For couples who enrol together, and MBA partners, gaining admission to a worthy MBA programme and excelling in their school work can become twice as challenging. Nevertheless, it is common practice and business schools are making strides to facilitate a better study experience for families.
When Catherine Bornbaum was about to update her LinkedIn profile and announce her enrolment in the Rotman School of Management (Canada) Executive MBA programme, she hesitated. She admits she felt unsure if her family would be able to keep up with everything, considering her husband was also accepted in the Rotman Morning & Evening MBA. The topic can be explored from multiple sides – couples who enrol together as well as couples who relocate while only one partner attends classes.
A demanding experience for MBA partners
Enrolling in an MBA programme, especially one that requires relocation abroad, can be a challenge for the MBA student’s partner. A survey of 3,000 expats conducted by Caisse des Français de l’Étranger (CFE) and Expat Communication mentioned in the French publication Le Monde reveals that in 92% of the cases it is women who “follow” men once they decide to continue their studies. At this stage of their lives and careers, their female companions are usually well-educated and accomplished individuals. And although they are capable and motivated to succeed in their new environment, MBA partners often find themselves challenged by the lack of a locally established network, unexpected diploma recognition procedures, and a language barrier among other setbacks. This sudden change, coupled with the commitment of the partners to their demanding MBA studies, naturally puts a lot of pressure on the companion.
How can families make the shared MBA experience worthwhile? Researching the realities and anticipating what everyday life will actually look like, is a crucial step. Couples have to be open-minded and honest about their expectations and preferences so that they can take the best decisions. Being apart for the duration of the MBA studies is also a viable option. When considering the MBA as a family experience, it is helpful to plan your own approach, but also to factor in possible support from the business school or the local community.
How business schools can improve the family experience
Fortunately, MBA applicants and their families who are determined to make the most of the experience together can rely on business schools to help them find solid ground in their new journey. Services vary, so explore what works out best for your family. Some institutions organise welcome events and regular workshops as well as practical support to newly relocated partners. IMD Business School in Switzerland offers career development opportunities such as their International Dual Career Network, leadership coaching, and language courses. Other schools such as INSEAD (France) manage groups on Facebook and WhatsApp where students and their partners can exchange useful information or discuss options for events and activities.
While keeping busy and mingling with other MBA students abroad is important in getting accustomed to a new home, business schools also take career development for partners seriously. There are plenty of examples of people who moved and managed to turn this challenge into a positive experience.
The recently published article in Le Monde illustrates a similar case. Laure Pallez who had to leave her job at a French multinational bank to move with her husband to China, admits that at first the transition was difficult. However, she was determined to learn Chinese and she eventually went back to school as well. Three years later, Ms Pallez got a job in Shanghai where her colleagues were predominantly Chinese and where she felt at home. She is also one of the hundreds of consular advisers elected around the world to defend public policies for French expatriates.
What about studying in business school together?
Many couples are globally-minded and adventurous enough to pursue their individual MBA experience together and at the same school. While this option may seem too complicated to pull off at first, there are some tips that can help optimise the application process for partners.
As admissions consultant Stacy Blackman advises for U.S. News & World Report, campus visits are one of the most helpful steps couples can take in deciding where they belong. Visiting the school in person and inquiring about available programmes also gives potential students the opportunity to connect with other couples who can share “invaluable insight into their own application experiences”. In addition, some institutions have explicit procedures when it comes to MBA applications submitted jointly by two partners. According to the admissions consultant, even if this is not the case it is a good idea to highlight this information to the admissions committee in advance.
Moreover, the benefits of applying to MBA programmes together often extend even further throughout the preparation process. Having been married for more than 10 years, Katie and Colin Robertson who are MBA students at Carlson School of Management (US) reveal that their companionship helped them in their GMAT preparation as well. “We started with studying for the GMAT together, using flash cards and doing different things as we were preparing for that,” says Mr Robertson for Poets&Quants.
Of course, just because other applicants successfully handled their applications and MBA admissions process together, does not mean it is always that easy. Couples who plan to attend classes together, or to relocate and start anew, need to have solid planning and organisation skills in place. As Catherine Bornbaum confides in her blogpost for The Globe and Mail, sometimes the experience can be tough: “I had to set realistic expectations of myself and create firm boundaries for my time and energy. This meant saying ‘no’ more than I would have liked to events I wouldn’t have second-guessed just months before.”
Nevertheless, all couple stories shared by MBA partners agree on one thing: the journey is worth it.