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Returning to college and pursuing an MBA: tips and advice

November 03, 2023
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Are you contemplating graduate school to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree? Embarking on this educational journey is a significant decision, one that can have a profound impact on your career, personal growth, and financial future. Whether you’re looking to enhance your skills, choose a new career path, or simply expand your horizons, pursuing an MBA can be a transformative experience. However, it’s essential to approach it with careful planning and consider various scenarios if you want to ensure your success. In this article, we will explore key points and offer valuable tips and advice for returning to college to pursue an MBA program.

1. Assess your motivation: set clear and realistic goals 

Before diving into the pros and cons of various MBA programs, it’s crucial to reflect on your reasons for pursuing a degree and set clear, realistic goals for your education. Take the time to identify your motivations. Are you seeking career change or advancement, a change in industry, or the acquisition of new skills and knowledge? Understanding your “why” will provide a strong foundation for your MBA education.

Setting clear and realistic goals is equally vital. Define what success looks like for you, not just in terms of grades or a diploma but also in terms of personal and professional growth. These goals should align with your current career stage and your aspirations for the future. Do you aspire to climb the corporate ladder, become an entrepreneur, or enter a specific industry? Once you’ve defined your objectives, you can tailor your MBA experience to help you achieve them. Keep in mind that these goals might evolve as you progress through your program, and that’s perfectly fine. Getting your graduate degree is an opportunity for exploration and growth, and your goals can adapt to reflect your changing aspirations.

2. Time management and school-work balance: the cornerstones of business school success

Time management is the cornerstone of a successful MBA student experience, especially for individuals balancing work, family, and other commitments. Creating a well-structured schedule is paramount to staying on top of coursework, assignments, and exams. To excel in this aspect, define and set clear academic and professional goals, then create a study plan aligned with these objectives. Use tools like to-do lists or project management apps to effectively prioritize tasks, including your academic and personal responsibilities. Don’t hesitate to delegate non-essential tasks or seek support from family and friends to free up more study time.

Maintaining a healthy school-work balance can be challenging but is crucial for avoiding burnout. There are some strategies to help you strike the right equilibrium. Set realistic expectations and understand that you might need to reduce your work hours or take a temporary break from your full-time job during intensive study periods. Use open and honest communication with your employer about your academic commitments, as it can lead to flexible work arrangements. If a full-time MBA is too demanding, explore part-time or executive MBA programs, which are designed for working professionals.1

3. Financial planning: invest wisely in your future

Pursuing an MBA can be a substantial financial commitment, but it’s an investment in your future. Proper financial planning is essential to ensure you can cover tuition, living expenses, and any other costs associated with your education.

To alleviate any confusion surrounding financial requirements, create a comprehensive budget that includes tuition, books, living expenses, and any additional costs you have. Stick to this budget to avoid unnecessary financial stress. Look into scholarships, grants, and loans to help finance your MBA. Many schools offer financial aid options.

It’s helpful to consider the return on investment (ROI) of your MBA.2 Research the earning potential and job prospects associated with your degree to determine if it aligns with your financial goals. Explore part-time work or paid internships related to your field of study to offset expenses while gaining valuable experience.

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4. Online vs. on-campus programs: choosing the right format

One big decision you’ll need to make is whether to pursue an online or on-campus MBA program. Each format has its advantages and disadvantages, and your choice should align with your personal circumstances and learning preferences.3

Online MBA

An online MBA offers flexible scheduling, ideal for those with work or family commitments. With online study, you are location-independent and can study from anywhere with an internet connection. Online programs might offer limited in-person networking opportunities with other MBA students and self-discipline is a major component to success. But many online programs still offer access to the university career services and other school resources.

On-campus MBA

Full-time, on-campus programs offer an immersive experience and a deep dive into the subject matter. Meeting face-to-face may provide more opportunities for building a professional network, and in-person interactions with other MBA students and professors can be valuable when learning new ideas. However, tuition and living expenses for on-campus programs are often higher and it forces you into a certain schedule.

5. Networking: building bridges to success

Networking is an integral part of the MBA experience. The connections you make during your program can open doors to career opportunities, partnerships, and mentorship opportunities. Attend networking events and conferences to meet fellow students, alumni, and industry professionals. In addition to in-person networking opportunities, join professional networks like LinkedIn to connect online.

Foster genuine relationships with professors, classmates, and industry professionals. Networking isn’t just about collecting contacts; it’s about cultivating meaningful connections. Don’t be afraid to approach a mentor, who can provide guidance, advice, and insights into your chosen field.

6. Realize the benefits of an MBA: planning for growth 

Earning an MBA offers a myriad of advantages in terms of career growth and advancement. The hard skills, soft skills, knowledge, and networking opportunities gained throughout the program position graduates for leadership roles, success in tackling complex business challenges, and innovation within their organizations. MBA holders often find themselves in a better position to earn higher salaries and advance their careers more rapidly than those without advanced degrees. An MBA equips individuals with the skills, confidence, and network to navigate through a dynamic business landscape, enabling them to adapt and thrive in ever-changing industries.

To maximize the benefits of an MBA, it’s essential to evaluate the return on investment (ROI). This entails considering the total cost of business school tuition, living expenses, and any incurred debts, balanced against potential salary increases and career advancement opportunities. The value of an MBA is not solely financial; it also encompasses personal and professional growth and the doors to new career paths that are opened. Post-MBA career planning is crucial for navigating this path effectively. Setting clear and realistic goals for your future career ensures that the acquired skills and qualifications align with your aspirations. 

7. Personal growth: a journey of self-discovery

Lastly, pursuing an MBA is not just about career advancement; it’s also an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery. Embrace this journey with an open mind and a willingness to learn beyond textbooks. Expect to face challenges and setbacks during your MBA journey. Use these experiences to grow and develop resilience. 

Take time to reflect on your personal and professional growth throughout your MBA program. Use this self-awareness to continuously evolve and improve while prioritizing your physical and mental well-being. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance and practicing self-care is crucial for long-term success.

Become the leader you want to be with an online MBA program

Returning to college as an MBA student is a significant undertaking, but it can be a transformative and rewarding experience. A Marquette online MBA, in particular, is a remarkable program that offers affordability, flexibility, and a career-long return on your educational investment. Schedule a call with one of our admissions outreach advisors today to learn more.