Interview with a Former Part-Time Student

Find Out What It's Like To Earn a Degree from a Part-Time Program

Student studying in library
ML Harris /Getty Images. ML Harris /Getty Images

Marci Reynolds, 42, from Boston, MA, completed her associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees part-time, while working full-time. She is currently a Vice President for a large, publicly traded corporation in the New England area. I recently had the opportunity to interview Marci about her experience with part-time degree programs. Here's what she had to say:

Q: You earned an associate, bachelor's, and master's degree in part-time programs. Did you work full-time throughout all three programs?

A: Yes, I worked full-time throughout the entire process. I started working full-time right after I graduated high school, then started taking evening college courses in my 20's. Some years, I took 3-5 classes, other years I took only 1. It would depend on the responsibilities I had to fulfill in my full-time job.

Q: Was it difficult to find time for both school and a career? How did you make it work?

A: Time management was definitely a challenge! Since I am a morning person, I would often get up extra early, ex. 5 a.m., to write papers or do homework. I studied during my lunch hour at work. And, I would go to the library on weekends to limit distractions and get as much work done as possible in short time increments. There were several occasions I used vacation days to study for major exams or finish large projects.

Q: Did your employers help you with your tuition?

A: Yes, I was lucky to have tuition reimbursement from every employer. At the very end of completing my bachelor's degree, I was bulking up on classes and had used up the "company policy" allotment of reimbursement. I appealed to senior management and got additional funding for my last three to four classes which was awesome! Since my master's degree was much more expensive, tuition reimbursement only covered about 50-60% of the costs.

Q: Were there any drawbacks to receiving tuition reimbursement?

A: Other than the small amount of paperwork I needed to submit to human resources, there were no drawbacks.

Q: Like any programs, part-time programs have their pros and cons. What would you consider to be the biggest pro?

A: The biggest pro was I could pick exactly which classes I wanted to take on what nights or weekends with which instructors. I had total control and could best align the schedule with my work and personal life.

Q: How about the most obvious con?

A: In addition to the time management challenges, it took significantly longer to complete my degrees. I also missed out on the "full time college experience" that many adults talk about for years to come.

Q: Was there any aspect of attending school part-time that you hadn't considered prior to enrolling? In other words, was there anything surprising about your part-time experience?

A: The MBA program in which I enrolled catered to full-time students more than part-time, and the homework requirements were not always realistic. I also did not expect to have full-time students in their early 20's, mixed in with the part-time students, mainly 35+, in the evening program. This caused challenges, especially on group projects.

Q: Were there any differences between a part-time undergraduate program and a part-time graduate program?

A: In my experience, yes. The part-time undergraduate program I attended definitely catered more to part-time students, and the attendees were almost all working full-time and going to school at night. The graduate program I attended had many younger students and mixed full-time and part-time students in the same classes. Also, there was significantly more homework and more group projects in my graduate program.

Q: I get a lot of letters from students who are worried that part-time MBA programs will not provide them with the same type of recruiting and networking opportunities that full-time programs can. Did you encounter fewer opportunities in your part-time program or were you satisfied with the level of resources made available to you?

A: Since almost every class I attended had a different mix of students, every class presented new networking opportunities. But, in a part-time program, you need to make more of an effort before class or during breaks. After class, everyone is running to their cars to get home for the evening.

I do hear that full-time students have more networking opportunities with their professors. In night school, you don't have that opportunity unless you proactively request one-on-one meeting time. There just isn't time in class.

Since I graduated, I've used Linked In to stay in touch with several students and professors I met in night school.

Q: When you think about your part time MBA experience, what stands out? What were some of the highlights?

A: There were two experiences I want to call out from my MBA program that were particularly rewarding and great learning experiences. The first was a two week trip to Japan. At my university, they offered international travel business electives. For my trip to Japan, we visited about 12 Japanese businesses and learned a lot about their culture. We were graded on several large papers we had to write. I had never been to Japan and it was quite a journey!

The second experience was a one-week intensive course I took on World Class Business Operations. I got permission to take five days off from work without using vacation time. The class visited eight New England companies who had won "Best Place to Work Awards". We met with senior management, got tours of their operations and learned more about their unique offerings. It was fun and I learned a lot of relevant info I could then apply to my day job.

Q: Overall, are you happy with your decision to earn your degrees through part-time programs? Do you ever wish you would have chosen to attend school full-time instead?

A: No, I have no regrets. Because I went to school part-time, I have a lot more work experience than other working women my age. In this challenging economy, with a lot of competition, I now have both the degrees and the work experience. As someone who has done a lot of interviewing and hiring of employees, I have found that the mix of experience and degrees helps to set an applicant apart from other candidates.

Q: Do you have any additional advice for students who are considering a part-time program?

A: Even taking one class en route to a degree is valuable from a personal development and a resume perspective. Employers like to see that you are striving to complete your education. Also, taking classes that relate to your full-time job will often lead to better job performance.

If you don't have any college experience, think about getting a certificate first. Complete that, and then enroll in an Associate's program, etc. This is a positive, rewarding path to follow, and when you complete a step, it feels great!

Last, if you are getting your MBA, do some additional research to learn more about the ratio of full-time and part-time students in the night classes. I would recommend schools who have fewer full-time students in these classes.