Survival tips for completing a part-time MBA whilst working full time

study-nounSo it sure has been a while. I can safely say that the initial optimism and novelty of starting the MBA has worn off. If I had any thoughts of my first term being difficult, the second term has completely blown that experience out of the water. There were a variety of factors that lead to this emotionally charged and draining time which amongst other things, contributed to my bursting into tears not only in front of my Manager, but my GM.Having survived what I hope will be the lowest point in my MBA studies, I thought I would share some tips on what keeps me clinging to sanity:

  • I find it helps to take comprehensive notes to avoid having to refer back to the slides and textbook. I take notes on all lecture slides, textbook chapters and readings, preferring to simplify and distill these texts into a single document. I then bring my laptop to lectures and continue to add notes from lecture discussions into the single document. Come revision time, I only have the one document to study, which contains the full term’s materials and is usually condensed to about 50 pages, whilst others are flipping through 2-3 different sources and folders full of papers.
  • Study smart by speaking to previous students who have completed the subject with the same lecturer as yours. Prior students have invaluable tips and tricks in surviving the term as they have the benefit of hindsight. Knowing how a particular lecturer allocates marks or whether they are skewed towards quantitative or qualitative arguments can make a difference in your overall grade.
  • This is easier said than done I know, but it has to be said. Do not procrastinate.  Do not fall behind. It’s simply not worth it to give in to procrastination and other excuses. Keep a schedule of everything you need to get done for a week and stick to it. I find that copious study snacks and naps between long study sessions helps a lot.  Ask for help when you need it and don’t be afraid to engage a tutor, your lecturer may have some contacts they can refer you to.
  • Read the ‘suggested’ additional readings. This may not apply to all subjects but I found that the ‘suggested’ readings were actually quite integral to receiving a good grade for the subject. For example, even though our Data Analysis textbook had been voluntary to read, the final exam was based largely on assessments that were found in it.
  • Seek clarification on your mid-term assessments. I didn’t bother to make time to speak to my Data Analysis lecturer about why she had marked me down on certain questions in my mid-term, instead making inferences about the reason so I could adjust my answers in the final exam. Unfortunately those inferences turned out to be incorrect.  I could have gained a few extra marks by just clarifying expectations straight after the mid-term.
  • Do not neglect your fellow MBA’s as they will keep you sane. These are the people you probably see twice a week, probably more than most of your loved ones. They are the only ones that have first-hand understanding of what you’re going through and will look out for you, for example, keeping you updated when you miss a lecture.
  • Remember, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.  Is it just me, or do you never really grasp the magnitude of how crap you feel until the situation has lifted? Looking back now, I can see that I was very stressed and miserable. But what could I have done? I needed to finish the term and I needed to keep working. I can only offer the consolation that things can only get better from there, so roll up your sleeves and do the most you can with your situation.
  • Integrate the MBA into your life as much as possible to save time and absorb information more easily. For example, you could read the suggested readings (particularly if they are articles and not awfully dry textbooks) on the train commute to work. Trying to apply what you learn at work will further cement principles into your memory and after all, shouldn’t practical application of the MBA be a given?  Also, don’t be afraid to talk about your MBA (to a reasonable extent) with your friends and family.  If they can see how time consuming and all encompassing it is, they are more likely to forgive you for disappearing off the face of the planet come exam time.
  • Cut down your subject load if you need to.  Looking back I wish that I had only taken one subject last term, given the other things happening in my life it would have made a lot more sense and perhaps I would have received better marks.
  • Continue to do little things that make you happy. This could be going for a quick walk on your lunch breaking, buying flowers for the house every week (because you’ll be spending so much time indoors studying), going out to dinner with your partner at least once a fortnight or sleeping in one day on the weekend.
  • Plan something to look forward to, whether it’s a holiday, a massage or a nice dinner. Having a reward to look forward to can keep you on track.

With the benefit of hindsight, I am now in my second week of the third term (studying Financial Management and Decision Making) and determined not to fall behind or lose my marbles.  In other exciting news, we are settling the apartment that we purchased next week!

Have you any tips for surviving the MBA or any other crazy busy time in life? I’d love to hear them.

That Career Girl



  1. Congratulations on getting through the term! If you have any general comments on the Melbourne MBA I’d be interested to hear them. I have marketing and communications background and am contemplating the part-time MBA to boost my financial and analytical skills as well as meeting new people in business. Do you think it’s a good course so far?

    1. Hi Christine, I’m so sorry for the late reply. I had attempted to reply to you a few times however I feel that it’s such a complex answer. Overall, I do not regret the decision at all and am really enjoying my studies. I also see the value-add at work, being able to recognise and apply concepts that I wouldn’t have known about before. Meeting new people has been one of the most rewarding aspect of the MBA and I wholeheartedly encourage an MBA where you get adequate face time with other students. There are things that I think (and certainly other students I’ve spoken to feel the same way) Melbourne Uni/Melbourne Business School could do a lot better – some administration issues, some courses just aren’t quite right in terms of the value of the content (i.e. classes where we watch 10 minute+ You Tube clips). I will need to write a full assessment about the MBS part time MBA when I finish exams 🙂

  2. I fully agree with all your tips. I think you capture this in the “Integrate the MBA into your life” tip, but I found that I needed to think about how I was using every minute of the day. Can I review an article on my lunch break? Can I leave 15 minutes earlier to beat traffic and gain an extra bit to study? All the little pieces of time add up. That said, it’s still important to turn off your brain every now and then and just relax. 🙂 Great post!

    1. Thanks Bernadine! I agree, I was just thinking about how purposefully segmented my life is at the moment, and how long it has been since I’ve watched a TV show for example. How long have you got left to go?

  3. Oh, I’m long finished. 😉 I got my MBA in 2005. (Wow, that sounds like ages ago!) But I also worked full-time, and while it was hard, I wouldn’t do it differently. It’s a rewarding challenge and I look forward to hearing more about your experience.

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