Getting your MBA: Part-time or full-time?

When I started the MBA program at Simmons, I was a part-time student.  Then, last fall I transitioned to the full-time program.  And now, this fall I'm transitioning back to part-time to finish the program.  Having experienced both options, I feel I am uniquely qualified to help prospective students think through what might be best for them.  Read on for my top 5 things to consider before choosing a part-time or full-time schedule!

OK, so you've decided to go back to school.  You've decided to get your MBA.  Rock on!  This is a huge decision, and one I can guarantee you won't regret.  However, it's an overwhelming time and you have a lot of decisions to make, and one of them might be figuring out whether to go full-time or part time.  Luckily, at Simmons, both programs will give you access to the exact same courses and faculty, so you don't have to worry about compromising your academic experience either way.  Here are my top 5 suggestions for things you'll want to consider before you decide which way to go:

1.    The financial impact

I know.  This is the obvious one, and you probably already have some thoughts on this topic.  Basically, you will probably be paying just about the exact same tuition for your degree regardless of going part-time or full-time (although if it takes you a few years to finish, you can count on some small increases to tuition during that time).   This issue really centers around a couple of considerations:

  • If you spread out your courses over a part-time program and continue to have income during that time, you will likely need to take out fewer loans as you pay tuition in smaller chunks as you go. 
  • If your employer offers tuition reimbursement, this can be a big incentive for going part-time and continuing to work.
  • If you go full-time, you will probably be quitting your full-time job, and foregoing that salary for 16 months.  That's what we call an "opportunity cost," folks!  Your Simmons classes will teach you all about that one.
  • If you go full-time, you will finish sooner, which probably means you will see that big salary bump sooner than if it takes you 3 years to complete the program.  In a sense, you might be able to make up that foregone salary pretty quickly.  You might want to run some hypothetical numbers to see how you feel about this, and how it might look for your unique situation

2.    What is your work schedule like?

Do you work a set schedule (such as Monday-Friday, 9-5) or is your schedule different every week?  Do you have to travel a lot for work? Does your work prefer you to work daytimes or evenings and weekends? Believe it or not, these issues can almost make your decision for you.  When I started part-time, I was working in the retail industry and my schedule was always a moving target - I worked a lot of evenings and weekends, and often needed to be available on a last-minute basis.  This made attending school at the same time very tricky.  Taking evening and weekend classes was tough because it made me unavailable during high-demand times, and I used a lot of mental energy just to work out the scheduling logistics every week.  While my employer was very supportive of me going back to school and was willing to be flexible, it was stressful.  Many folks find that set schedules where you have evenings and weekends free are more conducive to combining full-time work with part-time school.  You'll also want to consider your commute, as well as your travel schedule.  All that being said, don't be afraid to approach your employer about flexibility to attend school - chances are they will be thrilled to support your learning and professional development.  There are many creative solutions to be had.

3.    How do you learn best?

For some students, going full-time and being immersed in the program is the best way for them to learn and get the most of out the Simmons experience.   You have more time to focus on school this way, and being on campus more often can facilitate better relationships with other students, faculty and staff.  However, going part-time also allows you to focus on fewer classes at a time, and immediately apply what you are learning at work the very next day.  For many students, this leads to a deeper understanding and retention of the material. 

4.    What are your other obligations?

Do you have kids? Pets? Are you committed to regular volunteer work, board positions or other community activities? Do you own a home that requires yard care, maintenance, etc.? I don't think the answers to any of these questions will tell you definitively whether to go to school part-time or full-time, but I think it's important that you take a complete inventory of your responsibilities as you make this decision.  I've had classmates who work full time, attend school part-time, continue to actively volunteer in their communities, travel occasionally for work, all while raising young kids.  Any configuration is possible, but you'll definitely need help.  Make sure you have the right supports in place before you start school, and go in with your eyes wide open.

5.    What kinds of students do you want to be around?

At Simmons, you'll have opportunities to take classes with students in other cohorts and other programs - so if you choose to go full-time, rest assured that you will still meet part-time students, especially in elective courses or if you choose to take an evening class.  That's the beauty of Simmons.  With that said, it's worth noting that there are some general differences between the full-time and part-time cohorts.  The full-time cohort is usually smaller, and they tend to spend many days out of the week together in classes and in study groups.  Full-time students are often more able to devote extensive amounts of time to homework and group projects, and usually have more availability to meet in-person for projects and study groups.  Part-timers, as you might imagine, are juggling a lot of different priorities, and school is just one of them.  They may be more inclined to meet virtually for projects, and only see their classmates a couple nights per week.  Part-timers often talk about how much they benefit from being able to support one another with career-related challenges as they arise - often chatting before or after class to share ideas and support.  Full-timers get actively involved in each other's job searches, and often get to attend extracurricular events (like networking gatherings or conferences) together.  You will gain so much from your fellow students and make lifelong friends no matter which program you choose, but these distinctions can help you envision what the experience will be like with your peers.


And don't forget, you can always follow in my footsteps and do both!  I have loved having the opportunity to experience school both part-time and full-time.  It's the best of both worlds!