Part-Time MBA? It's a Full-Time Commitment

If you're working, too, your schedule will be daunting

You've decided to get an MBA, but there's no way you're going to give up the salary and benefits of a full-time job for two years at business school. Instead, you're looking at a part-time program, which means you'll be facing three to four years of classes and homework in addition to your full-time job.

Do you really want to do this? The schedule of a part-time MBA student is daunting. Ask Asmat Noori, a 27-year-old student at University of Michigan Business School in Ann Arbor. Or better yet, ask his 3-year-old daughter, Shannon, who doesn't understand why daddy isn't home to play with her several nights a week as well as parts of the weekend.

The balancing act begins at 6 a.m. for Noori, who gets Shannon ready for his wife to take to preschool. Thanks to an arrangement with his employer, the University of Michigan Health System, he starts his day as a computer systems manager at 7 and leaves early enough to pick up his daughter from school just after 4 p.m. Home by 5, Noori has dinner ready by the time his wife, a marketing manager, gets home.

There's no time to chitchat. Some nights, Noori must head out the door as soon as his wife arrives. Twice a week, he makes the 40-minute drive to his 7 p.m. class. Back home by 10:30, Noori studies for two hours or so before heading to bed at 1 a.m. In his free time--between a 40-hour workweek, six hours of class, and 15 hours or so of studying and group work--Noori tries to do things with his family, such as taking Shannon to the park. But that's about all the leisure he can squeeze in. "I haven't been to a movie in I don't know how long," he says.

For Noori and other part-timers, time management is essential. And for Executive MBA students, who may spend two intensive weekends each month at school, the burden of the program and the responsibility of a senior-level job can take an even greater toll. "You've just got to get it done," says Derrick Evans, a 37-year-old manufacturing manager for Motorola Semiconductor. Evans, who lives in Austin, Tex., not only spends up to 40% of his time traveling abroad for his job but must fly to Chicago every other weekend to attend EMBA classes at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

FAMILY PLAN. One thing's for sure: Anyone with a family who is contemplating a part-time MBA would be wise to make sure everyone is on board. Many schools, such as Michigan and Kellogg, offer time-management counseling as well as seminars in which students--and their families--share survival strategies.

Most professors are understanding of work and family commitments, say students. Those at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business--where traffic conditions can make the commute as long as three hours--can view videotaped class sessions if they have to miss a lecture. And the school offers a shuttle bus to and from Silicon Valley, about 40 miles away.

Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business in Dallas offers 12 different workshops on managing the MBA experience. But SMU part-timer Steve Erdahl, 43, whose job as director of international tax counsel at Verizon Communications takes up 50 or more hours a week--on top of the 20 hours he spends in class or on schoolwork--says you just need to keep things in perspective: "It's a major commitment, but it's short-term." Erdhal, who lives on a farm outside Dallas, says he plans to travel more with his wife and spend more time with his horses when he gets his degree by summer's end.

For the single student, take it from Melissa Mathson, a part-timer at Kellogg and a marketing associate at financial-services firm Foothill Capital in Chicago: It's tough, if not impossible, to date. "It would be hard to even make time to entertain the thought of finding someone to go out with," she says. That's a small price to pay for the opportunities the program affords, figures Mathson, who will be done in June. And several years of multitasking and time-crunching should impress employers. After all, they're looking for committed employees who can handle anything that comes their way.

By Jennifer Merritt

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