I recently graduated from the most rigorous and the most rewarding executive MBA program (Wharton), and to say the least, it was the craziest ride of my life. When people ask how I managed this while working full-time and with two young kids at home, I always tell them that it was possible because of support from my family, coworkers, friends, and classmates as well as a lot of planning, prioritization, and smart execution.
Here are my 10 tips for a successful experience in the Wharton EMBA program:
1. Identify your academic and professional goals.
Before you start the program, think about what you would like to achieve. Do you want to be in the top 5% or graduate with a certain GPA? Are you looking for a career switch or advancement? Most importantly, will your academic goal help you achieve your ultimate career goal? MBA admissions essays trigger these thoughts, but your goals could change, so it’s important to revisit these questions.
2. Identify your personal goals.
Do you want to tone down your current social life, or do you plan to put your social life completely on hold? What balance do you want to strike in managing family activities and responsibilities? What additional value can you add to the program through the various Wharton clubs? Think long term because the program is a marathon and not a sprint.
3. Set expectations with stakeholders.
Talk to your stakeholders (your spouse, kids, team at work, manager, friends, extended family) and set expectations. Perhaps you plan to study in the library every Saturday or to travel to every global course possible – discuss with them as early as possible. This is also the time to listen to their expectations of you and come to a mutual understanding. Keep checking in with them throughout the two years, as expectations could change.
4. Delegate and lean on your support system.
Lean on your spouse, kids, family, friends, coworkers, and study team at Wharton for support – both material and emotional. It is hard to ask for help, but this is the time to work on your delegation skills. When you delegate, let go of the “how” and instead focus on “what” things get done. Otherwise, you can drive your support system crazy with micromanagement, and there is no real time savings if you continue to closely manage the delegated tasks.
5. Prioritize and re-prioritize again as much as needed.
This is a rigorous program that pushes you like you would not imagine. You won’t be able to do everything that is offered. So, prioritize and re-prioritize regularly. Would you like to go to that Global Modular Course in London, but find it hard to take time off work? Go back to your identified goals and figure out what is important in the long run. Evaluate and prioritize what you can and what you cannot do. The same thing goes for choices about electives or going on social trips – or every other choice you will make in these two years.
6. Look for ways to integrate your family, work, and friends into the program.
I am not going to lie; no matter how much you think you are prepared, there will be trying times. Maybe your kids will start missing you more, or maybe your manager gets upset with you not being there every other Friday, or maybe your friends become weary of you not showing up at important events. Look for ways to make it up to them by involving them in your program: invite your family to spend time on campus during class weekends; take your learnings from classes and apply them at work; bring your friends for dinner on campus. Get creative and find those “four-way wins” that you will learn about in your Total Leadership class. Even small changes can make a huge difference. The more you integrate your life, work, and community into the program, the easier it becomes to manage it all.
7. Find the most efficient way to do things.
This is true for every phase of life, but more so when you are completely swamped with never-ending deadlines and deliverables. For instance, you can divide and conquer your group assignments if you plan well, keep interactions regular but quick, and then come together to hone the final product. Figure out smaller blocks of time on your commute or in between your kids’ sports events to squeeze in work. There is no one solution that fits everyone, but always look for efficiency – a smarter path saves you a lot of time.
8. Do not hesitate to say no.
In the past two years, I’ve learned that I cannot survive without saying no. It’s hard and you will disappoint people, hopefully temporarily, but you must be able to say no to focus on what is important at that time.
9. Do not ignore yourself.
Initially, I considered the time I spent on this program as time for myself. So, despite the suggestions of my spouse, I hardly ever took any other time out for me. Later, I realized this was not a sustainable practice. I started to eat healthy, go for walks and hikes, take small breaks and power naps to recharge, go on dates with my spouse, etc. That helped me stay sane and happy, and it also helped me work and study with increased focus.
10. Don’t forget to make memories and friends.
It’s very easy to keep your head down and get into the “I need to work on my assignment” mode. But these are memories for a lifetime and you will want to make as many as possible by joining the various clubs and being a part of the social scene in your class! While going to every event that comes your way might not be possible, don’t forget to go to as many as you possibly can and make new friends and memories.
– Madhuri Alahari
Posted: June 5, 2018