If you and your significant other have both decided that an MBA degree is the ideal next step in your careers, you might find yourself facing the business school application process together. Applying to MBA programs as a couple can be a challenging yet rewarding shared experience, and you might be wondering what specific considerations you should keep in mind.
Identify programs that are a good fit for both of you.
Although partners sometimes have similar career interests, in most cases, each partner has their own career trajectory and aspirations. Seek to identify MBA programs that will be a good fit for both of you in terms of specialization, career resources, student culture, and geographical preferences. When possible, visit schools together to get a realistic feel for what the experience will be like. In the long run, you will both be happier with the overall experience if selecting target schools was a joint effort.
Apply to the same programs or to different programs in the same city.
Ideally, you will be able to identify programs that both of you are interested in and then work toward the same application deadlines for those programs. Most couples we work with at mbaMission aim to attend the same school. That way, when the semester gets busy with academics and activities, your time is spent primarily together, rather than divided between two business school communities. Attending an MBA program can be an all-encompassing life experience. It even has the potential to bring a couple closer as they study, work on projects, socialize, and travel together throughout the program.
Another option is to look at different programs that are in the same city or geographic region. This can be an effective strategy if one person in the couple is a less competitive candidate than the other or if another school in a nearby location is a better fit for their career interests. For example, think Columbia Business School and NYU Stern in New York City; Chicago Booth and Northwestern Kellogg in the Chicago area; Stanford GSB and Berkeley Haas in the Bay Area; and Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan, Boston College Carroll, and Boston University Questrom in the Boston area. We have even worked with a client who attended Wharton in Philadelphia while their partner studied at a New York City school a train ride away.
Let the admissions committee know you are applying as a couple.
Although some applicants are hesitant to share that they are applying as a couple, we recommend disclosing this information to the admissions committee. A school will not admit an unqualified applicant simply because they are in a relationship with a stronger applicant, but in some cases, a school is more likely to admit a borderline applicant if they apply with a partner who is a stronger applicant.
Each candidate is always evaluated individually, but the admissions committee does understand that the stronger applicant will be more likely to actually attend the program if their partner is also admitted and can attend with them (accepting both candidates can therefore have a positive impact on the program’s yield, or the percentage of people who actually attend out of those admitted).
Applying with his wife likely improved our client Carl’s* chance of being admitted to several top MBA programs. Carl’s wife, Lisa, had a GMAT score of 770 and an impressive career in health care consulting, while Carl had an average GMAT score and a less differentiated career in finance. Carl had initially applied by himself and been rejected at Wharton and waitlisted at Kellogg; the following year, Carl increased his GMAT score slightly and applied as a couple with Lisa to several programs, and both were accepted at Wharton, Kellogg, UVA Darden, and Berkeley Haas. They decided to attend Kellogg together.
Note that some admissions officers and consultants believe that applying with a partner who is a stronger candidate is more likely to improve an applicant’s chance of admission if the couple is married or in a long-term relationship as opposed to a newer relationship.
So, how and where should you disclose the fact that you are a couple? Some schools actually have a short question about this on their application form. If not, a short and succinct paragraph in the optional/supplemental essay section is appropriate. Keep the majority of your application focused on your individual profile!
Be sure each of you demonstrates a connection with the school.
For any applicant to a top MBA program, showing a connection to the school is recommended. However, for applicants applying as part of a couple, this becomes even more important.
You do not want an admissions officer to read your application and think you might just be going through the motions and applying to their program only because your partner is—or worse, to feel that you are not committed to the school and therefore that you might be more likely to follow your partner elsewhere. So, be sure that both of you clearly indicate your interest in the program by demonstrating your detailed knowledge of and enthusiasm for it in your essays and interviews, connecting with students and alumni, and attending events.
Try to share that you are applying as a couple early in the process. For example, if you attend an MBA fair or informational event before applying and have the chance to chat with an admissions representative about it, they might remember you and your partner if you make a strong first impression (this is even more likely at programs with smaller numbers of applicants in a given year).
Set expectations and communicate with one another throughout the application process.
As you start this process as a couple, take some time to discuss your expectations for how you will handle everything from school research and selection to working on application components. For example, discuss whether you will read one another’s essays. If you do share ideas and advice with one another, keep in mind that essays and applications are quite personal and subjective—just because your partner might have approached a topic in a different way does not mean your way is any less valid.
Many couples find having the support of an MBA admissions consultant helpful. A consultant acts as a partner and coach in the process who can provide external support, editing, and guidance to both individuals.
An alternative approach is to apply on different timelines.
Some couples decide to stagger their MBA experiences at the same program, with one partner starting the program and the other partner working in the same city and then applying to the same program one or two years later.
If you find yourself in this situation, or if you or your partner is not admitted this year and will reapply while the other is in their second year, make sure that the partner who plans to reapply attends plenty of events with the partner who is attending, thereby getting to better know the school, students, and staff. Doing so will give the reapplicant a much better chance of being admitted the second time around because the school will feel optimistic about their likelihood of actually attending. In recent years, we at mbaMission have seen multiple examples of a student’s partner gaining admission to the same program after getting to know it well.
Finally, enjoy the shared experience!
Sharing the MBA experience with your partner can be very rewarding, and schools appreciate knowing you are applying as a couple. As HBS alumni Kate and Patrick described, “Our time at HBS has brought us closer together. . . . Having the opportunity to learn, grow, travel and meet a whole new set of people has been a wonderful new chapter in our relationship together.”
To discuss your MBA application, reach out to mbaMission for a free consultation.
*All names have been changed for privacy.
Jen Kedrowski is a veteran mbaMission admissions consultant, with 20 years of experience in the industry. She received her MBA from Cambridge University, Judge Business School, where she learned firsthand what sharing the MBA experience with a significant other is like, having met her future husband early on in the program.