How and why I picked a part-time MBA

Birdseye view of students working

The first question someone asks when they learn I’m going to graduate school and working full time is, How do you do it? Good question. I’m now in my second year of school and just beginning to understand how.

The easy answer is that I find a way to get almost everything done, all the time. I do go without sleep sometimes, my family time becomes more precious, and my leisure activities no longer include daylong hikes in the Gorge. But the better answer is that I’m not doing it alone. There have been weeks that I see my cohort more than my wife. Late nights at the library, long weekends at the Karl Miller Center, a study abroad trip to South America — these moments and have brought us closer together as a cohort and a community.

We help each other get the most out of our courses, and we lean on each other for support. No one else understands the experience of a part-time graduate student like another part-time student juggling school, work, family, and more. Sometimes, it feels like I can’t complete another assignment or project. But a late-night text from a friend who is finishing up the same assignment gives me the encouragement to finish another paper. Team projects especially are about coming together to accomplish a common goal. I’ve found that the flexibility and understanding of PSU’s professors mean that when life derails your plans, you’ll still push through to the next term.

 PSU students in Chile
Some of the part-timer cohort on an excursion in the Chilean Andes.

Life goes on even while we are in school. My cohort members have gotten engaged, married, moved, changed jobs, and had babies. We have lost grandparents and parents, and we have supported, listened and cried with each other.

My family and friends have put up with my demanding schedule. They have cooked me dinner and been understanding when I can hardly hold my head up to continue a conversation. My wife has encouraged me every step of the way. She has given me space at the end of the term when everything is due all at once. She has met many of my new friends and supported us in our tradition of unwinding with a beer after a late night class.

If the struggle, stress, and late nights don’t sound appealing, let me tell you why getting a graduate business degree is incredible. Along with the skills I’ve gained, I have built a lifelong network of driven professionals, and I’m privileged to call many of them my friends. While there were sacrifices and challenges along the way, I didn’t have to give up my job or abandon my lifestyle to go back to school full-time. PSU’s part-time programs are built for people like us who want to work hard and balance it all.

I am more exhausted, excited and challenged now than I’ve been in a long time.

The question to ask yourself is where do you want to be in two years? Finishing an incredible journey with some of my closest friends and advancing my career without taking time away is how I choose to spend my time. And it couldn’t be more worth it.

Paul Thompson worked for 15 years as department manager at ServiceMaster of Portland. He graduated from The Portland MBA in 2018.

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