If you are a parent considering Wharton’s EMBA program, you know that you’ll have some additional balls to juggle in addition to work and school. But it’s “completely doable,” says Priya Chidambaram, who graduated last May in Philadelphia and whose kids are now 6 and 3. We asked the senior financial analyst at IBM in New York to talk about how she managed to balance work, school, home (and a career switch) while in the program. Here’s what she said:
“Being a parent, I knew that going to school would mean sacrificing time away from home so it had to be worthwhile. As a result, I had specific criteria for evaluating EMBA programs. It couldn’t be watered down or MBA-lite; it had to offer the same intensity as a regular MBA. For that same reason, I wanted a program that required the GMAT.
And I wanted a residential program because I didn’t want to be able to rush home early after class, which I knew would be tempting if I were closer to home. I wanted the full school experience. Wharton was really the only school that fit all of my criteria.
“Once I was accepted, I started working out my support network for my kids. In the first year, my husband took care of mostly everything, but this meant he had to talk to his company about working from home every other Friday and adjusting his work hours. It turned out that coming to Wharton meant a lot more than just me talking to my boss. It was a family endeavor.
“In my second year, when I was going through a career transition in addition to school, we flew my mother and mother-in-law in from India to stay with us for a few months each and help with the kids. The bottom line is that you have to identify who will provide backup care because life happens. Someone will get sick during exams or you’ll need someone else to take your child to a play date or a birthday party. There are times when you need more than your spouse in this network.
“Another time management lesson involved discipline. I found that I had to be very strict about getting my studies done at a certain time every day. If I let it slide, then inevitably something would come up like a sick child. I avoided that risk by sticking to a daily schedule. I also was strict about setting aside time with my kids in the evenings. I made sure that my learning team knew I was not available for group calls until after 9:00 pm when they were in bed. Studying late at night meant giving up more sleep than I would have liked, but it was very important for me to have allotted time for everything.
“Of course there were times, like when I was changing jobs, when I needed extra support from my learning team and they provided it without any hesitation. Every member of our group had some sort of life event happen during the program whether it was an ill parent or the birth of a child, and we all helped pick up the slack. But you are so bonded as classmates and friends that you do this naturally. While Wharton is rigorous, it’s not cut-throat competitive. We all want each other to succeed.
“As for my kids, they loved that I was in the program. I brought my family to every single family event on campus and my kids were very curious about where I stayed, where I ate and who my friends were. They even wanted to see my grades! There were plenty of weekends when my husband drove me and the kids from where we were living in New Jersey to campus to drop me off. Having the kids involved made them feel like they were really part of the experience.
“If I had to do it over again, I absolutely would. There is no way I’d miss such a great opportunity to learn with such an accomplished –yet down-to-earth — diverse group, the bonding and the network. I met with my learning team members at lunch recently and we were all reminiscing about the good times and how much we already miss the program!”