Going to Business School with a Family (Part One: Overview)

Can you balance business school with your family commitments? Read on to see what factors you should take into consideration when going back to school.

Deciding to go to business school can be as exciting as it can be complex. There are many important questions to ask yourself, such as: should I get an MBA? Do I really want a career in business? What do I expect the MBA to do for me? Can I forgo a salary for two years, and pay the cost of tuition? In addition to these considerations, if you intend to bring along a family, spouse, or any version of a significant other, you’ll need to find a school that fits both your personal needs as well as the needs of anyone else coming along for the ride.

Many applicants head to business school with a significant other or family member in tow. At Northwestern’s Kellogg School and Dartmouth’s Tuck School, 40 percent of the incoming class enters with a significant other by their side, a percentage common at many programs. That’s because B-School students typically return to school in their mid-to-late twenties after having worked for 2-5 years. It’s a well-known formula for winning admission: work a few years, then convince the B-School you have the maturity and experience to contribute to classroom learning.

If you’re old enough to have worked several years, chances are you’ve developed a solid personal life. So whether you skew closer to the sprightly age of 25, or are among a new crop of MBAs embarking on the degree in their early thirties (a group known as “graying” the MBA), you may need to factor family considerations when choosing an MBA program.

Making the transition

Despite the career benefits of getting an MBA, heading back to school is a big adjustment. Both you and your partner might have to relocate, and family, friends, and jobs will be left behind. You may feel out of sync with peers establishing “grown-up” lives. To top it all off, you’ll no longer have a salary, but you will have tuition bills to pay. You or your partner may wrestle with the financial risks. And as older students, you may hit a biological hurdle: bad timing. Newly engaged? Partner just promoted? Baby on the way? Navigating the logistics of this life stage while pursuing the degree can be challenging.

Life in business school is also pressure-filled. You’ll be entering an intensive, demanding environment populated with driven, young professionals. The pull of academics, socializing, and networking on family time can contribute to a partner’s isolation.

Because loved ones make a tremendous sacrifice in accompanying their partner to B-School, it’s important to evaluate what each of you will get out of the experience. Will B-School be worth your time? What kind of supports will you each receive? These are the kinds of benefits worth weighing for a couple.

Happy life, happy student

Thankfully, most schools know older students have attachments and want a healthy life/work balance. Many programs go out of their way to help students balance family life, or accommodate the needs of a student’s partner. Some schools employ dedicated staff and programs to attend to partners, and these can include job support.

For example, at UCLA’s Anderson School, an entire section of their website is devoted to family life for MBAs. From housing to entertainment to time management, every facet of the student-partner experience is addressed. At schools like Tuck, students’ partners can pursue leadership positions completely independent of their student-other. Partners can also advance their personal and professional lives, and pursue a dizzying array of activities.

The goal is to make the whole gang happy. B-schools know a positive experience for all will go a long way towards ensuring the next two years are the best they can be and will be looked back upon favorably by all parties.

B-School for two or more

For both student and partner, B-School can be among the most exciting years of your lives. For a partner, it can offer unexpected perks and rewards.

Accompanying a loved one to business school can be the beginning of a new career, a chance to fill in a resume, develop a new skill, and a wonderful way to meet and make lifelong friends. B-School can also be a place where a couple forges a stronger identity as a team. It’s not quite a couples retreat, but B-Schools go to great lengths to create a positive environment that fully supports relationships and the family unit.

Once you arrive, you’ll find a surprisingly welcoming crowd. That’s because everyone entering B-School is in the same boat: eager to make new friends, eager to please, and excited to embark on a thrilling journey with long term rewards. You’re likely to encounter a friendly environment no matter how uncomfortable you may feel, or what you’ve heard about the predatory waters. B- School is the more refined and professional version of what you experienced as an undergrad. You’ll be receiving a premium degree, and you’ll work incredibly hard for it.

However, more than any other graduate school, business school is a fun, community driven experience because it comes with a built-in social scene. In fact, socializing is so heavily integrated into the business school life, even the most reluctant or shy partner will find it difficult to resist all the opportunities to jump in and participate. Expect to leave with more than just a reinvigorated career. If you made lifelong friends in college, you can look forward to the same here. The collaborative experiences at B-School are so intense that students and partners are always presented with opportunities to make a new set of buddies. This time around, in contrast to being an undergrad, you’ll meet peers at an older age, with shared professional goals, and maybe a lifelong partner by their side. These relationships — for both of you — are likely to be long lasting.

Tagging alongside a partner through B-School can be as good as, if not better, than the student experience. reed up from the difficult academics (all-nighters, cold calls, and case studies), a partner can enjoy all of the perks and none of the headaches. Says Amy Mitson, Senior Associate Director in Tuck Admissions: “Because of the supportive community at Tuck, many alumni have said that if they could come back and do it all over again, they would come back as a Tuck partner because they would have all of the same network, but none of the homework.”

This article continues. Read Part Two: Opportunities.

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