I am Liz Charles, a mother of four children and a recent Daytime MBA graduate. Before Fuqua, I worked as a registered nurse for Kaiser Permanente in Denver, Colorado. When my youngest son entered Kindergarten, I decided to pursue my passion for global health innovation through the pursuit of an MBA.

Choosing which MBA program to attend was not easy. I was accepted with a scholarship to a nearby university in Colorado. However, that program did not have a healthcare focus or connections to global health players. Duke, on the other hand, was far away and much more expensive, but it also had everything I wanted in an MBA program: quality instruction, customizable learning opportunities, a strong healthcare network, and a good reputation. As a family, we decided I should take the Duke opportunity. My husband offered to remain in Denver and manage the household. I would commute to and from North Carolina during school breaks.

mba student family
Guest blogger Liz Charles, RN and Daytime MBA ’13, with her family.

First-Year Adjustments

In Durham, I lived with an older couple, renting a room in their home. While I didn’t want the single student (party) atmosphere, I also didn’t care to live alone. The boarding decision turned out to be an ideal situation for me, as I had my own space as well as family-like support. The first year, and in particular the first few months were, nonetheless, very tough. I attended both Math Camp and HSM Bootcamp prior to New Student Orientation. This meant that the first time I was able to see my family was three months later, during Fall Break. I had very little free time, as I worked hard to keep up (not having a business background). Different schedules and the time difference between Colorado and North Carolina made regular family Skype calls difficult. My husband pretty much ran the house solo, while I hunkered down, taking a full-load of classes every term for the entire first year. Fortunately, we have a supportive church network that helped my husband — offering assistance with rides, babysitting, and meals. Still, the experience was very taxing on our family, and especially on my husband.

Therefore, during the summer between the first and second year of business school, my family moved to North Carolina. My husband had received permission to work from a distance, in exchange for a slight pay cut. Since we have school-aged children, we chose to live in the better performing Chapel Hill school district. We found a furnished rental from sabbatical homes.com. That summer I completed my internship with a local, global health NGO, then took a full schedule of classes during the Fall Term before participating (as a family) in a study abroad in India for three months (during Spring Term 1).

International Opportunity

The choice to study abroad was my solution to internationalizing my MBA. The experience ended up being a highlight of my MBA experience and a fantastic experience for our family. We lived on the host school’s campus in their dorms. Because I had enough Fuqua credits, I enrolled in only two classes. This allowed plenty of time for us to travel together as a family, and forge cherished memories. By choosing a study abroad program in a country with a reduced cost-of-living, we offset our out-of-pocket expenditure. Our children attended a local school while abroad and easily reintegrated back into their American schools afterwards.

However, my own reintegration wasn’t as seamless, as the final term of my MBA was a complete reversal of the laid back study abroad experience. Again, I was waking up at 6:30 am to make breakfast, pack backpacks and drop children off at school. I spent the day (and sometimes evening) hours at school, in class, in meetings or in the library, returning home as able to help with dinner, my children’s homework, and shuttling children to/from activities or appointments. Each evening we tried to have family prayer and then my husband always put the kids to bed, so I could study for a few more hours.

An MBA is Doable as a Parent

Choosing to pursue an MBA as a parent requires discipline, determination, and daily prioritization. You will “miss out” on some of the quintessential MBA experiences. For example, many fun and career-oriented experiences happen during school breaks (Week-in-Cities career explorations, GATE trips, ski trips, etc.), evenings (company presentations, club events) and on the weekends (parties, sports/cultural activities). A single student has the time to expend on all these events, but as a parent you must wisely choose your involvement, so as to benefit from the MBA student networking and enrichment experiences while also being mindful of your family’s needs. In retrospect, the two years passed quickly, and while my children recognized their mom was less involved in their lives, they don’t seem emotionally scarred. Consider these kind words my daughter wrote not too long ago, “You are an amazing role model for us as you expand your education. We have all learned a lot about hard work watching you for the past two years.”

Is an MBA doable as a parent? Yes, but only with the right kind of support and some personal sacrifices. Last week the same daughter from above had her end-of-the-year choir concert. I planned to attend after my husband and I dropped in on a special invitation-only business school event. Soon after arriving at the function we realized it would be awkward to leave early and changed our plans to leave promptly at the meeting’s conclusion. Because the event went over time, we arrived to my daughter’s concert almost 30 minutes after it had ended. My daughter sat on the curbside in the dark, her eyes full of tears. These are the tradeoffs of an MBA parent.