Work To School: Changes To Expect And How To Manage Them

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Enrolling in an online MBA program as an adult involves several changes that require preparation and discipline. Typically, demands on a student’s time will increase substantially, especially if he or she continues to work full-time.

The nature of a student’s personal and professional relationships will also change, as schoolwork will cut into the time and energy devoted to maintaining those relationships.

Lastly, the financial requirements caused by tuition, textbooks, and incidental school expenses may require sacrifices in other areas of the student’s life.

Here are several changes that a student might encounter when enrolling in an online MBA program, along with suggestions on how to prepare for and address the issues.

Schoolwork Demands Time And Energy

Pursuing an online degree offers flexibility that would be near impossible in a traditional classroom setting, but online programs still require self-discipline, hard work, and time management.

For best time management, students should construct a schedule and stick to it. Spare time may be in short supply, so it will have to be managed well. Mornings, lunch breaks, evenings, and weekends will become opportunities for study and schoolwork.

Ritualizing daily activities, workload, and relaxation time can help students stick to their new schedule, according to self-help expert Jon Brooks. “In the creation of our perfect daily routine,” he writes on, “we need to find rituals and systematically employ them to best suit their context.”

Keeping track of deadlines is essential, as deadlines are of the utmost importance in post-graduate schooling. “Check your syllabus before your course begins and commit to due dates on your calendar,” advises an article in U.S. News and World Report, “then designate study times for each class and stick to them.” If a student has a large project on the horizon, he or she should begin working on it early rather than procrastinating.

Here are some apps and tools to that can help students manage their time:

1. Google Calendar can help students keep track of everything from study sessions to group projects to instructor’s live chat times. Students should also include their work schedule, and any other important dates on this calendar and assign a priority value to each task to help organize their workload.

2. Evernote is a program that consolidates and organizes school notes, outlines, and essay drafts in a format that is concise, easily searchable, and accessible from a laptop, smartphone, or tablet.

3. Time tracking apps such as TimeLogger and Rescue Time help to establish a routine. These apps analyze the amount of time the user spends on daily activities such as eating, watching TV, surfing the Internet (and what is done while surfing), which can help students visualize current routines and adjust them to accommodate classwork.

Schedules must also include time buffers for unforeseen circumstances. For example, an assignment might take longer than expected, a mandatory meeting could pop up at work, or a student’s neighborhood could lose power. By incorporating buffers into the calendar, one should still be able to complete their task/project by the established deadline.

It is important to note, no matter how busy the schedule, students must set aside time for recharging. Spending time with family and friends will give an active brain the break it needs to return to work and school fully refreshed.

The Changing Landscape Of Relationships

With the time constraints an MBA places on your schedule, a student may need some assistance from his/her family and/or friends, which may alter the dynamics of their relationships.

“Get your families onboard,” career coach Phyllis Mufson recently advised online grad students in a Forbes article. “Share your excitement about the future that school will open to you, and also be frank about the sacrifices necessary in the short term.”

By involving family and friends, students can delegate some of their personal responsibilities in order to better focus on earning their degree.

Here are other ways that students’ relationships, both personal and professional, may change when going back to school:

  • Online classes present a unique opportunity to develop new relationships with fellow students and professors that can prove helpful throughout the program. Online colleges now offer message boards, forums, messaging systems, video feedback/conferencing, and more to communicate with one another. These tools provide an opportunity to receive feedback and help from cohorts.
  • Students who take advantage of their college’s communication tools will find online collaborative projects much easier. Tools include personal profiles, group messaging, and video conferencing. Some schools even have satellite campuses where online students can meet.
  • Group projects can help students prepare for the types of long-distance business collaborations common among corporations that need to collaborate between branches and with other businesses.

    Financial Commitment And Budget Management

    Just as an online MBA degree program may affect a student’s time and relationships, it can also have an impact on finances. Having a strategy to effectively manage your finances can help ensure a smoother progression through school.

    Financial experts recommend the following action points to get started:

    1. List all sources of income. Be sure to include student loan disbursements, scholarships, benefits, wages, annuities, dividends, and income from interest.

    2. List all expenses. Include rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, tuition, books, travel/gasoline, and even entertainment expenses.

    3. Survey total debt. Include credit cards, loans, student loans, and any other type of credit debt. List minimum payments and interest rates.

    4. Develop a plan for paying bills and expenses. Try to allot a little more than minimum payments to debts so the balances will continue to decline while you are attending school.

    5. Talk to a financial planner about a budget. Many schools have financial planners on staff that students can utilize.

    6. Set up a preliminary long-term plan for after graduation, including a retirement account.

    Being prepared can help manage some of the changes associated with going back to school and getting an online MBA.

    To quote entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, “If you’re prepared and you know what it takes, it’s not a risk. You just have to figure out how to get there. There is always a way to get there.”

    About WSU’s Online MBA Program

    Washington State University is one of the top-ranked online MBA programs in the nation. The program offers four MBA concentrations – marketing, finance, hospitality business management, and international business – and a general MBA track. For more information, visit WSU’s online MBA website.


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