For some aspiring executives, the path to business school leads directly from college to a full-time M.B.A. But most graduate business students get several years of work experience after graduating from college before they apply to M.B.A. programs, which means they have to choose between keeping their jobs and becoming a part-time student, or quitting to study full time.
Although full-time students tend to graduate much more quickly than part-time students, full-time programs require financial commitments that many students aren't prepared for or choose not to make. Many part-time students say they would study full time if they could, but part-time study is more appropriate for their current situations. Below are three reasons to pursue a part-time M.B.A.
[Find out if a part-time M.B.A. is a cheaper option for you.]
1. Laboratories to apply theories: Erik Gonring initially toyed with the idea of pursing a full-time M.B.A. program, but he decided on the part-time M.B.A. at Purdue University—West Lafayette's Krannert School of Management. The main reason he chose to study part time, Gonring says, was because he didn't want to forfeit the on-the-job training he was receiving as a communications consultant.
"I knew that I needed to complement what I was learning in the work environment, but I also wasn't confident that I would learn more by stopping work and beginning school," says Gonring, who left his job after his first semester at Purdue for a position at McDonald's Corporation, where he is now public relations manager for McDonald's USA.
Every other Saturday for the past three years, Gonring has left his Chicago home at 6 a.m. to drive to West Lafayette, Ind., for his M.B.A. classes, which run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The trek is worth it for Gonring, because he would spend more money on what he describes as an unranked program in Chicago than he does at Purdue, which he notes is higher ranked. "Cost was a key consideration in my decision," he says.
2. Financial motivations: Other M.B.A. applicants have chosen the part-time route, as Gonring did, for financial reasons. After working in the banking industry for 13 years, Jaime Lira, the marketing manager at Cohen and Malad LLP, an Indianapolis law firm, decided to attend the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University—Bloomington on a part-time basis.
One reason Lira chose the program, from which she graduated in May 2010, was because her then-employer offered to reimburse $3,000 worth of tuition, she says.
"Many of my fellow students did receive some form of tuition reimbursement and had a role that allowed them flexibility with respect to vacation time requests and scheduling," she says. "Many of the people that I met who were in a full time program were younger people who had the support of their parents and not as many financial obligations as those of us in the part-time program."
[Learn more about paying for business school.]
3. Flexible structure: Other students choose part-time M.B.A. programs due to family obligations. Geoff Boltach, a part-time student at Western Michigan University's Haworth College of Business, says he'd prefer a full-time program. But as a business owner with two children below the age of six, he decided a part-time program fit his lifestyle.
Professional and family obligations also moved Sean Nowlin to choose a part-time M.B.A. Nowlin, who is the senior display media manager at PPC Associates, a digital marketing company in San Francisco, is currently studying at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management.
Nowlin advises students who have just finished their undergraduate programs, as well as those who are considering changing companies or careers, to consider a full-time M.B.A. and finish as quickly as possible. Aspiring executives who are a few years out of school should get their M.B.A.'s part time, he says.
[Learn why online M.B.A.'s remain controversial.]
Although part-time M.B.A. programs can be flexible and cost effective, there are drawbacks, according to Gonring, the McDonald's spokesman. "You may be squeezing in extra development and learning, but you definitely pay for it with your free time," he says.
Even part-time programs require "immense" amounts of studying, echoes Meredith Kinsey, a part-time M.B.A. student at Clemson University's College of Business and Behavioral Science who is executive director of marketing and corporate communications at Green Cloud Technologies in Greenville, S.C.
"It is imperative that you manage your time wisely," she says, "to ensure you have enough of you to go around—for work, school, your family, and yourself."
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