Expert Tips for Getting Your Executive MBA

Getting an Executive MBA (or EMBA) can change your life.

It can jumpstart your career, facilitate a promotion, or ease a shift from one job (or even one career path) to another. But since EMBA candidates often pursue their degrees later in life than their MBA counterparts — and since they need to continue working while they earn their degrees — this educational path presents a unique set of time and money management challenges. Here are some hacks to help you successfully manage work, school, life, and everything in between.

Part 1: Managing Your Time

EMBA students, especially those who continue to work, have to strike a balance among professional, academic, social, and family commitments. Most of the tools that make it easier to find this kind of balance rely on “chunking" your tasks and looking for opportunities to fulfill multiple obligations at once.

Chunking is the art of breaking down a larger task into smaller, more manageable pieces. You do it naturally — whether you realize it or not — most of the times that you have to tackle a large project.

Getting an EMBA is, in many ways, one very large project. Each semester, you should identify what you have to learn and what kind of work you have to produce — and then start to break it all down into smaller pieces. Once you have those smaller pieces, you can apply a number of strategies to tackle the pieces in a more efficient manner. Here are a few key time-management hacks:

Learn in the Gaps

This is a useful tool for the really small chunks of content you need to learn. Identify opportunities to study during gaps between the larger activities that take up your day. Memorize definitions for new concepts with flashcards (or a flashcard app) while you’re standing in line. Organize your thoughts for your next group project while you’re walking your dog. There are lots of small chunks of content you need to master when studying any subject; make the most of your time by identifying the small pieces that fit in those schedule gaps that you otherwise couldn’t use productively.

Combine Work and School

Most students working on EMBAs continue with some form of employment, so look for opportunities to take a problem you need to solve at your job and incorporate it into one of the projects you need to do for your program. This isn’t just smart time management: You’ll also get fresh perspective and useful ideas from your fellow students if you manage to make a work-related problem part of a group task in school.

Involve Others

Much of the work in EMBA programs is group work. Bring that team ethic to work you plan to do on your own, too. If there’s a problem you need to solve (in any facet of your life), and you know it would appeal to your friends, then meet for coffee, drinks, or a meal and bring them into the discussion. Not only will you get better ideas from involving interested friends in your projects, but you’ll also manage to do work and maintain social connections at the same time.

Schedule Breaks and Rewards

Study after study has shown that we need breaks to maintain maximum productivity. And when you can, you should spend those breaks reconnecting with the people who matter most to you. (That said, don’t hesitate to take time for yourself! Alone time is important for many people to recharge.)

Similarly, if you have a particularly hard task you need to complete, schedule a reward for yourself that will help motivate you: a night out with friends, a trip to the movies, or even a quiet night at home catching up on a favorite show or book. Don’t feel guilty about scheduling breaks and rewards: They will actually make you more productive.

Part 2: Paying for Your EMBA

The other major challenge of an EMBA is figuring out how to handle the expense — along with the other financial obligations you’re likely to have as an early- to mid-career professional. Here are a few money-management strategies you can employ to ease the financial burden of an EMBA:

Get Your Company to Pay

If you’re considering an EMBA that you know will help with your current position, then talk to your manager or Human Resources Department. A lot of companies will partially or fully subsidize EMBAs, and many larger ones even have pre-existing arrangements with particular programs. Obviously, this is only a good idea if your career plan is to use the EMBA to improve your position with your present employer, as the terms of reimbursement typically require you to stay on for a certain period of time.

Keep in mind that even companies that don’t have specific policies about EMBAs may still have education reimbursement programs that could reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.

Find Public Alternatives

For students who are eligible, many states offer notable programs at public universities, and these may be a fraction of the cost of EMBA programs at private schools. Look into the public options, and in particular, research their outcomes in your career field. A school that’s not highly ranked in general may still do an excellent job at placing its graduates locally within your career field, and going to a public university can save you a small (or large) fortune.

Be Smart About Loans

If you’re going to have to take out loans for business school, there are two things you should understand:

  1. Government student loans have very low interest rates, but you are limited in how much you can take out each year. Currently, graduate students are limited to $20,500 in subsidized student loans per year.

  2. Your interest rate on private loans is directly tied to your credit score. This means that, if you know you’ll need more than $20,500 in loans to pay for your EMBA, you should immediately work on improving your credit score.

Refer to our glossary of financial aid terms for definitions of the most common lingo used on loan applications.

Research Scholarships

Chances are, you’re eligible to apply for at least a few different scholarships for your EMBA. Scholarship availability is not determined solely by academic merit; there are many specialized scholarships based on such factors as ethnicity, profession, and geography. Many schools also have their own scholarships programs.

Take on Project-Based Work

If you’ve decided you can’t balance your EMBA with a full-time job, try to find project-based work that offers more flexible time commitments. An increasing number of employers are looking to supplement their full-time workforce with specialists who have an appropriate skillset for a given project.

Build a resume that highlights projects you’ve worked on in the areas in which you want additional work, and leverage your professional network to find job leads. You may find you’re able to make enough money to put a big dent in your EMBA expenses while keeping your work hours to a reasonable number.

A Final Word

An EMBA brings a great many challenges — but along with those challenges come opportunities. If you are strategic about your time and money investments now, you’ll set yourself up for success in your graduate program and future career.