It’s critical to research what you can expect from a particular B-School and what the experience will be like. The next step is to find a business school that makes you feel at home and at ease. The best fit is possible when you know what to anticipate. To guide you through the process, here’s a checklist of considerations:
Heading to business school might put you into serious sticker shock. The degree can cost you up to $168,000 for the full two years. The good news is that tuition costs vary widely. There are top 20 B-Schools where you can pay much less. It’s important to know what you can afford and to develop a financial plan. Will you be paying out of pocket, using student loans, or getting financial aid? Geography will impact your finances as well. The cost of living in Boston or Los Angeles, for example, will be greater than in Cincinnati, Charlotte, or Pittsburgh. If your partner is an established professional, geography may impact job prospects.
It’s helpful to visit as many B-School campuses as possible to get a sense of the community and where you might want to live. Is married housing affordable and easy to find? Is it modern and clean? Will you be nearby, or right on campus? Are there options to rent and still feel connected to the community? Will you need a car? How close are you to public transportation or a grocery store? Making the move to B-School is much like relocating anywhere. You’ll want to find the best housing and neighborhood.
Are you and your partner die-hard Northerners, or looking for a sun-kissed life close to the beach? Is the Midwest more your style? There are as many flavors of B-School as there are programs. Where you go to school will have a lot to do with your overall experience, the type of social life you desire, your household expenses, and access to employers. Will your partner be a full-time resident, or flying in for regular visits? Proximity to a local airport may be a deciding factor. You may also want to anticipate where you’ll settle after the MBA. Many B-Schools are regional powerhouses and job offers are likely to come from that geographic area. You can go to B-School to switch careers, and also to establish roots in an entirely new geographic area. Of course, if you have school age children, you’ll want to research nearby schools.
With a partner or family in tow, quality of life issues should be given careful consideration. Some of the factors to weigh are: Is the campus spread out and big, or small and compact? How long will it take your partner to return home from late night study sessions? Where is the B-School library located? Does the school utilize a shuttle system? Is there an on-site gym? Are children allowed? Do you feel safe walking around at night? Where do families and partners congregate? Are there eateries? Is this a self-contained campus, or integrated into a city or school town?
Range and number of clubs
It’s well-known that MBA students spend an extraordinary amount of time at school networking, socializing, and participating in clubs and professional activities. Devoting time to these activities is considered foundational to the experience. The investment typically takes equal priority to academics because it uniquely accelerates professional practice and exposure. With this in mind, students and partners should factor all clubs — not just partner ones — into the B-School decision.
Many schools like Tuck allow partners to hold senior positions and pursue opportunities independent of their other half. A majority allow partners to participate in any organization a student does. But Hernandez suggests you not go blindly into this demanding social environment, advising that there can be impacts on your relationship, “My boyfriend’s priorities changed after we arrived. His priorities became school and networking, and I had to get used to that. I did not anticipate how B-School would influence him. Having very clear communications of what is to come and what the priorities are, should be set beforehand.”
Diversity of student body
Like most people, you’ll want to be part of a community where you feel comfortable. Knowing what that is, is a very personal matter. The best way to determine this is to do your research. Ask for a profile of the student body. Check out fellow students and partners on campus when you visit. You may notice a certain common denominator. Although B-Schools are incredibly open, diverse and welcoming, it all comes down to this: will both you and partner feel at home?
Although B-Schools have come a long way from a singular reputation of graduating executives fast into their suspenders and other people’s money, each B-School community has its own vibe. And you should make sure it’s in sync with yours. Is this a happy place? Are partners and students invested in the community or is there a commuter mentality? Is there an esprit de corps, or is it every woman for herself? An MBA program with strong links to Wall Street may attract a more driven and inward-focused crowd than those with academic tracks for public service. Likewise, a school with a diversity of academic specializations will have students with diverse career interests matriculating there. There’s no easy way to sum up a school, nor would it be fair to make generalizations. But the ambition and career path of students are wise to consider too.
Sizing up an entire group of students and a school’s ethos is tough to do. It’s best to think of schools like a recipe: take one dollop of academic focus (finance? general management? entrepreneurial study?), add a shake of geography, a dash of club diversity, and two pinches of school prestige. Mix it with access to regional employers and big hirers, and top with a liberal sprinkling of school culture. What have you got? Hopefully an idea of where you’re headed.
Armed with an MBA, any graduate can go far. Armed with the information a couple needs to choose a B-School for two, the experience will be happier. Dr. Wilhelmina Hernandez, a current partner of an MBA student at the Anderson School at UCLA, says “The couple should pick the program together; it’s a big decision best made by both.” The bottom line? When you have a significant other, business school is a joint venture.