Work-School-Life Balance for MBA Students

A remote student working on a laptop takes a break to make a phone call.

Around 92% of corporate recruiters and 95% of staffing firms planned to hire new Master of Business Administration (MBA) graduates in 2022, according to the Corporate Recruiters Survey report by the Graduate Management Admission Council. It’s easy to understand why. MBA programs teach professionals to think globally and strategically, a valuable skill in virtually any industry.

Earning an MBA can be a challenging endeavor that requires full- and part-time students to make extra efforts to maintain a healthy work-school-life balance—or risk burning out. In 2019, the World Health Organization declared burnout as an occupational phenomenon characterized by exhaustion, emotional distance, cynicism toward one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. To avoid burnout and get the most out of their graduate education, students can learn tips for cultivating healthy habits to achieve work-school-life balance in an MBA program.

What Common Challenges Do MBA Students Face?

The many benefits of earning an MBA include the potential to earn higher salaries and opportunities for leadership roles. Still, students often wonder: How hard is an MBA?

Although MBA experiences can vary based on many factors, MBA students face common challenges when pursuing their degrees:

Concurrent Employment

MBA students often work while completing their education for two reasons. First, some employers offer tuition assistance, including reimbursement for part or all of the cost of an MBA. Second, while it may be ideal to quit one’s job and focus fully on one’s studies, many people need to work to maintain financial stability.

Juggling employment and graduate school isn’t easy. To succeed at both, students must practice excellent communication and time management, such as:

  • Looking ahead to schedule school and work commitments to avoid overlap
  • Communicating clearly and early with supervisors and teams about scheduling conflicts or needs for workflow adjustments
  • Establishing professional relationships with professors and seeking supplemental academic support when necessary
  • Identifying and using graduate school resources such as writing centers, tutoring support, career centers, and libraries to make efficient progress through the MBA program

Choosing an online MBA program can be a great way to earn an advanced degree while balancing work, school, and life as well.

Temporary Pay Cut

For students who transition to part-time work during their MBA programs, or commit to their studies full time without work, the loss of income can feel daunting—especially for students who are still paying off their undergraduate student loan debts.

Still, the MBA continues to be a good investment. Most MBA graduates say the degree was worth the time and upfront costs, according to Investopedia, citing better quality jobs and higher pay as the top two benefits of earning an MBA.

To offset the challenges of taking a pay cut while earning an MBA, prospective students may want to consider some of the following strategies:

  • Avoid extraneous costs associated with earning an MBA in person. Online MBA programs save students money when they don’t need to pay for campus meals or commuting and parking costs.
  • Make use of school mental health counseling services. Temporary pay cuts can lead to financial stress. Many graduate students may not know that mental health counseling services are often provided at low to no cost by their colleges and universities, and telehealth programs empower students to talk to providers online. Talking to a counselor about financial stressors can be a great way to cope with the mental burden of graduate school.
  • Consider student loans. How common is it for MBA students to pay for their education with student loans? A little over half of all MBA students take out loans to pay for at least part of their graduate education, according to NerdWallet.
  • Seek scholarships. While scholarships are less common for graduate students than they are for undergraduates, organizations such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and the Educational Advancement Foundation offer partial scholarships for MBA students who meet select criteria.
  • Know the financial value of an MBA. Students should remember that an MBA is an investment in future financial success. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the starting salary for an MBA graduate is approximately $20,000 more than the starting salary for a person with only a bachelor’s degree in business.

Familial Responsibilities

Many MBA students are parents and spouses with family obligations outside of school and work. Some may also be caring for aging parents.

When pursuing an MBA, students with familial responsibilities can seek healthy coping strategies, including:

  • Cultivate community support among MBA peers. An MBA cohort can provide mutual support for all students. Contributing to a culture of collaboration and teamwork can help students complete challenging projects and reduce stress.
  • Seek support from extended family or friends. Graduate school requires time and attention that may be hard to come by for parents and caregivers. Drawing upon additional support from friends and family to help with child care, for example, may open up extra time for MBA students to complete assignments and attend class.
  • Plan time to rest and relax. Everyone needs to take time for themselves—especially busy MBA students with families. Scheduling time to recharge by taking a nap, going for a walk, or savoring a meal can be crucial for MBA students attempting to juggle work, school, and family.

What Is Work-School-Life Balance for MBA Students?

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important,” wrote Stephen Covey, bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Work-school-life balance means prioritizing personal and professional activities while working, pursuing an education, and upholding other life commitments such as maintaining health or child-rearing.

When considering an MBA program, it’s important to understand why MBA students are uniquely susceptible to burnout. Compared with undergraduates, students in MBA programs are more likely to work full or part time, and they often have more extensive familial obligations. These responsibilities require time and attention, so prospective MBA students should make a plan for dealing with the stress that comes from balancing so many demanding activities.

How Do You Find the Time to Finish an MBA Degree?

Although everyone wishes there were more hours in the day, busy MBA students have just as much time as everyone else when it comes to finishing school, staying productive at work, and keeping up with their personal lives.

Between responsibilities at work and at home, MBA students must take extra care to develop good habits. Practices that can help to support a healthy work-school-life balance include:

  • Getting a full night’s sleep
  • Eating well
  • Exercising
  • Cultivating a support network

The Long-Term Benefits of Work-School-Life Balance

Does cultivating strategies for maintaining work-school-life balance sound challenging? It can be, but developing good habits in graduate school offers many long-term benefits.

Graduates who nurture and stick with healthy habits in their MBA programs can gain business leadership skills that will serve them well long after graduation:

  • Effective communication. Between discussing business principles with classmates, communicating via email with professors and supervisors, and coordinating with university administrators, MBA students have the opportunity to become expert communicators. Communicating early and often with different stakeholders is a key skill of any business leader, and an MBA program is a great time to practice this skill while juggling work, school, and other commitments.
  • Strategic and innovative thinking. An MBA degree teaches students concepts and principles of management and leadership in business, including steps for strategically positioning teams and companies to innovate.
  • Teamwork. MBA programs require that peers from different backgrounds work together on group assignments and projects.
  • Problem-solving. Earning an MBA can be a balancing act—one that sharpens a person’s ability to solve problems and examine issues from new angles.

Work, School, Life: Balance All Three With an MBA

Balancing work and school with a personal life may seem daunting, but professionals who polish their communication and time-management skills in MBA programs can continue to reap the benefits of great habits throughout their careers.

Interested in learning business strategies and gaining new high-level management skills to take your career to new heights? Washington State University’s Online Master of Business Administration program is designed to give students the tools they need to become business leaders.

With the MBA’s carefully crafted online curriculum, professionals can continue working while completing their studies. The program’s faculty members have years of experience as instructors in the online learning environment, giving students the confidence they need to pursue the degree and succeed as career professionals. Explore the Online MBA program at WSU and launch the next phase of your business career.


ABC News, “Why Business Leaders Need a ‘Wake-Up Call’ to Take Burnout Seriously Right Now, Experts Say”

Forbes, “The Best MBAs for Salary and Prestige Jobs Are Not the Same”

Forbes, “The Surprising Resilience of the MBA

Franklin Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®

Graduate Management Admission Council, 2022 Corporate Recruiters Survey

Inside Higher Ed, “Online MBAs Overtake Residential Programs”

Investopedia, “10 Companies That Will Help Pay for Your MBA”

Investopedia, “Is an MBA Worth It?”

Monster, “How to Juggle a Full-Time Job While Getting Your MBA”

National Association of Colleges and Employers, First Destinations for the College Class of 2020

NerdWallet, “MBA Student Debt: How Much Business School Students Borrow”

SHRM, Graduate Scholarships

The Wall Street Journal, “MBA Starting Salaries Are Soaring”

World Health Organization, “Long Working Hours Increasing Deaths From Heart Disease and Stroke: WHO, ILO”