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Avinash Raj gets up at 5 a.m. to attend his Rotman School of Management early-morning MBA classes, since he also works full-time at CIBC. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Avinash Raj gets up at 5 a.m. to attend his Rotman School of Management early-morning MBA classes, since he also works full-time at CIBC. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

The early bird gets the MBA Add to ...

In her job as a Calgary-based account manager with a large pharmaceutical firm, it's not unusual for Sabrina Lindsey to put in long days that stretch well into the evening. So when she started to think about pursuing a part-time master's degree in business administration, the first question that came to mind was how she would manage the intense demands of an MBA program while keeping up with her work responsibilities.

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"The job I have involves a lot of after-hours work, so psychologically I was getting prepared to go to school at night and then come home and get right back to work," says Ms. Lindsey. "In the back of my mind, I was also worried about the possibility of having to miss a handful of classes."

Still, Ms. Lindsey went ahead and applied to the evening MBA program at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business. Shortly after, she got a pleasant surprise: news of a morning MBA program Haskayne is launching next year in January.

Instead of attending classes twice a week from 6:30 p.m. to 9:20 p.m., Haskayne MBA students in the morning program would come in three days from 7:00 a.m. to 8:50 a.m. Like the evening program, the Haskayne morning MBA can be completed in three years.

"I immediately thought 'this is the better option,'" Ms. Lindsey recalls. "So I went and signed up."

For working professionals who want an MBA but can't hit the books in the evening, morning programs offer the ideal solution - assuming, of course, that they don't mind getting up well before the sun does.

Jim Dewald, associate dean of graduate programs at Haskayne, says the school's decision to launch a morning MBA is a response to two complaints he's heard from some evening MBA students.

"By 9:20 in the evening, they're feeling very tired," he says. "They also feel that studying in the evenings takes a lot from their family lives."

Early morning MBAs are a novel, made-in-Canada concept, says Kimberley Neutens, director, MBA program services at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. Rotman created its morning MBA five years ago with twice-a-week classes from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

About two years later, Pepperdine University's Graziado School of Business, located in Los Angeles, introduced a morning program that ran until noon. The program, whose primary target audience was women, has been put on hold because of low enrollment.

Another American school, DePaul University's Kellstadt Graduate School of Business in Chicago, began a morning MBA about three years ago. Like the Pepperdine model, DePaul's program takes up most of the morning, running from 10 a.m. to 11:40 a.m.

Today, Rotman and Haskayne are the only universities in Canada that offer early morning MBAs.

"Rotman's morning MBA was a pretty radical idea, based on the thinking that there must be as many larks as night owls," says Ms. Neutens. "And unlike the Pepperdine morning MBA, which went until noon, ours was really designed for the working professional who needed to be at work at the start of the day and put in a full day's work."

Rotman's morning schedule certainly works perfectly for Avinash Raj, a user experience designer at CIBC in Toronto. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mr. Raj gets up at 5 a.m. - two hours before his normal waking time - to attend MBA classes at Rotman.

By 9:30 a.m. he's walking through the doors at CIBC's downtown offices, ready to go to work.

"I actually feel more energized during these days because, while most people are just starting their days, I've already done a lot," says Mr. Raj.

Like Rotman, Haskayne also wanted to make it easy for students to get to work after classes, which was why its morning MBA program will be taught at the university's new downtown campus. With the subway just a few steps away, students who work in the area should be at their desks by around nine o'clock, says Mr. Dewald.

In addition to their job-friendly class schedules, the morning MBA programs at Rotman and Haskayne offer other benefits for students.

Mr. Raj says he's able to focus better on his studies in the morning. "I'm more fresh because I'm not tired from working all day."

Ms. Lindsey agrees, pointing out that she tends to absorb information better in the morning. Another advantage of going to school in the morning, she adds, is that she'll probably be able to take what she's learned in class and apply it to her work the very same day.

"I think it's great actually, that I could learn something new in the morning and be able to put it into action right away," she says. "It would just reinforce the lesson and maybe even provide additional points for discussion at the next class.'

To further help their time-strapped students, Rotman and Haskayne have built in full-week blocks of study. Rotman students come in for a full week in September each year while Haskyane students spend one intensive week of study in January and September.

"The intensive weeks allow for acceleration of the program," explains Ms. Neutens at Rotman. "And once students have completed the core courses they can decide to load up on electives, which further accelerates their studies."

Had Haskayne not introduced a morning MBA, Ms. Lindsey says she probably would have gone ahead and studied in the evenings anyway. But it would have been tough.

"I do have a husband and a personal life and I already have a job that is time-consuming," she says. "So this is nice, to be able to go to school first thing in the morning, get it out of the way and still have the day ahead of you."

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