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Making Part-Time Work For You

A panel of experts recently discussed the part-time MBA experience with online visitors. Here's a transcript of the conversation

Part-time students account for a large chunk of the MBA population in the U.S. But how do you decide whether to hang onto your job and go to school at night and on the weekends or trade in your suits for khakis and step into a full-time program (see, 2/4/07, "When Part Time Is the Right Time")? With those questions in mind, invited a panel of experts on part-time programs to share their opinions in a recent online chat.

Guests Frank Fletcher (FordhamFrank), director of admissions at the Fordham Graduate School of Business Administration, Kevin Malecek (CaseKevin), part-time MBA program director at Case Western Reserve's Weatherhead School of Management, and Pam Lilak (GWPam), a part-time MBA student at the George Washington University School of Business fielded questions from reporter Francesca Di Meglio (FrancescaBW) and an audience of potential students. Here is an edited transcript:

rdb12: Is it beneficial to do a part-time MBA and consider a career change?

Jacob: I currently work for a sector of a university that will pay for the part-time MBA tuition. I work as a real estate financial analyst but may want to make a career change to the financial markets. Will that type of career change be possible via a part-time MBA or would you recommend full-time?

FordhamFrank: One's future career motivation is certainly an important factor when determining which delivery method is most appropriate for you. The majority of students pursuing an MBA part-time are looking for vertical career growth in their firm or industry. However, it is not uncommon for students to either pursue a part-time program with the intention of making a career transition or to discover a new career motivation while in an MBA program.

GWPam: That is great that your university will pay for the part-time program. A career change will be possible with either program. With a part-time program, you can attend classes while keeping your edge in the workplace. This has been the main benefit for me while attending GW part-time and still working.

heni: I'm going to study subjects related to investing and politics. How relevant is business studies on my career?

CaseKevin: I have a unique perspective on this since I am both involved in business education and the political realm. I think the two worlds interact and intertwine more so than any two other fields, with the exception of law being thrown into the mix. On a daily basis, I deal with political implications of business decisions from area merchants, Fortune 500 companies, and the like in my council job.

heni: To whom would you recommend an MBA program? I've funded my studies through investing, and I am really interested in hedging. Do you think an MBA is the right choice for me?

GWPam: Seems you've done well with investing to fund your studies. I think an MBA would be great for you. Finance is a key part of any MBA program, and top investment banking firms recruit MBAs. With my part-time program, I took two finance classes. However, all part-time programs enable you to take more finance if you are interested. The ability to tailor my program and studies is one of the things I liked most about the program.

FordhamFrank: The MBA is such a diverse learning environment. The unique experiences one brings into the classroom add to a truly dynamic lateral learning experience. It is not uncommon to be sitting in a classroom with students with backgrounds as disparate as financial services, nonprofit, entertainment/media, product management, etc. It is this truly global learning experience that makes it an incredible tool for understanding the needs of pretty much every industry.

CaseKevin: The MBA is the currency of the business realm. Major companies and firms want many of their new hires, particularly with concentrations in finance, to have an MBA. It gives them both the general background that an MBA provides, but also the specific knowledge within finance that can help you within their company. I echo the comments from my colleague at Fordham; we look for that diversity of interests and backgrounds to make a more interesting class. It adds flavor to the conversation in each and every course.

FrancescaBW: Here's one from a reader who could not join us. "I am applying to two top 10 part-time programs to which I would commute (two hours each way) and one local school minutes from home that is well regarded throughout the region and would allow me to participate in other activities with my colleagues. What do you see as the advantages/disadvantages of both?"

CaseKevin: I would say it would depend on what your ultimate goal might be career-wise. If you are looking to move out of your area and onto a more national/international stage, it might be beneficial to go somewhere better ranked. If on the other hand, you want to stay with your company and/or in your region, it might be a better bet to go with the school closer to home that is more well-known in the region, and with a better chance to foster relationships with colleagues and potential contacts throughout your local region.

FordhamFrank: Given a part-timer's responsibilities outside the classroom—both professional and personal—it would seem to me that to add a four-hour commute would prohibit that individual from participating in the added-value aspects of an MBA program: networking, career-development programs, lecture series, etc. The MBA experience is far more than an in-classroom experience.

That being said, I agree with CaseKevin in that a school's reputation should certainly be a factor taken into consideration when deciding which program to attend. In fact, according to Graduate Management Admissions Council survey of part-time prospects, it is the most important factor considered (quality and reputation of school).

CaseKevin: I also agree with Frank's comments—the time constraints of part-time students are vast as it is. To garner the true MBA experience, rather than just taking classes, it would be better to stay closer to your base. In our Saturday program, we do have students who come from two hours away or more, but they definitely have an issue integrating into our MBA culture as a whole.

GWPam: That is a great question that I also struggled with while deciding. I think your decision should also depend on your long-term goals. If you want the network to get into top Wall Street firms, then the top 10 might expose you to more of them. On the other hand, I agree with Frank. The part-time program is very demanding and adding a commute to it will only add to the stress. You would miss out on a lot of opportunities at the business school such as networking events and speakers.

Jacob: How would you recommend finding out about particular schools' part-time career development opportunities?

FordhamFrank: First, you may want to have a conversation with part-time students currently enrolled in the school. Sit in on a class. Take a campus tour. Get to know the school firsthand. Then decide what kind of career-development opportunities you are looking for. Are you looking for postgraduate job placement? Access to job listings? Access to alumni networks? Interview and résumé building workshops? Schools have different policies for access to different services for part-time students.

CaseKevin: I agree with Frank's comments; the career-development opportunities should be something that is clearly described and explained by your prospective school when you are examining potential programs.

staiym: I'm currently considering the part-time MBA and was wondering if it would be worth pursuing from a financial perspective. Do you have any advice on how to decide from a financial perspective?

CaseKevin: You definitely need to examine the investment that you would be making in furthering your business education vs. the more short-term issue of the cost of the program. Would it be worth it to get an MBA part-time when at graduation you might be within the same salary bracket, but three years down the line, you could see huge future earning potential with an MBA in your background? You need to definitely weigh the costs. Talk to your employer about tuition reimbursement and explore governmental aid.

courtney323232: By attending B-school part-time, does it put a person at a disadvantage (compared to those who attend full-time) when seeking positions after graduation?

GWPam: I don't think it puts a person at a disadvantage at all. There are more advantages, since you can continue to work while pursuing your MBA. First, being in the workplace always exposes you to more career opportunities. You can also apply what you learn in class to your work assignments. This has been something that I really enjoyed while being in a part-time program. Second, part-time MBAs work and this means all of your classmates will have connections within their companies.

FordhamFrank: Pam is right in many ways. Your career development while in the MBA as a part-time student can put you in a very attractive position for post-MBA job opportunities. However, if you are hoping to make a career transition after graduation, rather than a vertical progression, then there will be a number of things you should take into consideration before seeking positions after graduation. For example, how are you going to make yourself look attractive to an industry in which you have no experience? This relates back to career-development opportunities that are made available to you by your PT program.

FordhamFrank: Some programs offer experiential learning opportunities to allow you to gain experience in another industry while enrolled as a working professional. Others have a built-in flexibility to allow you to transition to full time and pursue an internship in another industry if you wish to make a transition.

jethronolen: When choosing schools, does the "name brand" value of a school have a significant impact on your future salary?

CaseKevin: Again, it depends on the market and sector where you are seeking employment. If you are looking at the premier business school in your region, or a Top 10 ranked part-time program, you might be more apt to get the better-paying position fresh out of the gate. If, on the other hand, you have achieved your MBA at a non-name brand school, but have done extensive networking with the company in which you are interested, it might work out better in the long run. Again, salary can be a function more of experience.

Jacob: What if one has no idea what he wants to do after B-school. Would you still recommend a part-time program to widen your potential options in the long term or waiting until you know what you want?

FordhamFrank: From an admissions perspective, motivation is an important factor in the decision process. We do not expect all applicants to clearly state what their exact career goals are, however we do expect applicants to have some knowledge of how they wish to navigate their MBA program. One thing we consider when reviewing admissions decisions: Is Fordham the right place for the applicant? It is difficult to determine that if we are unable to align your potential career goals with our programs' strengths.

CaseKevin: I concur with Frank on this subject. You must have some direction when entering the program. The nuances can be figured out as you go, but MBA programs want students with a vision of where they want to be in the future.

FordhamFrank: That being said, we do expect students to change their mind while in the MBA program. We would not be doing our jobs as educators if we were not opening new doors of possibilities. Our part-time students are often amazed by how they come in with a clear goal in mind, but graduate with a completely different goal. It is one of the beauties of education.

zdevine: I'm considering two B-schools in California. One I can commute to via airplane, and the other is three miles from my work. How important is the ability to network and be with your fellow students offline and away from the classroom in a PT program?

CaseKevin: It is integral to your MBA experience that you have regular interaction with your colleagues—besides the great business education that you get in an MBA program, you also gain a tremendous network of colleagues across many industries. Time and again, this network is ranked as one of the most important components of a business school education. If you do go by plane, definitely plan to spend a full day or two when you go to the school to work with your colleagues on projects and get to know them.

GWPam: Most of my time in the program is spent with meeting my group members. It might be hard to set up meetings if you are taking a lot of time to commute. Plus, it will be required to be a team player while in the program. This means you have to make yourself available to get together with your group. Also, you will build great personal relationships.

jmc10381: Why an MBA over a professional certificate like the CFA or the CPA?

CaseKevin: The MBA is going to give you a broader outlook on the entirety of business, and I would not exclude obtaining a CFA or CPA as a part of your MBA program. Many MBA programs have sub-programs or classes that enable you to take the classes necessary at the university to obtain these certifications. I know of students in our program who are obtaining their MBA concurrently with obtaining their CFA or CPA (or plan to do it shortly after they graduate from the MBA program since it takes a substantial amount of commitment).

BDavis: I have been considering a PT MBA for some time. Recently, I have been reading some articles suggesting that MBAs are becoming so common that some people may want to consider a more specialized degree, like a Masters of Human Resources, to stand out. I was thinking the more general experience would be better for applying to various fields/opportunities over the long-term. Do you have an opinion about this?

FordhamFrank: You seem to be asking a couple of questions here. First, is the MBA a degree that has become too common? There is no question that there are more MBA options out there now than ever before, which makes the decision process more difficult for prospective candidates. There is a wealth of information provided by such wonderful resources as and, just to name two. It has become much easier than ever before to filter through the extensive list of MBA opportunities to find the one that is best for you.

GWPam: Yes, an MBA is a degree that exposes you to a lot of aspects of business. However, you can focus on areas that interest you. My second year in the PT program has given me the chance to take classes that I am interested in, so I can build more in-depth knowledge.

FordhamFrank: In regards to specialized programs (MS in human resources) vs. the MBA, it goes back again to professional and personal goals. The MBA, as you mentioned, does offer more mobility in your career. You will not only have access to more learning opportunities through your MBA curriculum, you will also have access to a network of people with different career goals and in various industries. The MBA offers you the unique opportunity to not only specialize (for example, in. human resources) but to gain a broader education as well.

GWPam: One more thought, my degree will still be an MBA, but while interviewing with potential employers I can communicate that I focused on emerging markets and participated in study trips to China and Chile. After the first year, an MBA will enable you to focus on the areas that interest you.

CaseKevin: Concentrations can deliver the same type of academic background you are looking for in a more specialized degree. Some part-time programs even enable you to do a joint-degree (we have one in operations and supply chain) part-time with your MBA, so if you really want to delve into an area beyond a concentration, sometimes you can.

wil: I recently browsed the publications at the local bookstore regarding the description of the many programs offered worldwide. Can you recommend a couple?

CaseKevin: Obviously, I think Frank and I would recommend Fordham and Case respectively. More important than the exact program is the kind of program that you are looking for as there are so many options out there. You have traditional evening programs, Saturday programs, distance-learning or technology-enhanced programs that require a minimal amount of on-site participation, residency programs, etc. You should definitely research what might fit your needs as far as time and location, but also the program's focus.

CaseKevin: As far as specific publications, we would recommend Business Week, of course, but also U.S. News, Financial Times, etc.

polaris: Do you think there is a disadvantage to starting your MBA at a late age? I am thinking of applying to a couple of part-time MBA programs, but I'm already 37 years old.

FordhamFrank: The part-time applicant, according to Graduate Management Admissions Council, on average has over six years of experience. Already the part-time applicant is coming in with more experience than their full-time colleagues (who have four to five years on average). It is not uncommon for a part-time student at Fordham to come in with 15 to 20 years of experience. One concern from an admissions committee perspective is: what is your career motivation for doing the MBA at this stage in your career?

GWPam: Education at any age is an advantage. With your experience you would contribute a lot to the classroom. This would be a great combination with the cases that you would work on with your classmates. Age should never matter.

CaseKevin: Frank is absolutely right. That being said, we have candidates in our part-time program who are well-advanced in their careers, but come to get their MBAs for various reasons. Some want to start their own companies, others want to make a later-stage career change. Their addition to the classroom is a truly invaluable resource, and I've found more experienced students to be more involved and active in MBA-centered activities, such as networking, because they know how important it is.

FordhamFrank: Pursuing an MBA in hopes of pursuing traditional post-MBA job opportunities may be of concern not only to the admissions committee but to Career Services Offices. Therefore, admissions committees may be more hesitant to offer admission if that is your stated goal. However, if you recognize that vertical growth in your firm or industry will be facilitated by an MBA or you are looking to do an MBA for entrepreneurial purposes or you may have another nontraditional motivation, then an M

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