The toughest term of an MBA

 PSU students working together

I’ve been an MBA student for all of five weeks, so naturally, I feel qualified to share my experience about reentering school. I think it’s important that with every step forward in the program, I take a moment to reflect on what I’m putting in and what I’m getting out. I haven’t come far yet, but I’m almost halfway through what is considered the toughest term of an MBA.

It’s difficult to revert to the mindset I had before classes started, but I can say that I never knew exactly what to expect. I mean, how could you? I knew it wasn’t going to be easy — I accepted that. I knew it was going to come with odd hours and varying levels of sleep and stress. What I wasn’t prepared for was how quickly and irreversibly I would embrace the lifestyle of a graduate student. It’s still strange to even verbalize: I am a graduate student.

Like the majority of my cohort, I was working a 9-to-5 for the last few years before deciding I wanted to further my education. While employed full-time, my workday ended and I would go home and unwind. Not so much as a student. Especially not as a graduate student. Since classes started — well, really since a week or two before that — I have not been able to turn off the “there-is-something-I-should-be-working-on” feeling. It’s a feeling I had all through undergrad and one I did not miss. While I write this post, what am I forgetting to do right now? Ah, yes. I have accounting reading to catch up on.

Another difference between work and school is deadline flexibility. School assignments due at 10 a.m. on Tuesday are docked by 20% if they are as little as one minute late. If my bosses had held me to that kind of standard and deducted my pay as a consequence, I probably would have lost a few hundred bucks once in a while. The key is to get ahead early and do your best to stay ahead. Prioritizing is also a must — graded assignments top the list and sometimes readings have to be pushed to another day.

As for my output, it’s no longer a product of only my labor. Group projects are a major staple in an MBA program. Of course, this is to prepare you for the working world, but in the working world, my pay isn’t affected by somebody else’s performance, good or bad. My cohort is filled to the brim with highly intelligent, hardworking men and women. The first group project we were assigned rendered me nervous about whether I would live up to their expectations. As the weeks progress, we’re all learning to complement one another’s strengths and weaknesses.

Free time hasn’t entirely disintegrated, but it is always unpredictable. Just because my classes end at 2 p.m. doesn’t mean a group meeting or networking event won’t pop up. One upside, however, is that I don’t have to get up particularly early. I’ve always been more of a night owl than an early bird, so that suits me.

Weekends can get a little stifled, too so it’s helpful to remind myself why I’m here in the first place. I decided to pursue my MBA because I wanted more out of my career. It’s supposed to be challenging, otherwise, everyone would do it. I mentally reframe stress as “stretching.” The past five weeks, every time things get difficult, I remind myself that I’m getting stronger, smarter and more capable of taking it on in the future. I have an amazing support system, and while two years seems like a long time to do this, but I’m sure it will go by in a flash.

Kyle Huck has a background in graphic design and web-based marketing. He graduated from The Portland MBA in 2018.

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