Getting a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is an excellent way to increase your employment prospects, create interesting career opportunities or work in exotic locations. Business is a worldwide phenomenon, from manufacturing specific products to providing services that require global infrastructure.
Thankfully for many parents and busy professionals, you no longer need to commit to a year or two of on-campus instruction in order to earn your MBA. You can now earn it online through a wide variety of programs, most of which incorporate a short, one- or two-week on-campus portion. For many, this is much easier to accommodate than all instruction occurring on campus, and opens doors that would otherwise stay closed.
However, without the accountability of an in-person program, you may find yourself floundering. It’s crucial that you stay on top of each class, assignment and activity, and take every opportunity you can to succeed. Here are seven of the most powerful strategies you can employ to ensure your program is everything you hope it will be … and more.
#1 Be Very Clear About Time Commitments
Sometimes the time commitment of an online program isn’t as clear as it should be. You may think you’re going to get off easy because there’s no travel time involved with online work, but a few factors may reduce your “free” time:
- Be aware that many online programs do involve an in-person element, usually only a week or two but sometimes a month on campus or an even farther-flung location
- Sometimes the at-home substitutes are longer than in-class would be (i.e. an essay that must be written each week instead of a discussion period)
- You may still have to travel to plan and execute group projects
- If you have internships or job shadows, you will have to travel to get there
That’s not to say you shouldn’t engage in such opportunities or that you should object to class requirements (which is obviously a bad idea). But it’s important to keep in mind these time commitments and schedule them into your life accordingly. That brings us to the second strategy …
#2 Don’t Create Conflicts
Time management is crucial when you’re in school, but never more so than when you’re earning a degree as an MBA, because the workload is huge. Even if you do your homework from online and have a good degree of control over your life, you may at times find yourself completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the work you have to do.
That’s why it’s crucial for you to avoid creating time conflicts from the beginning. If you intend to hold down a job while studying, check with your work and make sure they’re aware of and sensitive to your program. You could just do your classes without telling them, but if you end up having trouble juggling it all, you’ll be up against a wall if you need to ask for time off or reduced hours.
The same goes for family commitments. Make sure your significant other/spouse/children/parents or others who rely on you are fully aware of the time commitments of your program. Otherwise you may meet with dissatisfaction on the home front when you most need support.
#3 Ruthlessly Remove Distractions
It’s crucial to remove distractions from your life before you begin your program. If you have an unfinished home project, a weekend trip you’ve been promising someone you would take or a major surgery in the family, it’s best to get such things out of the way beforehand. These might just seem like “part of life,” but they can wreak havoc with your serenity and ability to complete your courses in a timely fashion. Of course, you can’t always plan for what life will throw at you, but you can do your best to protect your time.
#4 Find “Study Buddies” Right Away
Even for people who “don’t work well in groups” and “prefer to learn alone,” study buddies are crucial during an MBA program. Many of the concepts taught in a master’s program are complex and novel. Not only are two heads better than one, but students are often selected for MBA programs on the basis of their real-world experience. Do you have to be best friend material? Absolutely not. But you never know what you and another student might have to offer one another, and it’s certainly worth finding out.
#5 Create a Positive Study Environment
One of the most powerful strategies of all is to create a positive study environment, somewhere you can go and be sure you’ll get what you need without a lot of time and forethought. Tips for creating this include:
- Set aside a part of your home as your study environment, or choose a coffee shop or library. It’s important to have a reliable place to go so you don’t waste your energy figuring it out
- If at home, tell others not to enter your study environment
- Keep all the materials you need at hand in that environment
- Unplug when possible – the Internet is very useful, but can be a distraction when trying to complete a tough assignment or project
#6 Put Networking Systems in Place STAT
Nothing does more for your chances of getting a great job after graduation than building a powerful network. You can do this in a multitude of ways. First, make sure you get to know your professors. They’re busy, but at least introduce yourself personally and learn a little bit about them. At the end of the course, connect with them on LinkedIn. The same goes for anyone you job shadow, work under during an internship, or meet at a trade show or job fair.
You should also connect with any of your cohorts on social media, over email and, where possible, in person. You never know which of these connections will end up knowing someone who wants to offer you the perfect job. The larger network you maintain, and the more forms you maintain it is, the better chance you have.
#7 Up Your Technological Literacy at Every Opportunity
No one needs to tell you the digital world is changing at lightning speed, and accelerating all the time. Consider the span of time between the invention of the wheel and the appearance of the cotton gin … as opposed to the evolution of the cell phone or of information storage. It’s safe to assume that the next 10, 20 or 50 years will bring inventions and ways of life of which we can now only dream.
While a command of mathematics and economics, good management abilities and an entrepreneurial spirit are all great benefits, employers will definitely be looking for MBA grads who have a) familiarity with the latest technological trends and b) the ability to adopt them quickly and easily. In fact, it is the latter that will command greater respect, because it means that you can succeed in any situation, both present and future. You should use every opportunity to interact with technology, learn its applications and commit it to memory.
Taking courses online is definitely a smart way to save time and money, and to accomplish your dreams with significantly greater ease than you would have in a traditional on-campus program. However, that doesn’t mean this style of learning is automatically easier to incorporate into your life or to succeed at. You still have to be very intentional in your approach, and ensure that at every stage of your program – from before you start school until the moment you toss your cap in the air – you’re maximizing your time, prioritizing your learning and making the connections that will someday lead to your success. Do that, and you’ll look back on your MBA program as the golden key that unlocked the rest of your life. Good luck!