Studying alongside work - what are the challenges and key benefits

25 August 2021

Executive MBA participant Jennifer Tilson explores how the flexibility of the course has enabled her to balance her study and work life. 

How do you find completing the MBA alongside work and other commitments? What are the challenges and how can you overcome them?

Taking on the additional commitment of the Executive MBA was a little bit of a shock to the system to start with, but for me, the excitement of meeting my fellow cohort for the next two years and hearing about what we were going to learn, eclipsed any nervousness about how I’d fit it all in.  

Once you’re in the groove, whether it’s the London evening or weekend format, or the Warwick four-day format, you’ll be surprised at how it is possible to fit it all in, with some diligence and a little forward planning.  For me, taking the evening format, making sure work knew I had to sign off by 5pm on MBA nights was a helpful start.  The impact of Covid-19 had the silver lining of slowing down my social life and consequently making the MBA easier to fit in from a personal perspective. Amends to ways of working with increased working-from-home has also assisted in providing me with options to best knit together my work and study schedules.

Of course, there have been challenges along the way. For me, I found the back-to-back modules the hardest to manage, especially during busy times at work. Whilst trying to write the essay for the module I had just finished, I was conscious not to get too far behind with my reading for the next module. During those “crunch times”, I tried not to be too hard on myself.  For me, it was about picking out the essential readings and those I was most interested in and taking my reading to new places.  Be that the bench in the local park, my sister’s garden…anywhere but my normal working desk. This approach meant less distractions for me and made it more enjoyable. On the essay writing side, my advice would be to crack on with it as soon as possible after the module concludes; however, I’m still working on that one myself…!

What are the benefits of working whilst studying for an MBA?

Whilst it is not straightforward fitting it all in, there are definitely benefits of studying whilst working.  During lectures I found there were many “ah ha” moments, where the content we were learning in class helped to provide me with a new perspective on projects I was working on at work. Equally, the reading, generally regardless of the module, was quickly relatable to an aspect of the business I work for and hence, more interesting to follow. 

After a module’s reading and lessons, there’s then the opportunity to put this learning into practice with the written essay. Writing about my business and the specific projects I’d been working on didn’t necessarily feel like I was doubling up on workload.  My work gave me content to write about in my studies and equally, the process of writing the essay gave me new thoughts, ideas, and perspectives about how to tackle the current project. 

On completion of a module, my business has been open eared to hear any learnings or “golden nugget takeaways” which could enhance the business’ ways of working. Whilst not all modules I’ve taken so far have resulted in me putting an action plan together for the business, they have all certainly helped me feel more confident when talking about the respective topics. 

Are you using any electives/specialisms to tailor your Executive MBA?

Coming into the MBA, the key area I wanted to brush up on was my financial acumen. The core module in Accounting & Financial Management has already helped with this, and I have chosen both the Corporate Finance and Entrepreneurial Finance electives to further improve my understanding and skills in this area. 

Find out more about the MBA course at Warwick Business School.

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