The Great Balancing Act

50:50, 70:30, 90:10. No matter how you slice and dice it, a major component to MBA programs is balancing classwork and career search. The optimal split time between the two? That’s a matter of opinion. However, as I’ve learned, part of the first month of your MBA experience is evaluating how you will handle this great balancing act.

I have a liberal arts background and took a grand total of three college-level quantitative classes before starting business school. I knew I was going to need to devote a significant amount of time to the quant-heavy class load in my first semester. This meant that I had to pass up a few opportunities, like first-year board positions, that might upset that balance. Additionally, for now, it means spending more of my time on getting through the program and understanding the concepts. My balance is currently closer to 90:10 in favor of classes.

Whether you’re a classmate, friend, family member (Hi, Mom!), or a prospective MBA student, here are a few of the strategies that are keeping me balanced through the first semester of business school.

1. Make a daily list of the four most important things you want to accomplish that day. Any more is too much and can leave you feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. Any less and you may feel you haven’t accomplished enough. Consider adding an “If I Have Time” list when you’re feeling motivated.

2. Don’t struggle in silence. In business school, we’re all in this together. If you’re struggling with something, in your classes or career, ask for help. I know it sounds simple, but it took me a while to grasp this concept. It’s likely that someone else is struggling with that same thing too. Career coaches, professors, TAs and classmates are there to help you.

3. Go to all the office hours you can (classes and the Office of Career Services). Especially in the classes you’re struggling in. Note the office hours on your calendar at the beginning of the semester and go (in person or virtually) prepared with questions. The teaching assistants and professors are ready to help. In the career center, experts can help you with anything and everything in your job search – from interview prep to resume review. It’s a great environment to get your questions answered and well worth the extra time. At least half my week days are spent in classes and office hours.

4. Remember your dream. Remember why you chose to go to business school in the first place. Focus on what will get you closer to that goal. Doing well in classes? Spend some time setting up chats with alumni in target companies. Don’t understand econ? Consider spending more time attending office hours or doing practice problems for now.

What I’ve learned is that there is no single, magical formula when you’re performing this balancing act. You have to evaluate and adjust based on your priorities, strengths and what’s going on in your life outside of business school. And find the formula that’s right for you.

–By Laura Hayes. Hayes is a 2022 MBA Candidate and a Forté and Smith Fellow. Originally from Gaithersburg, Md., Hayes worked in marketing roles for four years in the financial services industry before coming to Maryland Smith.

Robert H. Smith School of Business
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University of Maryland
Robert H. Smith School of Business
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