How to Survive (and Thrive) in a Professional MBA Program

I’m writing this with being 2 short weeks away from completing my MBA at Willamette.

Throughout the two years in the program, at times, I’ve worked more than 100 hours in a single week between my various jobs and a full credit load.

It’s amazing how formal education can be either the catalyst for growth (in all parts of your life) or make you feel helpless. What will make or break you is how you set yourself up for success. Currently, I’m enrolled in three courses (more than the average load), working multiple jobs and still having a great time. Don’t get me wrong – at times it feels like a death march.

Treepose8 Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) in an MBA Program

1) Get a Hobby

One of the first interview questions I was asked in the interview for Willamette’s MBA Program was, “What are your hobbies?” Seems odd, right? What could this have to do with my ability to be successful in an MBA program.

The answer: A LOT.


I have a hobby that forces me to be social, and present. Because most of the time, I’m putting other people’s lives in my hands.

 

Whether your hobby is a sport or not, having other people on your team or to practice with will keep you motivated and on track. After an 16 hour day comprised of 8-10 hours at work and a 4 hour night class, you need something to look forward to during the week.

2) Take on more, set goals. 

How sad would it to be to complete your MBA degree and feel like you’ve otherwise stagnated as a person? Wouldn’t you rather look back on this time as a period of immense growth? You might call me crazy here, but the saying could not be more true:

If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”

Keeping busy will only increase your capacity. More importantly, having other goals will help you keep school in perspective. How much does it matter you got a “C” on that one marketing midterm? Not much in the grand scheme. But it can feel like your world is coming to an end if you don’t have other things you’re working towards.

My goals during this MBA program: strength and flexibility. Some of these achievements (like getting my splits) occurred even while studying.

splits and studying

3) Make sleep a priority.

There will be nights (and weeks) when that’s not possible. Take time each week to catch up on sleep at least one or two nights. During this program I averaged 4-6 hours on bad nights. For the most part though, I got 7-8 hours of sleep a night. 

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 10.26.46 AMAnd this was with working full-time, my hobby, friends, teaching, and taking a full credit load. It is possible, I promise.

4) Put pride aside. 

Know your network, and ask for help. An MBA is going to force you to learn about every field of business, so get to know your classmates (or cohort). Know their strengths and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t worry – when it comes to your subject of expertise, you’ll be able to return the favor. 

Also understand your personal network. Never be shy about asking for help because the worst case scenario is that they say no. Not so bad, right?

5) Be selective about who you give your time to.

The people who stick by you through these 2 years will be your best friends and life partners. My cohort alone had 3 marriage proposals during the program. Something in the water? Perhaps.

Getting through any program and working will test your willpower. People who are takers (emotionally and mentally) will stick out like sore thumbs, know when to cut your losses.

6) Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.

Put your perfectionist ways to sleep because they’ll kill you in graduate school. I’m saying this as a long-term Type A “it must be perfect” personality. Trust me. You may think that is sustainable at first but it will catch up with you and eat away hours you could be sleeping.

Though, this may be taking efficiency too far. Bath studying…it’s a thing.

Multitasking

7) Prepare for the week.

Set yourself up for success every night. Do your meal prep and plan days in advance. Schedule your week: block off 1-2 hour time slots for homework. Stick to it. This is an easy way to get more efficient. Studies show that after 2 hours of working or studying the same topic, productivity drops dramatically.

8) Enjoy it.

This is probably the last time in your adult life you’ll have the luxury of learning in a controlled environment, where your job doesn’t depend on it.

Happy bending  studying!

Melissa Barker


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References

National Sleep Foundation (n.d.). “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?” Retrieved on 25, July 2016, from: https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need