There are many factors to take into account when you are thinking about getting an MBA. If you have a spouse and/or children, the decision takes on even greater significance. An MBA will not only change your career trajectory, it is also a major time commitment, sometimes more intensive than a full-time job. As a result, it is vital as part of your decision-making process that you take into account how it will affect your family.
At Boston College, we have several students in both the full-time and part-time programs who are pursuing their MBA, and who also have a spouse and children at home. Each student interviewed in this article is in agreement: with the right strategies and considerations in place, an MBA can be both manageable and rewarding.
Here, current BC MBA students share tips on balancing an MBA and family:
1. Set clear expectations with your family
When making your decision to get an MBA, it is important that your spouse – and if they are old enough, your children – understand what it means for the family in terms of time spent together, finances, and family roles. Oftentimes, settled routines from the working world change significantly when you become a student again.
Lilian (Full-Time MBA, married with two sons, ages 7 and 3): “Before you make this decision, you really need support from your spouse and your whole family, even from the kids. Let them know what you are going to do and why.”
Sean (Part-Time MBA, married with seven-month-old twins): “Make sure you have a conversation with your spouse. Understand the needs and the extra work involved. I couldn’t have done it without my supportive wife. Our conversations have been fine, since we were up front about the challenges.”
Pete (Full-Time MBA, married with two children, ages 4 and 1): “I am currently serving in the army, but stopped to get my MBA for two years. [An MBA] changes the way I had done things for the last nine years – 6am-6pm, then done for the day. I had trained myself to drop everything when I got home, but now I had to pick it up again at home [and study].”
2. Have defined family roles and contingency plans
It is important to discuss who does what on a daily basis, and also to make contingency plans on days where there might be an unexpected change in schedule, or a family emergency.
Bryan (Full-Time MBA, married with a son, seven-months old): “Make sure you have a good plan for who is going to do what. When we had our son in daycare, we always knew our roles, what the other person was doing, and when something came up, we could work with each other to find a solution. Figure out what works for you and your spouse when it comes to responsibilities. Prepping dinner and vice-versa, figuring out what works best for your situation, etc.
When my schedule might change unexpectedly (if I decide to go to a networking event for example), I let my wife know I won’t be available. Then we can get our nanny or babysitter to stay longer. It is important to communicate, so your spouse knows what to expect.”
3. Carve out specific time for school and family
There will always be surprises in your schedule, but on a typical day, it is important to keep a routine.
Katie (Full-Time MBA, married, spouse is a full-time MBA student at another school): “My husband is getting his MBA, so we are both in business school together. Our first year we would both be at school during the day, and often had networking or group projects afterwards. Every night though, for the most part, we would have dinner together. What was also helpful was on Saturdays we would not do work – it was our time to spend with each other.”
Pete: “The late nights I use to study, from 8 to midnight, when the kids are in bed. I also go in at 6 in the morning. I like to wake up early, and beat the traffic into Boston.”
Sean: “It needs to be more of a ‘carve off this hour for homework’, then after, I’m fully engaged with my wife and kids. Getting it right time-wise, you don’t want to be away too much yet you also want to also accomplish what you need to for school.”
Justin (Full-Time MBA, married with a daughter, two-years old): “Family time is in the morning. We get up, make my daughter breakfast, and hang out before we leave for the day. Then I try to get home for a couple hours with them in the evening.”
4. Have a plan for child care
Bryan: “For anyone thinking about starting a family or looking at childcare solutions, get on a waiting list as early as you can. We were lucky to find a daycare – many of them have long waiting lists. We recently moved, so we switched over to a nanny share with another family, and it works out well.”
Justin: “We moved in with my family. We needed the help as I was going through grad school and was out of the workforce. These factors made the move home too compelling to resist. My wife is home with my daughter, which helps that she is able to do that. Our situation has been 100% enabled by my wife being willing and able to be a full-time mom for the past year and a half.”
Lilian: “We have help from our family. My mom or my mother-in-law stay with us to help us take care of the kids.”
5. Prioritize which extracurricular events to attend
One major challenge that students with families face is weighing when to participate in extracurricular activities vs. spending time with their family.
Katie: There is the challenge of trying to balance meeting new people, going to school events and networking, vs. prioritizing spending time with my husband. Since he is in school too, we needed to prioritize which events we go to together, which we go to separately, and which make sense to go to at all.”
Bryan: “In the full-time program, there are lots of events, social events and trips. I think it’s important to be aware of what’s important to you, being able to recognize that you probably can’t take advantage of everything. I have a young child, so I’m not able to partake in as many as I’d like, but I’d rather spend time with my son anyway.”
6. Prepare ahead of time
Lastly, the MBA program requires a lot of learning from day one. If you are able to brush up on your quantitative or English-language skills ahead of time, that will make the transition much easier.
For Lilian, who is originally from China, this made all the difference.
Lilian: “I highly recommend that candidates pre-learn statistics or data skills beforehand. If he/she is an international student, I also recommend them to be prepared with English-language courses.”