Applying to an MBA program can feel like one giant Ninja competition. There are obstacles at every turn—conducting school research, introspecting about your goals, and preparing your essays. These steps can feel like running over spinning logs, hurling yourself up a steep hill, and crawling through low netting. When you apply based on not only your needs but also the needs of your significant other, it can feel like someone added slick oil to your shoes to make the degree of difficulty skyrocket even higher! Can anyone navigate this successfully?
The good news is that the answer is yes. I have worked with many pairs—from roommates to twins to engaged couples and even spouses. Here are four tips that couples applying jointly to MBA programs should keep in mind during the application process:
Communicate with your partner about what is most important to you. Have the difficult conversations about what each person values at the start. Are you willing to go to different programs if that becomes the best option for each of you? Does it make sense for you both to do an MBA program at the same time? Do you have a clear understanding of what is most important to each of you? Having this conversation early will help you avoid misunderstandings and resentment later on in the process.
Additionally, communicate to the MBA programs you are applying to that your partner is also applying. Many programs ask this question in the short answer section of the application, or you can note this in an optional essay. Be consistent in your approach. Both applicants can damage their credibility by sharing inconsistent information in their application—for example, one person says that they will attend a program only if their partner is also admitted, while the other person says they want to be considered individually. I worked with a fantastic couple this past year, and they made it clear to the programs they applied to that although they preferred to attend the same program, they did not want to diminish the other’s chances and wanted each person to have full consideration based on their unique profile.
Every relationship has some give and take. Any big decision a couple makes—such as whether or when to have children or which house to buy—requires compromise. The same principle applies to the MBA admissions process. Each person has to decide which scenarios are deal breakers and which ones are tolerable. Some couples might decide that they must attend the same program, while other couples might be okay with attending programs in different cities. There is no right or wrong here, but you do want to present a unified front in your applications.
If one partner has a more competitive profile, some creativity and compromise can be beneficial. For example, if one partner is interested in Harvard Business School and the MIT Sloan School of Management and the other partner is not, there are still several other programs in the Boston area to consider, including Babson College, Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, and Hult International Business School. In Los Angeles, there are options at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, the USC Marshall School of Business, and Pepperdine’s Graziadio Business School. Looking at MBA programs in major cities will often give a couple more options, though being in the same city does not always guarantee an easy commute. It can take just 20 minutes to navigate between some programs in the same geographic area, such as UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, which are only 11 miles apart. Meanwhile, the travel time between Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business can be anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes, depending on traffic and which mode of transportation you choose.
Although you can support your partner during the admissions process, you still want to present yourself as an individual. After all, the experience of attending an MBA program still has to work for each of you as individuals. When I served as the coach to a married couple during the MBA admissions process this past year, we set some ground rules up front. I encouraged them to brainstorm on their own and avoid discussing too many details about their essays with each other, so that they could each develop their own voice. Talking with your partner during the early part of the essay-writing process could result in essays that are too similar and that will not be helpful to either applicant. I also think it helped the couple I worked with to have a neutral coach to discuss the unique elements of their own applications with so that neither of them felt they had to take on responsibility for not only their own strategy but also their partner’s.
4. Celebrate Together
Couples might not realize the appeal they have when they apply to a program as a pair. One power couple can provide an MBA program with two strong candidates. MBA power couples are also more likely to attend social and extracurricular events and to bring other classmates together. I have seen my coupled clients receive generous scholarships and grow closer through the MBA application process. After all, your partner knows exactly how difficult and stressful applying to an MBA program can be, and they will be able to share your excitement more than a partner who is not familiar with the process. Celebrate and support each other along the way, because that is the foundation for a healthy long-term partnership!
Our Stratus team has lots of experience helping couples achieve their MBA goals together, and all members of our team have MBAs from top programs. We are available to start the conversation about your profile through a free consultation you can schedule here.