How to Survive—and Thrive—in an Online MBA

Balancing a return to school with a career and possibly family life is no mean feat, but it’s doable

The flexibility to fit study in around work and personal commitments a big part of the Online MBA degree’s appeal, but balancing a return to school with a career and possibly family life will be a daunting prospect for many prospective participants. This will require deft time management and no shortage of dedication.

For their part, business schools have purpose-built online MBA programs that enable participants to eliminate any commute to campus – you can fit in your learning from your couch or office. Lectures are offered at multiple times to accommodate schedules and time zones. And students can pause their studies when they need to, and resume when ready.

“Flexibility is one of the key factors in choosing an Online MBA,” says Zeeshan Sultan, director of MBAs at Germany’s WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management. “The balance between self-paced learning and synchronous sessions allows participants to learn at their own speed and access high-quality education without having to relocate to a specific location. We have participants from the Far East all the way to South America.”

To align their studies with their professional and personal commitments, participants can choose between 24-or-36-month-long formats at WHU. According to Sultan, the added flexibility has made the program especially attractive during the pandemic, along with shifting work practices.

“During the pandemic, individuals have become accustomed to working remotely and taking care of their families at the same time,” Sultan says. “This is also one of the ways the pandemic has accelerated the trend toward high-quality online study programs.”

Reorienting schedules around an Online MBA

With a global shift to remote work, students are gaining back valuable time in their days. This shift has also increased the comfort with navigating an online environment, so students are more efficient in the learning process.

But a return to academic life requires a reorganization of schedules—  and business schools are on hand to help. WHU’s “ SELF Lab” helps students in their personal development and aids them in defining priorities, setting goals, and designing an action plan for balancing academic demands and personal aspirations.

At Vlerick Business School in Belgium, participants have the option to slow down or accelerate their progress through the Online MBA. “We did see that some participants took study breaks during the pandemic due to professional or family reasons,” says Leonardo Meeus, director of the school’s Online MBA. “The opposite is also possible because we allow participants to take two courses at the same time, which is used by participants that have more time and want to fast-track their MBA.”

During the admission processes, Vlerick will double-check that MBA candidates have realistic expectations about what is required. “An MBA is a life-changing experience, but you have to invest enough of your own time to get the rewards,” says Meeus. Courses at Vlerick are spread out over several weeks, with some live moments where everybody is online at the same time, and other activities that must be completed within a certain deadline.

But participants can choose when they work on these activities during the week. The group activities in particular are important on an Online MBA, where you learn from other participants as well as the faculty.

Even busy working professionals can make time for an Online MBA

Many Online MBA programs are designed with working professionals in mind, and the Online MBA at Gies College of Business of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is no exception. The model is designed to deal with demands. On top of that, Gies employs a team dedicated to helping students navigate their studies.

But some of the biggest support comes from the cohort. “Our students are incredibly supportive and compassionate,” says Aaricka Hellberg, assistant director of admissions and recruiting at Gies. “They will lend a hand whenever is needed, without being asked – inside and outside the classroom.”

She advises prospective Online MBA candidates not to forget about their personal networks. “I rely on my friends, family and partner to find success. I recommend students do the same. Having a supportive community around you is key to having success.”

And when the going gets tough, she says it’s really important to connect to your “why”. “In the moments that you are challenged, remembering your why will keep you on track,” she says, adding that ultimately, an MBA will challenge you, but it will pay off.   

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