You're likely already aware that earning an MBA and moving beyond an undergraduate degree can enhance your career immensely and provide you with more opportunities. If you’re already a working mother, you have already mastered many of the skills necessary to take on the challenge of pursuing higher-level college education while employed full-time and raising a child. There’s no question that attaining your MBA will be hard and may entail some sacrifice, but with proper planning and a supportive network, you can achieve success.
Unique challenges of a working mom
Those balancing work and motherhood, especially those with young children, are already juggling many roles. In addition to their career, women take their children to extracurricular events, doctor’s appointments, playdates and the like, and do a fair share of shopping, cooking, and cleaning. And you want to start attending classes on campus at a univeristy on top of all that? As the saying goes, if you want to get something done, ask a busy person.
Some of your issues will depend on what type of job you have and your hours. When you decide to go after your MBA, ask your employer about flexibility in your work time. Depending on your industry, even if you could work from home one or more days a week, and spend the time you would normally commute on your education, that would have a huge impact. Employers tend to provide more flexibility to employees who are pursuing an education that will benefit the company rather than those who are requesting more flexible hours for personal concerns. If your employer seems a little dubious and there is no policy in place, you could offer to work this way for a trial period so you can both see how it would work. Change can be hard, so give them the chance to see that this will work better than they thought and allow you to study without interrupting their process.
Choosing a program that meets your needs
For most working mothers, an online MBA is a great way to achieve your main academic goals. You’ll also need a program that meets your needs in terms of scheduling, technology needs, and which offers a supportive environment. Some online MBA programs may require that students connect with the class at designated times. A working mother may need a more flexible learning program unless they have high levels of support from their employer to aid in their professional development. Other primarily online MBA programs may require some live, in-person participation or travel. If you really doubt you can fit that into your schedule, even if the time required is not extensive, you should search for another program.
Make sure that the program you choose is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). If your company is footing the bill, it is unlikely they will provide aid or assistance for non-AACSB courses. You'll also want an online MBA program featuring a strong faculty, community, and content. The program’s website will provide data on the professor's and staff backgrounds and professional experience, and there may even be a way to get reviews from or to contact alumni of the program through email. Lastly, check to see that you can access the site and complete your studies 24/7. If they are more limited, even the best program may not meet the needs of a woman with an already full plate.
You may want to focus on an online MBA that was created for the part-time student. For many mothers with already busy lives, a standard two year MBA degree program just isn’t feasible. A three or four year program is less stressful, more doable, and much more practical. Look for a school offering as much as five years for degree completion. You may not need that much time, but it gives you breathing room that you might appreciate, eveen if you don't think you need it today.
Practice time management
For a working mom, time is precious. Odds are time management is already one of your most valuable skill sets, since women can’t have successful careers and raise strong families without it. That actually gives you an advantage over other MBA candidates who don’t have the experience of managing time as intensely as a working mother.
Set aside the time necessary to read and work on your MBA coursework without neglecting your job or family. That’s crucial for effectively managing your time. As a working mom, though, you’re aware that you also need a certain amount of flexibility because you never know when family demands will conflict with other priorities. For example, perhaps you’ll decide to spend a few hours every Wednesday night at your local library for studying. You likely have plenty of stories of childcare arrangements falling through; this way you can take the kids with you – there are plenty of things for them to do at a library. Make sure to block out some rest time for yourself, as well, even if it’s a two hour nap rather than anything more fun.
Since there are only 24 hours in a day, it’s likely something will have to give when you decide to pursue an MBA. Working moms are experts on making lemonade when life gives them lemons. Get creative. If you used to exercise regularly but now don’t have the time, how about purchasing a bike desk so you can pedal while watching lectures? You knew when you started that your social life would take a backseat to your other activities for a while, but you can still keep in contact with friends via social media. Social media services may play a role in your educational life, too. A closed Facebook group consisting of other MBA students can help you network while also discussing the material, ask questions and support members struggling with the coursework or scheduling. Or you might use an opportunity to reach out to an international business leader on Twitter. Since you all are going through similar experiences, someone may have advice or a recommendation that makes your work, school or family life move more smoothly.
With an online MBA, whether in finance or business analytics, you can attend classes on your own schedule, whether that is late at night after the kids have gone to bed or on weekends. When you are attending courses online at home, you can take classes in your pajamas, and hop into bed after turning off the computer. You might also get some coursework in during your lunch hour. Even when you go on vacation, you’re never further away from class than your laptop as long as there’s a wi fi connection.
By sheer necessity, you probably already make every minute count. Multi-tasking is second nature to you. Once you are enrolled in an online MBA program, you’ll further refine your time management abilities. Taking the kids to the doctor or waiting outside school to pick them up? Always have course reading material to peruse, or other forms of studying. If your little one is taking a nap, head to the computer. It might take you longer to complete your degree than someone who isn’t dealing with children, but that is one of the benefits of an online MBA program.
Have a support system
A working mom pursuing an MBA needs a strong support system. Your spouse or partner is an integral part of that system, but potentially so are parents, siblings, close friends and neighbors – even coworkers. If you’re single, it’s even harder, but harder is not impossible. You may already have a network of single working mothers and others who help each other out when needed.
In fact, it’s especially necessary to get your boss and colleagues on board. Adding an MBA to your plate may mean you can’t stay late at work very often or take part in particular projects. The company may have to deal with some short-term adjustments when it comes to your job, but these temporary accommodations are worth it once you can apply the knowledge that comes with your degree to the company’s benefit. On the home front, going for an MBA may mean sacrifices in both time and money, but it's a two to four year investment – depending whether you attain your degree on a full or part-time schedule – that may prove invaluable for your career and your family’s future financial security.
Like many working mothers, you may still bear the brunt of housework. Discuss with your spouse or partner whether they can take on more of a role here, or the possibility of hiring someone to clean. If your kids are old enough, they may take on certain responsibilities, such as washing their own clothes, taking out the garbage and vacuuming. It’s good for them to do chore in exchange for money or privileges, or just the understanding that family members must help each other when needed. Explain to your kids the importance of your decision to obtain an MBA and what it will mean for your career and the family’s financial stability. You are also showing them early on that you take the importance of education very seriously, and that is something they will learn to respect.
In many cases, your company will pay for your MBA, so tuition isn’t really a consideration. However, if your company isn’t footing the bill, cost becomes much more of a concern. An online MBA is less expensive than in-person schooling, and you don’t have to worry about travel or other living expenses. On the other hand, once you have earned your MBA it’s likely that your prospects will rise accordingly. A far greater financial risk is leaving your job to pursue your MBA. Before the onset of online MBA programs, working mothers often had no choice but to leave work or cut back considerably on their working hours if they wanted to go to business school.
One cost to consider is that of investing in new tech if your current equipment is older or unreliable. Buy a good laptop and make sure you back it up regularly. If you travel frequently, sign up for a mobile hotspot contract so you can continue working during downtime on business or pleasure trips.