Finding Work-Life Balance In An EMBA Program


“Two’s company, three’s a crowd.”

That’s the reality once professionals enter an executive MBA program. Most already struggle with finding enough time for work and family. When school starts, they’re suddenly faced with painful tradeoffs. Many feel that gnawing guilt that they’re not spending enough time with their loved ones. And there’s always that fear that they’re forgetting something important.


To stave off the frustration and burn out, many EMBAs find novel ways to use their time. In fact, Gregory Fortner, a 2015 graduate of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business’ EMBA program, doesn’t even try to separate school from work and home. Instead, he involves his family in his education. “An example [is]…work time was also time for my son to sit at the table with me so we could do homework together and talk about what we were learning. He now wants to start a used travelling toy stand. I am hoping he will let me in on the IPO.”

Indeed, the ability to successfully juggle work, life, and school was a hallmark of Poets&Quants’ Best Executive MBAs of the Class of 2015. And many took quite different paths to achieve this balance. But one area connected them all: Communication. “[Juggling] is not an easy feat, so don’t pretend it is,” writes Jackie Dawson (’15), who recently graduated from the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz EMBA program. “There will come a time, probably more than once, when you will need help in understanding an assignment, meeting a deadline at work, or meeting your family obligations. Use your support system. Do not be afraid to reach out to professors, co-workers, and family members to enlist them to help you to be successful.”

And such expectations are particularly key at work. “[Make] sure your bosses share the value of the program, understand your reasons for taking the MBA and will respect your out-of-the office weeks are of essence,” warns Sebastian Cerezo Montañez (’15), who recently earned his EMBA degree from the  University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “Additionally, building a strong team to back you in your study weeks is also a pivotal aspect.”


Meera Atkins, Northwestern University

Meera Atkins, Northwestern University

At the same time, most EMBAs eventually grasp, as New York University’s Shanise Anderson (’15) notes, that “no matter how amazing you are, you can’t do everything on your own.” To compensate, Georgia Tech graduate Kevin Smith (’15), a finance manager at Coca-Cola, counsels fellow EMBAs to always be in the moment. “When you are focused on work – be laser focused on work, when you are with your family – be in the present and focus on your family, and when you are doing school work – focus on the learning aspect, rather than just completing the assignment.”

And that can be quite an adjustment for some. In the end, EMBAs establish priorities and make sacrifices. “Something has to go,” jokes practicing physician and Northwestern grad Meera Atkins (’15). “For me it was television. And my house is messier.” And today’s MBAs make it through the same way as their predecessors did…with the help of their peers. “Know that everyone goes through trying times and you will find that everyone will help you throughout the MBA,” comforts Dulce Aitabella Lazzi, an IESE Business School EMBA who works for IBM USA as a senior engineer.

So how can you adapt to a changing life and the constant flux that is attending an EMBA program? Here is some additional advice from some of the most accomplished members of the EMBA Class of 2015.

Get Everyone On Board

Arizona State's Scott Gates

Arizona State’s Scott Gates

“The most important thing you can do is communicate. Before enrolling in business school you must first make sure your company and your family is on board with the sacrifices you will have to make as you invest in your future. My wife and I spent a great amount of time discussing what life would be like if I enrolled in school. When it finally came time to make the decision to submit my application, we had made the decision together. While there were many nights along the way when both of us questioned whether we could make it, we always communicated what we were feeling so we knew what the other person needed in that moment. I did the same thing with my boss at Western. While it was hard for me to be gone from the office every other Friday, I often engaged with him regarding what I was learning and (even better) what I was implementing at our company as a result of my education. This constant communication loop kept everyone on the same page.

If constant communication is the best advice, the second most important piece of advice is simply to persevere. You can do this! It is difficult. It is hard. You will want to quit. But don’t. It will be one of the best decisions you ever make, and you will be forever grateful for your decision to get your MBA from a school like ASU. Do it. Take one day at a time, and persevere. It is 100% worth it.” – Scott Gates, Arizona State University, Carey School of Business

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