This post originally appeared on Stacy’s ‘Strictly Business’ MBA blog on U.S. News
For some professional couples, there comes a time when both partners realize that pursuing an MBA degree is the key to exploring new career paths and accessing an array of high-quality professional opportunities. However, the MBA admissions process is challenging enough for one person, and couples face additional considerations as they figure out their priorities and application strategy.
Finding an MBA program that meets your needs when it comes to learning style, environment, size and so forth, must mesh with your partner’s preferences as well – and this is one of the hardest parts of applying jointly to business school. To avoid any unwelcome compromises or resentments that might damage your relationship, you’ll need to make a list of target programs where you both will be thrilled to study.
Here are tips to help you and your partner successfully navigate the application process and chart your course for career growth as a couple.
• School selection: No two candidates – even couples – are alike when it comes to test scores, leadership experiences, professional background or extracurricular interests. Before applying to b-school, make sure each application is competitive and can stand on its own merit at the schools you plan to target, because the strength of one candidate won’t compensate for an unqualified partner.
In addition to applying to the same set of schools, couples can expand their range of options by focusing on cities or regions where both would thrive. Think in terms of applying to schools in the same area.
For example, you might apply to the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University, the Columbia University Business School in New York City or the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in nearby Philadelphia, or Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business or the University of California—Berkeley’s Haas School of Business in the Bay Area.
Other options include Harvard Business School or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management in the Boston area, or Chicago’s Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management or the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
A smart strategy for couples open to this option is applying to identical schools in Round 1 and then expanding to nearby schools in Round 2 as a backup plan.
Campus visits are also essential for couples, so take the time to get a good feel for each school and connect with current married or partnered students who can provide invaluable insight into their own application experiences and give you a better sense of how accepting the school is of joint applicants.
• Timing your applications: It perhaps goes without saying, but you should both apply in the same round, which makes the decision much easier when you know whether you both got in.
Also, if possible, apply in the first round to leave some wiggle room, if needed. The MBA application process can become all-consuming, and with two people balancing full-time jobs with test prep and essay writing, you might find that one of you is struggling and needs extra time to pull together the best possible application.
A different approach for couples who know the region or city they ultimately want to work in is to stagger your MBA enrollment. One person continues to work while the other goes to business school and then enrolls in an MBA program once the partner has graduated.
• Advising the admissions team: The admissions committee is made up of compassionate human beings, not mere number crunchers. If both applicants are qualified to attend and are a good fit with the program, the admissions committee will usually try to keep couples together.
Some schools explicitly ask in the application if you’re applying jointly with a partner, but even if they don’t, it’s important to share that information with the admissions committee, especially if rejection of one applicant means the partner wouldn’t attend if accepted. Both you and your partner should use the supplemental essay to explain that you’re part of a package deal.
Also, make the admissions team aware of your joint application intentions as early as possible. When attending events on the road or on campus, touch base with representatives to explain your situation and show them why you and your partner would make a great fit for their program.
When it comes to making admissions decisions, your relationship status will likely come into play when the admissions committee is hesitant about just one of you. If the school feels that one candidate is outstanding and knows that he or she will only attend if the partner is also admitted, chances are that both will receive admissions offers.
An MBA is an emotionally intense and enriching experience, and one of the best things about attending business school as a couple is witnessing each other’s growth in this unique environment and taking pride in each other’s accomplishments.
From the support you can give each other during the application process to coming home at the end of each day during the degree process to share and debate your respective classroom experiences, going to business school with your partner may turn out to be the best decision you’ve ever made for both your career and personal life.