“It’s just not the right time.”
That’s the reason why many push back business school. There’s always some rationale. They’ll start after they wrap up this giant international project. It’ll be easier when the kids get older and can better care for themselves. They’re waiting for that moment when they “feel ready” — when everything calms down and aligns and they know exactly what they want.
And then life happens…
People get sick and new threats emerge. Work only grows more complicated and demanding. That dream — more time and fewer distractions — rarely materializes. That’s why many Executive MBAs offer a simple piece of advice…
Jump in…and don’t look back.
“Anyone considering an Executive MBA is likely at a crossroads,” explains Aatif M. Husain, a 2021 Duke Fuqua EMBA who works as an epileptologist and neurologist. “They have probably accomplished a lot in their original profession of choice and have come to appreciate that there is more growth and learning to do. An Executive MBA can help one pivot in their career, but it does not have to take one away from what they have been doing for years; rather, it can make them much more effective at it.”
Husain is just one of the P&Q Best & Brightest Executive MBAs who shared advice to the next wave of business school students. What worked for them? Here is the best advice from the Class of 2021:
1) Accept Certain Limits: “Assess the cost, gather a support system, and go for it. I’m proud that I delivered quality schoolwork, but there’s also an element of accepting that you can’t perform at 100% in school, at work, and for family. There are times when you assess when you’ve done enough, and prioritize what’s really important.”
Cara Habegger, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)
2) Use School Resources: “There are numerous resources that the program can provide. It is particularly important to come in with a game plan, while also being open to change. Whether it is a specific skillset you are trying to attain or a network you are trying to tap into, it is also very meaningful to explore fields and realize it may or may not be a good fit for you right now. My peers who made the most out of their executive MBA experience were the ones who proactively sought opportunities.”
Philip Zhou, Columbia Business School
3) Do Your Research: “There are so many different structures, in-person time commitments, and programming options. Think hard about your personality, work style, and how flexible (or not!) your work can be. Reach out to alumni at these programs and ask about their experiences. Talk to your work supervisor early in the process, and be open and honest about your plans.”
Laura Payne, Duke University (Fuqua)
4) Develop a Support System: “No matter your circumstance, have your support systems in place. The program breaks you down and builds you back up in the best of ways, but working full time and essentially being a full-time student (plus a family in many cases!) is not for the faint of heart. However, it is totally possible with the right people in your corner!
Larisa Friesen Hall, Georgetown University (McDonough)
5) Lean On Your Peers: “The EMBA is a team sport, you can’t go it alone. You need those closest to you at home and at work to support you and fully understand the massive commitment you are taking on. EMBA is basically a full-time MBA on top of a full-time life you will want to hold on to, but you will have to make sacrifices.”
Sarah Page, London Business School
6) Don’t Be Afraid: “Definitely take the step to invest in your future. What you invest into your MBA is proportional to what you will get out of it. Therefore, learn and participate in class. Do not be afraid to speak up and ask questions. Be supportive to your classmates – chances are you will need someone’s help during the course. Take time to get to know your classmates; network with your cohort and with those outside of your class to form strong relationships. The social events are the biggest bonding opportunities – this is where you get to let your hair down and meet people in their most relaxed state.
Take risks and try new things. Be open to exploring a new and better version of yourself to discover the new you! You can’t do everything you would like to, so be strategic about the activities you engage in. Finally, avail yourself of all the tools that the program has to offer, from the case studies, student campus groups, industry panel sessions and, after graduation, the alumni network.”
Taiwo Oyewole, London Business School
7) Keep An Open Mind: “I think [an MBA] is an investment well spent. It really gives you an opportunity to look beyond what you do on a daily basis and expand your possibilities. Many times, when you work on the same thing for a long time, you only see through a very limited field, and your mind is only thinking inside that small box, but the truth is, there is much more than that. In fact, I would encourage all my senior executives to go take an executive MBA program and to really experience it first-hand. It opens up your view, expands your repertoire, better connects you with people, and really equips you to better meet the challenges presented by this fast, changing world.”
Dr. Peter Tien Ying Lee, University of Oxford (Saïd)
8) Can’t Be A Perfectionist: “Multitasking and prioritizing will get a whole new meaning when you start an executive MBA program. Many driven, successful individuals pride themselves on being perfectionists. Sometimes, when you make decisions in highly volatile and unpredictable environments, you have to say “good enough” and move on. If you had multiple responsibilities at work and at home (and I bet your classmates would too), prioritizing and making a decision is important. I’m not saying to do things half-heartedly or poorly, but it is important to know the scope of your work or project, set your limits and deliver the results.”
Bayan Nyssanbayeva, Penn State (Smeal)
9) Test Out A Schedule: “If you’re worried about the time it will take out of your day to day life – do a trial run. Pick a week that is an average week for your schedule and find 20 hours to read. What you read does not matter, just do it to see what you will have to skip or cut short to fit in 20 hours and know that this will be your new average week if you go back to school. I say this not to discourage people, but to make sure they understand what they are getting into. If you are constantly underwater at home and don’t have time to do the readings, you are not going to get the full value of your program. Make sure the timing is right for you and your family – and a trial run is a good way to test it out.”
Kris Decker, Texas A&M (Mays)
10) Don’t Wait: “Do not think of the 100 very good reasons why this will be impossible. Instead, think about WHY you want to achieve this for you now. Focus on that. Have it clear for you. It will carry you beyond the program.”
Linus Haferkemper, IESE Business School
Do it earlier in your career and make the most out of it. For me, it was going to happen sometime. It was just a matter of when. I thought of going back for my EMBA earlier in my career, but I was so fiercely immersed in my job that I didn’t think I could do it. That was when I was single. Now I’m married with three kids, further along in my career, with a laundry list of life commitments. It was much more complicated to make it work. I regret not taking a moment years ago to realize life was never going to get less complex. The other reason I’d advise doing it earlier is that you will be able to optimize the years in your career where you can apply your new-found knowledge and connections. I’ve still got a ton left in the tank, and I remain excited about the future. In my cohort, we had much younger students who would be able to plant these EMBA seeds in the career now, and they’ll reap the exponential benefits for decades. The more runway you can give yourself, the higher you have the potential to soar.”
Keith Spencer, Penn State (Smeal)