You’ve decided to pursue a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) to better position yourself for career advancement. You’ve got all the admission details squared away and you’re ready to enroll.
Believe it or not, that was the easy part.
What lies ahead is a period of intense immersion into the world of business and finance. The coursework itself will be a big challenge, and you will test yourself academically as you never have.
You will also learn a lot about yourself as you confront three of the biggest potential barriers to earning your MBA – money, motivation and time.
Managing the Money
As a business-minded professional, chances are you are adept at managing your money. Yet, even the most budget-conscious consumer must be hyper-vigilant when it comes to major expenditures such as an MBA.
So, have you thought about how you plan to pay for your MBA? If not, now’s the time. And here are a few tips to help you handle the financial situation:
- Federal tax benefits – As of the 2017 tax year, there were two potential tax credits available for college students. One, the American opportunity credit, allows undergraduate students who meet the criteria to claim a credit of up to $2,500 per tax year. The other, the lifetime learning credit, allows post-secondary students to claim a $2,000 credit. This is the credit most likely to apply to MBA students, who already have completed their undergraduate work. Student loan interest also can be deducted by most taxpayers, up to $2,500 per year.
- Federal student aid – Every student should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to determine whether he or she is eligible for federal aid. The U.S. Department of Education is the largest provider of student financial aid in the U.S., with $120 billion distributed to 13 million students annually.
- Scholarships and grants – Many MBA students are eligible for academic scholarships or grants related to their field of study. Federal Student Aid is a good place to start looking for scholarships and grants, but be sure to check industry publications and the university’s financial aid department to learn about eligibility requirements.
- IRA withdrawals – If you keep an individual retirement account (IRA), you typically can withdraw funds for college expenses without having to pay the early withdrawal fee. You will still have to pay the federal tax on the amount withdrawn.
- Student loans – Banks, credit unions and other financial institutions offer low-interest loans for students. Often, repayment of these loans isn’t required until after graduation. The Federal Student Aid department offers tips on how to develop a student loan repayment plan.
- Employer tuition assistance – Many employers offer tuition assistance through professional development programs in the human resources department. If you are a full-time employee, be sure to ask an HR representative about tuition assistance for employees.
Motivation: Why are You Doing This Again?
No matter how fired up and ready to go you might feel at the beginning of your pursuit of an MBA, there might come a time along the way when you begin to wonder what you were thinking when you made this huge commitment.
That will be the time for you to take a deep breath and think about all the positives you could derive from earning an MBA. These include:
- More earning power – According to survey data compiled by U.S. News, the average starting salary and bonus from graduates of its ranked business schools was $94,048.24 in 2016. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2016 that persons 25-older with a master’s degree earned a median weekly wage of $1,380, nearly $500 more per week than the average median weekly wage for all workers.
- Lower unemployment – In addition to greater earning power, master’s degree holders also enjoy a lower rate of unemployment than the average American worker, and a significantly lower rate than workers without a high school diploma. According to the BLS, the unemployment rate for master’s graduates was 2.4; it was 4.0 for all workers, and 7.4 for those without a high school diploma.
- Greater prestige – Many of the highest-ranking positions within mid-sized and large corporations require an advanced degree. An MBA can open the door to the “C” suite and many other executive-level jobs.
As you think of these potential MBA benefits, remember that you are not in this alone. Your fellow students are a source of inspiration and knowledge, and it can help to commiserate with them if you begin to feel overwhelmed or unmotivated.
Finding the Time
Pursuing an MBA requires a huge time investment, but you knew that going in. If you find yourself wondering how you will fit all your work, sleep and other commitments into a 24-hour day, here are a few tips to remember:
- Make a plan – Use a calendar to schedule work time, study time and down time. Don’t allow overlap – guard your scheduled appointments zealously. But (and this is vital) remember that priorities shift and what seems like a good time to schedule two hours of coursework today might change a few months from now. Create your plan, but make sure it is flexible enough to adjust when needed.
- Eliminate distractions – If you have bad habits that could distract from coursework, separate yourself from the triggers. Of course, not every distraction is a bad habit. Family members and friends can inadvertently steal time, and that makes it even more difficult to stick to your schedule. Talk to them before a term begins and let them know that you need their help to manage your time, and that even though it might seem like you’re ignoring them, you are doing what you have to do to earn your MBA.
- Work ahead – Don’t leave anything until the last minute. The more conscientious you are about getting assignments and reading done early, the less of a time crunch you will experience later. While it might be tempting to put it off in the beginning of a term, doing so will almost certainly cost you valuable time later.