I had worked two jobs while attending college but the three years I worked full time when studying part time were the most challenging of my life. I juggled them successfully by setting tight schedules, and drawing support from family.
Why back to school
Two years into my first job after graduating college, I realized I needed a masters degree to help me get a meaningful pay hike and promotion. I could not just give up my job and get a student loan. I decided to go back to school part time. My two choices were a part-time MBA from NYU Stern School of Business, and a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) diploma program.
My employer participated in corporate tuition reimbursement and was willing to pay for either the part time MBA or the CFA program. However, since the MBA was considerably more expensive (about $100,000), we were required to sign an indenture agreement for three additional years. This meant if I left the job on my own, or my GPA fell below their requirement, I would have to repay the tuition. Co-workers who were on tuition reimbursement believed that their salaries and bonuses were frozen while they were on the program (a total of six years).
One and a half job demands
At the time, I was working 12-13 hour days, 60-65 hours a week. My typical workday started at 8-8:30 a.m. and ended at 8-9:30 p.m. I was essentially working one and a half jobs, and this was unlikely to change. Even though my boss encouraged me to go for the MBA (everyone in my team had one), I knew it was not feasible. I opted for the CFA, which required 300 hours of study for each six-hour long exam. I would study from January through June, and take a weekly prep class.
Tight schedule for study
I spent most of my waking hours working but tried to squeeze in one hour of study during most weekdays and 5-6 hours during weekends. This didn't quite get me the 12 hours a week of recommended studying, but it was a plan. I carried my books to work and studied easier materials such as ethics and real estate whenever I got a chance. During weekends I studied challenging topics like fixed income, investment analysis, statistics, foreign exchange and derivatives, did my homework and prepared for class. Having a class to go to meant I was able to shut out work for two hours and get 45 minutes to study on the train, once a week.
Getting enough sleep
Sleep became the third priority in my life (after work and studying) and I set alarms to snooze! Oftentimes, I would go to class from 6-9 pm, then come back to work for another hour. By the time I would get to bed, it was midnight. If I was lucky to get a seat on the commuter train in the morning, I slept. I always slept on my way back. I wear contact lenses, and I used extended wear lenses so I could sleep in them. I slept about 6-7 hours every weeknight, so I made sure I got enough rest on weekends.
Relying on family for support
I was lucky I was living with my family. My parents excused me from all housework and encouraged me endlessly. My mom made me breakfast, the only meal I had at home. I slept and studied during weekends. I limited most of my other social interaction and I drew most of my support from them when I was juggling work and study.
The Wall Street Journal described the CFA program as the most rigorous credential for finance professionals. Only 42% of candidates pass its three required exams, a process that can take several years. Luckily, I cleared each six hour exam on the first try, and got small pay raises each year, which encouraged me to go on. At the end of three years, when I could have been attending my formal graduation from a MBA program amidst fanfare, I got my CFA charter in the mail. Soon afterwards, I got the big raise and promotion I was aiming for, and I started working toward my next personal goal -- my first house.
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