Deciding to get an MBA is a big decision for many professionals. Not only does it involve a significant investment of time and money, but it involves balancing personal and professional obligations. For those looking to enter an MBA program once they're several years into a career, the sacrifices—such as putting a job on pause to attend school full time—may even outweigh the potential gains. 

That’s why many professionals choose to pursue an MBA part time, getting all of the benefits of an MBA program with less disruption to career and family. In the Part-time MBA program at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, for example, students have access to all of the benefits received by Weatherhead's full-time MBA students—including career management services, alumni resources, networking and professional development events—but take only one or two night classes a semester, spread out over a three-year period. 

Classes cover the same ground as the full-time MBA program—coursework includes statistics and decision modeling, economics, strategy, managerial marketing and operations management—and mirror Weatherhead's embrace of forward-thinking, value-adding philosophies, including its signature principle of Manage by Designing. 

Stephen Scheidt, Weatherhead School of Management
"It's more of a methodology, a way of doing and thinking, that creates a whole new set of opportunities, and allows students to approach business, solutions and problem-solving from a different perspective," says Stephen Scheidt, Weatherhead’s director of admissions.

The program kicks off during the summer semester with a course called Leadership Assessment and Development, a foundational class that helps students develop insights into their own strengths, goals and characteristics.  "[The course is] an intentional and purposeful introspective look at personal learning styles, self-awareness and really understanding where the person and professional is—and [looking at] the person they want to become as they design a vision for themselves," Scheidt says.

Although the part-time MBA program's students possess, on average, six or seven years of work experience, they hold various roles and seniority within their companies. However, "it's really important to have not only diverse backgrounds, but organizational diversity represented" in the part-time MBA track, Scheidt notes. In fact, it's not unusual for a class of 55 or 60 to have students from 40 companies and organizations, ranging from small businesses to large global corporations across both public and private industries.

Students choose to pursue the part-time MBA program for various reasons. Some want to develop the skills and business acumen necessary to take on more senior roles at their current company. Others might be plotting a career or job change, and want to have a better chance of landing better-paying or more advanced positions. Still others are looking to enhance their leadership skills and become more adept at tackling thorny business problems.

No matter the reason for entering the program, however, finding and then maintaining work-life balance can be a challenge, particularly if the student has a family. That's in large part due to the time commitment: Students commonly spend five to ten additional hours per week outside of the classroom studying or doing group work.

To address this concern, Weatherhead sorts part-time MBA students into smaller cohorts. These close-knit teams take the same classes together at the same time for the duration of the program—creating an academic, personal and even emotional support system.

"A lot of people in your class are in the same boat," says Julie DiBiasio, assistant director of admissions. "The reason we have a cohort-based

Julie DiBiasio, Weatherhead School of Management
program is so people can develop those relationships to feel like they're not alone and have constant support going through the program. We know they know that this is something huge that they're taking on—but they have a life outside of it."

This cohort-based system is also beneficial because it creates a "unified, cohesive experience" for students in the program, Scheidt adds. "We wanted to mirror the elements of a full-time MBA experience in a part-time program. We wanted [students] to feel connected with their classmates." As DiBiasio points out, the cohort also promotes networking: "You never know who you're going to meet in your cohort. It could be your next manager; it could be someone that you hire. It could be a mentor. That happens in almost every cohort." 

Pursuing a part-time MBA is a big commitment, and so DiBiasio recommends prospective students talk to other people—whether it's the admissions office, alums or current students—to make sure the degree program is a good fit. 

"The number one question they should ask themselves is, 'Am I willing to put in the time? Am I willing to make this one of the priorities on my checklist?' Because it will take up a lot of time. 'Am I willing to change my lifestyle a bit to focus on this program [and] get the most out of it?' ... You're devoting three years to this, so you want to make sure that you're doing all of your research to make sure that the curriculum, the values and the mission of the school line up with what you want—and what you're hoping to get out of it."

The good news is, students can expect to reap immediate dividends once they begin the program, and apply what they're learning to their current job—especially in the areas of leadership. "During the part-time MBA program, our students become more emotionally intelligent and develop a distinctive set of competencies that form the core of effective, resonant leadership," says Scheidt.

"They learn that any business can be a powerful agent of world benefit, and that the notion of flourishing enterprise inspires people in their work, to purposefully and substantially impact the human experience. Our students—and graduates—effect positive change within their companies and communities, and help shape lasting and innovative solutions to complex challenges."