler. In addition to higher education, Rebecca is passionate about leadership, online marketing and skiing. Follow her on Twitter.