Most part-time MBA students lead hectic and harried lives. They need a program that complements their busy schedules, not one that’s shoehorned into their calendar. Fortunately, the folks at James Madison University’s MBA program prioritize flexibility. And they fervently believe that it’s possible to balance work, life, and the pursuit of an MBA. In fact, we spoke with three successful alumni to discuss how they were able to earn an MBA despite being active professionals and parents!

Caitlyn Read, JMU Executive Leadership MBA Grad 2018

Caitlyn Read, JMU Executive Leadership MBA Program Graduate 2018, mother to two, and currently the Spokesperson & Director of Communications at James Madison University:

After earning my bachelor’s degree in Communications, I never thought that I would pursue a graduate degree. I had a small child when I started the MBA program and I was nervous to add more to my already full plate. My family was incredibly supportive and realized that the time I was away was an investment in myself and a temporary sacrifice. My cohort was foundational in the program. I learned from them and they became like a family I didn’t even know I needed.

Trevor Elliot, JMU Innovation MBA Grad 2019

Trevor Elliott, JMU Innovation MBA Program Graduate 2019, father to one, and Western Region Sales Manager, Arconic Building and Construction Systems: Kawneer:

As we gain more life experience, we get much better at time management. Managing expectations, maintaining flexibility, and knowing when to "call it" at both work and school were invaluable when it came to earning my MBA. I finished the program with my son and wife knowing they are the most important thing to me, and that balance is key.

Ivone Uribe, JMU Information Security MBA Grad 2020

Ivone Uribe, JMU Executive Leadership MBA Program Graduate 2020 mother to two, and currently a Sr. Project Program Manager, PMP, CSM, CSPO:

I entered the MBA program when my first child was one-and-a-half years old, and I became pregnant at the start of my second year. I worked full time and attended the program throughout my entire pregnancy. I briefly stopped taking classes immediately after giving birth and I resumed when my baby was two months. I went back to work full-time when she turned five months and I finished the program when she was around nine months.

What type of flexibility does the program offer? How does it accommodate working professionals and students with families?

Caitlyn: The program is primarily online, and classes take place in the evening which allowed me to easily integrate the program into my schedule. The online classes are enhanced by the in-person meetings. I have a young family and a busy career, so there were times where an unavoidable conflict arose. Fortunately, professors were always very understanding.

Ivone: The classes are online once per week and onsite one per month. Attending the classes from home allowed me to maximize the time I could be with my family. For example, we always had dinner together. Importantly, I was able to go through the material on my schedule. And since the MBA schedule is set in advance, I could plan for any personal needs/demands.

Trevor: The teachers could not have been more accommodating and understanding. Of course, the students also need to be understanding too since some rules cannot be bent. There was always a way to work around a problem when you connected with the professors. I had many issues arise, and in the end, I was pleased with 90% of the outcomes. Flexibility is important and the program and professors understand this!

How does JMU foster a healthy work-life balance?

Caitlyn: JMU definitely makes it possible, but ultimately it’s the students who make decisions for themselves. If I had to miss a class the faculty was understanding and I wasn’t penalized but the expectation was that I would make up the work. I would carve out time in my schedule to complete assignments.

Ivone: Professors were flexible and understanding with any personal situation. Additionally, the staff was open to feedback and took action when a change was needed. Moreover, many of the assignments involved group work, which both eased the workload and encouraged networking. My classmates also helped to keep me motivated.

Trevor: To be honest, managing my time was the toughest part. Work, daily workouts, home time, and school time were all scheduled. I had evenings scheduled with my wife, every Thursday night was my night with my son, and school meetings were scheduled in advance. And I typically ate lunch at my desk so I could focus on school work. I also did my best to manage the expectations of others. For example, if I knew my schedule was going to include travel, I communicated that to my classmates and professors.

Finally, is there anything else you think aspiring MBAs should know about the MBA program? Do you have any advice for others trying to balance the pursuit of an MBA with a family?

Caitlyn: My son was born in January 2017 and I was enrolled in the program throughout my entire pregnancy. When I had him, my cohort was going to China for the Global Experience. Luckily, I was able to travel the following spring with another cohort. I didn’t have to sacrifice having a family or being part of the program—I was able to have both.

Ivone: Keep your professional goals in mind. When I felt overwhelmed, I remembered my goals and the reason why I decided to enter the MBA program, and it helped me to not give up. Getting your MBA with little kids and working full time is possible if you organize, plan, and have support from your family. I had complete support from my husband and mother. They helped me with the house or kids when I needed to study or attend class. Organizing your time and prioritizing properly so you don’t miss any important time with your family or deliverable in the MBA program is achievable!

Trevor: This program—the classes, professors, experiences (you MUST do the Global Experience) and friends you will make—are all worth it. Balance is key, but making a plan and sticking with it for the first 30 days is the hardest part. Once you have it down and it becomes a habit, things flow easily. Remember, education is the best gift we can give ourselves, and a fantastic example to set for our children and future generations.

Note: Due to COVID-19, all in-person sessions are currently being held virtually.