My first semester of the MBA program at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) has ended. I received an A in Management 518: Legal Environment of Business and a C in Accounting 510: Financial Accounting. Fortunately, these grades even out to provide me with the 3.0 average necessary to stay off academic probation.
For all of you ambitious, tenacious ladies and lads out there whose goals include getting your MBA or going back to school in general while working full-time, take note of what I learned:
1) Even if you liked school, MBA classes are work.
I’ve always found school and college to be relatively easy. Sure, I had to put the work in, but as long as I went to class, paid attention and did the work, good grades came easily.
In addition, I was really looking forward to the MBA program. I was eager to learn about subjects like accounting and finance that have been so foreign to me throughout my journalism career. I like to broaden my horizons and learn new subjects, so with that kind of attitude, graduate school wouldn’t be any different, right?
Wrong. Going to school part-time while working full-time is a lot more demanding than going to school full-time and working part-time.
In college, I could do some studying during my part-time jobs. I lived on campus and could walk everywhere I needed. Plus, it didn’t matter if I showed up to class still reeking of alcohol from the previous night.
Now, I can’t do any studying at my job. I have a one-hour commute to class each way, and I would most likely be fired if I routinely smelled like booze.
2) Some classes you just won’t “get” no matter now how positive your attitude is toward it.
As I said, I was looking forward to learning accounting because of how integral and practical it is to any business. It was clear, however, after the first test came back with a D that accounting would be an uphill battle.
“OK,” I thought. “I just need to study harder for the next test.” So I did. What was the next grade I received? Another D.
Ouch. There were only three tests. Still, I studied the best I knew how for the final test and finally received a C, which brings me to my next point …
3) Even if the final outcome for your MBA classes seems bleak, keep pushing.
I was sure that I was going to get a B in business law and a C in accounting. So, believe me, the temptation at the end of the semester to take the “why bother?” approach to studying for the final exams was high.
But I resisted the urge, buckled down and studied just as hard as ever. And it paid off because …
4) The professors have final authority.
Again, even if you think you know the outcome of your grades, your professors always have the final authority. How you interact with them, your classmates and your classroom ethics speak volumes. If they know you’re genuinely interested and trying, they’ll be more willing to give you a nudge if necessary for your final grade.
5) Never underestimate the power of showing up and being accounted for.
There will be plenty of times where you’ve had a long, stressful day at work and the thought of going to class makes you want to jam a pencil through your eye. Resist the urge to skip class.
The professors know that most of the students are working full-time, have families and other responsibilities, so by showing up, you strengthen your commitment to the class. It’s another small act that reveals your integrity.
6) Ask a lot of questions.
You’re in graduate school. It requires you interact with the class. The professors want to clarify your misunderstandings and share their expertise.
I admit, I had trouble asking questions in accounting class because I felt so out-of-the-loop sometimes, I wasn’t even sure how to phrase my lack of understanding. However, in business law class, it was easy to ask questions because it was built into the format.
Again, the more you ask and participate, the more it shows your commitment to learning. And that’s why you went back to school, right?
7) Help your classmates.
I could never have gotten through accounting without help from a few of my classmates, especially when it came to the final project for accounting. That monster literally took me an entire weekend to complete.
Plus, you never know when you’ll need notes or help with assignments if you have to miss classes for whatever reason. The more you help others, the more you’ll get help when you need it.
And not to overstate the obvious, but the more people you meet and help, the bigger your network grows. The larger your network, the greater your opportunities.
8) You have to rearrange your schedule to include study time.
I struggled with this quite a bit at the beginning and didn’t really get a new schedule down until close to the end of the semester. Make no mistake about it: Going back to school is an adjustment.
The big question was, “Where can I find more time?” The answer, for me, was: weekend mornings/early afternoons. Consequently, this also meant I couldn’t sleep in or have hangovers on weekends anymore. Technically, of course, I could – and did occasionally – but it made doing work 10 times less productive and inefficient.
9) You will stress a lot.
Just embrace the stress. School and work and projects and tests and friends and family will ensure your life will always be slightly crazy. So the sooner you embrace your new, wild schedule, the less it will gnaw at you.
What helped me the most was to stop thinking about the grades. Again, this was another trick I learned at the end of the semester.
I told myself that there were no grades and to focus on going to class, soaking up as much knowledge as I could, studying and then just doing my best on the tests. For the final tests, my mantra was, “grades don’t matter; learning does.”
Wouldn’t you know? I did the best on those final tests.
10) You will need support.
Your new, crazy schedule means you will have to cut back on something. An MBA program requires more time and energy than you ever anticipated, and you can’t do it all. Don’t expect yourself to. Instead, enlist help.
I am lucky to have Mr. Man who did an amazing job making sure our home still looked reasonable and we still ate healthy meals.
If I was still responsible for cooking and cleaning on top of everything else, I think Mr. Man would have been dead by the second month of the MBA program.
11) Sacrifices must be made.
As you may have noticed, I deviated from my posting schedule to gain more time to work on my final projects and tests. I had to make a difficult decision, and for now, work and school come before Tenacious Lee.
I also missed out on some really fun birthdays and other parties. I gave up more than a few Saturday nights to stay in and work on school stuff.
Just remember: The sacrifices are only temporary, and the payoff will be extraordinary.
12) You will feel an enormous sense of accomplishment when each semester is finished.
I still can’t believe I just finished my first semester of an MBA program taking on subjects like accounting and business law when I had no background in these areas whatsoever. Sure, I didn’t meet my goal to get a B in both of my classes, but at least I got a B average.
The joy of finishing something so mentally challenging and exhausting will give you a huge reason to celebrate.
The more difficult the goal, the greater the sense of achievement.
Have you gone back to school for your MBA or other degree while working full-time? What lessons do you have to share?
To further emphasize that “sacrifices must be made,” I’ve decided to cut back on my posting schedule to Mondays only. Now that I’m about to start eight weeks of torture known as Math 11: Business Calculus, I am anticipating that class requiring a ridiculous amount of my time and attention.
And in other happier news, happy anniversary to Mr. Man and me! One year ago today, we made our dream wedding come true followed by a dream honeymoon to boot!