Back to School? How to Survive Your MBA


Back to school!

It’s a rallying cry we usually associate with kids’ backpacks and notebooks, but don’t forget about the grownups. More and more, working women are heading back to school to upgrade their skillsets and resumes with an advanced degree.

In fact, this fall a record number of women will be entering two of the country’s top MBA programs-the Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Women will make up 39% of Harvard’s class of 2013, and at Wharton, women will represent 45% of the incoming class.

Those happy numbers are the result of national efforts by groups such as the Forte Foundation, a consortium that advocates the MBA as a career-advancement and leadership-development strategy for women.

That said, a concurrent MBA – attending classes while keeping your job – isn’t for everyone. “If you’re looking for career advancement within your current company or within the same industry, the part-time/executive route is a good option,” advises Elissa Sangster, Fort?’s executive director. “But if you are looking to change your career or industry, I highly recommend taking the full-time route.”

The pay-off for a concurrent MBA is big. “You get your education while continuing your career progression and drawing a salary.”

But there’s also a downside, Sangster adds: “Your life will be very complicated.”

So, how to minimize those complications? Here’s what Sangster recommends:

1. Explain why.
Learn how to communicate to supporters and skeptics alike exactly why it’s important for you to get your MBA. Repeat that message as often and as patiently as necessary.

2. Decide what is a necessity and what is expendable.
For example: Does the house need to be spotless? Do you need to volunteer as chair of the annual fundraiser for the third year in a row?

3. Build your support system.
For those activities that make the cut, how will you outsource or supplement them? Who will do them, when, and how? Put processes and structures into place ahead of time.

4. Get buy-in from your boss.
Make sure you have the full support of your boss, which means that s/he is willing to give you the necessary accommodations.

5. Be upfront with your co-workers.
Your co-workers might not always be supportive – especially if your performance is impacted. Be upfront about expectations, and be careful not to over-promise. Meet all your deadlines.

6. Just do it!
Don’t let demands from family and friends end up being an excuse for why you can’t go back to school. If this is your passion, then make it happen. Figure out what you need and then tell everyone what you need. Family and true friends will rally behind you to see you succeed!

7. Take advantage of Forte’s online resources.
The Forte website is filled with women who can provide you with inspiration and webinars that can provide you with more tips and strategies.

And if you’re still on the fence about enrolling for your MBA, learn more at a Fort? Forum, a series of live events being held across the country this month. You’ll find out how an MBA can help you can find your passion, open doors, and present opportunities you never knew existed. Click here for the Fort? Forum schedule.

photo by Herkie

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