How I Fit an Online MBA Into My Life

One Woman’s Journey From Stay-at-Home Mom to Advanced Degree Holder

Many adults have the impression that achieving an advanced degree is an unattainable goal. It’s true that work, family obligations, and military commitments can make it especially challenging. But for some students, it’s a challenge they gladly take on. Meet Nicole Estrada, who pursued her online Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree at National University while working full time and raising five daughters. She’s now pursuing a doctorate in business administration through a National University affiliate program. National University’s convenient four-week class program gave Nicole the flexibility she needed to juggle all her commitments and allowed her to start sooner and finish faster.

A Military Spouse With Aspirations of Her Own

Nicole’s journey to National University began with a family connection. Nicole’s husband Kristian was in the military, and she was thinking about the future and online degrees. “I wanted to go to school, I just didn’t want to go TO school,” she says. “I actually got introduced to National University by my husband when he was working at Navy Medical Center. He wanted to go to school. He's actually the first one that thought about what we wanted to do after military life.”

Kristian initially considered another online university, but he got a much more enthusiastic reception from National. “They greeted him, they were so excited,” recalls Nicole. “And they said, ‘Okay, let's get you signed up, so you can start class next month.’”

So began the Estradas’ journey with National University — they both earned online degrees. Nicole earned a bachelor’s degree and then started working on a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. Her husband was working on his MPH as well.

“My original plan was to join the military as a Navy commissioned officer because they require a Master of Public Health with an accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH),” says Nicole. “National University is one of the very few that actually offers that, so that was another reason that pushed me to National.”

The Ultimate Goal Crystalized

Nicole’s plans changed when her husband had a chance encounter over the winter. “My husband has always had a passion for helping the homeless. But last year when he went to go get food, he saw this person huddled up behind a trash can, trying to avoid the winds. And it really, really bothered him. When he came home, he said, ‘I just feel so bad. I don't know what I could do. I wish I could give him my jacket!’ But I had literally bought him that jacket the day before. So we went through our closet and got about 15 or 16 jackets out, and he went around and passed them out to whomever he found. And it really triggered something in both of us,” she says.

The encounter inspired her — she then realized that an advanced degree in business administration would be far more helpful in getting them to their dreams than the MPH she was currently pursuing. 

She explains, “We want to develop apartment-like homes for the homeless, where they don't have to pay. They just come and stay, as long as they aren't doing drugs or drinking excessively and they are actively looking for work. We want to help people get on their feet because I know a lot of veterans have some sort of mental disorder like PTSD or they just can't function in a normal area. There are actually a few states that are hiring homeless people to clean up the city — we’d like to incorporate this idea as well.”

Her husband Kristian also decided to work on a doctorate in business administration at the same time. “In pursuing this doctorate, I'm learning all the skills necessary to figure out how to open up my own business or non-profit,” he says.

The education they get at National University will help the Estradas achieve their dream of establishing community shelters, but how did Nicole deal with the reality of fitting school into her already busy life? What’s her advice?

It’s All About Time Management

It wasn’t easy, Nicole admits. “Last year I made a lot of excuses about why I didn't have time. I was always tired. And my husband said, ‘Well, are you doing everything you can?’ And I knew I wasn't,” she recalls.  She began with a social media detox. “It really came down to me needing to manage my time better instead of being on Facebook, Instagram, and every other social media page. I had my Facebook deactivated because I literally spent more time looking at my Facebook page than I was looking at my homework, so I figured I needed to cut that out.”

Though she owns up to being a bit of a procrastinator, Nicole schedules her daily activities so that she has time for her family, as well as time for her education. Nicole’s schedule is full, to be sure, starting with a 4:30 a.m. visit to the gym and ending with two hours of class work and studying at night. In between, there are the typical chores and childcare responsibilities of every parent with a young child — times five! Nicole’s in bed by 10 p.m. and considers six hours of sleep a good night. Although she continues to pursue her education, she left her job a few months ago to help care for an ailing relative.

Brigitte Maheu, Online Center Director for National University, notes that there are many students like Nicole who are trying to balance a lot at the same time and yet are eager and willing to pursue their education. “An online program like our MBA program is a great way to be able to still maintain a job, take care of family responsibilities, and go to school,” she says. “We’re geared toward the working adult who is trained to manage multiple different things in his or her life, but has the motivation to earn a degree now.”

Kristian is direct. “I just like the ability to get my education online and have more time to spend with my family because I don’t have to go from work and then to class and have to lose that additional time.”

Convenience is Key

Nicole appreciates one of the main benefits of pursuing an online degree. “It allows you to be in school in the comfort of your own home. I really like online because when my husband was in the military, his schedule was all over the place. When he was working at Naval Medical Center, sometimes he would have to work twelve-hour days. Every other month, they were switching his schedule. And so for me, it was just more convenient to be able to just stay home with my kids and do my homework at home.”

Studying online also helps alleviate potential childcare issues. “I didn’t have to worry about anyone watching my kids,” she says. “It’s a lot more convenient for me not to have to worry about arranging childcare or if something’s not going to be done because I have to leave and go to class.”

National University’s online MBA program delivers that convenience without sacrificing quality. The program is WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) accredited. For Nicole, accreditation is a big factor. “National’s program is online, but it’s accredited. I’m actually getting a degree from my home, and it means something.”

Four-Week Courses Versus Eight-Week Courses

All of the online programs at National University have a four-week course format where you take one class at a time for four weeks in length, so it's an accelerated program. All communications are done through various types of homework assignments, discussion forums, papers, and quizzes. Shorter classes were a definite plus for Nicole. “Many of the other online universities have eight-week classes. In some cases, you’d get the same credit for an eight-week class as you would for a four-week class. For us, it was a no-brainer. Why take two classes when you can take one and have the same number of credits?”

For many students, National’s course format is a big selling point. Once a student makes the decision to attend, there is no long wait before being able to sign up for a class. “The four-week format is probably one of the things that make us stand out the most. The classes are very structured, starting normally the first Monday of every single month, so you can really allow yourself to get adjusted to the format and what is going to be expected of you each week of the month and kind of plan ahead,” says Ms. Maheu.

You Can Learn at Your Own Pace

With on-campus courses, instructors can’t always address those who learn more quickly. They’re forced to teach classes at one consistent pace for all students. Not so in the online world. Nicole makes the point, “ I get very bored if I'm in class physically. It’s just that I'm a very self-taught person. Sometimes teachers go more slowly for certain students, just so everybody fully understands it. I personally am not a slow learner. You tell me something once and I have it. So it was really hard for me to physically sit in class and have to wait for the teacher to catch up to where I know I am.”

Not being locked into a traditional class format has other advantages. Sometimes life intervenes and slowing things down is necessary. Nicole appreciates that flexibility: “If I need a month off if I’m going through something, I just call my National advisors up and let them know. And they're more than willing to reset my clock. ‘Okay, well, we'll skip this month then we'll put it at the end of your schedule.’ That way you're not missing anything.” 

The Instructors are Exceptional and They Understand What Students Go Through

The business faculty at National University are an accomplished group of working professionals. That hands-on, practical knowledge results in a high level of instructional quality.

“The instructors are all amazing. There are a few instructors who were known to be the most difficult instructors that National has, but they are also the most helpful to me. There's one professor who was known to be the biggest stickler when it comes to APA format and I thought he was the best teacher I'd ever had! He not only corrected what was wrong, but he told you WHY it was wrong. That really helped me understand what I was doing wrong and how I can always fix it when it comes to other things. It’s really nice to have instructors actually care that you're learning what you're supposed to be, and not just trying to get you through this class,” recounts Nicole.

Ms. Maheu comments, “You're getting the opportunity to learn from people who are actually doing this in their day-to-day work, as opposed to somebody who may have been an instructor for 30 straight years and not actually pursuing that field as a full-time job.”

Having Support Matters

Nicole knows she’s fortunate to be classmates with her husband, so they can support each other both at home and with school. “I love being his classmate, especially when it comes to group projects. Group projects are difficult things for online students to do because some students are deployed, signing in when they can. Or they’re in another time zone. When my husband and I were in the same class, we’d always ask to be in the same group. Then I just had to walk across the hallway and grab him if we needed to work on our project. Or if we have a test coming up, I’ll say, ‘You quiz me and I’ll quiz you.’ ”

Both Kristian and Nicole feel supported by their instructors, as well. “One week, we had until Sunday to turn in our homework. I had already done mine, but Kristian was working so much that he hadn’t done it. He planned to do it over the weekend. And on Thursday, we got a phone call that his sister passed away.  So now, we were trying to figure out how to fit it in, as well as help him deal with his grief. The instructor was so awesome, he said, ‘No, take as much time as you need. Even if the class ends, I’ll just give you an incomplete and you can finish it later. Go deal with your family.’”

Sticking With It is Easier With Shorter Classes

Having a four-week class format provides distinct advantages, primarily the speed of completion. Many adults find that a month commitment is easier to balance with work and home obligations. 

Nicole provides some advice: “What it comes down to is if you don't like it, then you don't have to keep going. It's only one month. It's not like a traditional college, where if you drop the class two months into it, you get no credit at all. After one month, you have that class and it cannot go away as long as you complete it. I promise you, everybody I know loves National.”

Kristian also encourages potential students for online degrees to just do it. “Keep in mind that the only thing going against you is time, and the longer you sit and wait thinking about it, time will continue to pass you by. So while it may take four years to earn a bachelor's degree, you continue to delay that every day that you wait.“

With all of her accomplishments, Nicole continues to strive. She says, “I went through school, even with having kids and a fulltime job. It’s possible. I wanted to show all five of my daughters that you can’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”

Considering an Online MBA?

Could an online Master of Business Administration degree at National University fit into your life? According to Forbes magazine, more students than ever are choosing online MBA programs for the greater flexibility they offer – you can keep your job and you can do your schoolwork from anywhere. Choosing National University’s online MBA program means you’re choosing a WSCUC accredited program with an accelerated pace through its four-week class format. You’ll get the same comprehensive student support services that on-campus students receive, as well as financial aid and scholarship opportunities. And you can start anytime, with year-round enrollment.

With the National University Master of Business Administration course of study, you can focus on whatever area of business that interests you. You can specialize in accounting, financial management, human resource management, integrated marketing communication, international business, management accounting, marketing, mobile marketing and social media, organizational leadership, or supply chain management. Learn more about online Master of Business Administration degrees at National University.