Team MBA: The Importance of Having Your Significant Other Onboard While You're in School

This article is simply my thoughts and observations on the subject as a married Full-Time MBA student with no kids. Students with kids, or working while in school, or both, may differ in opinion based on their personal life experience.

The title may elicit a "duh!" response from some, but many people fail to properly prepare themselves and their spouse, life partner, or serious significant other for the challenges faced when going back to school.  Some of it is due to a lack of information (ex. I had no idea THAT is what you'd be doing!), for others it is not being flexible and adapting, but the majority of it boils down to not clearly communicating your expectations to each other.

The most challenging part of addressing expectations is overcoming the preconceived notions of going through higher education. The words "school" & "college" can have connotations associated with parties, free time, and discounts at the movie theater (if you still go to the movies). These stem from what popular culture tells us thanks to National Lampoon's Animal House, Van Wilder, and my favorite... Old School.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE these movies. I myself took more than 4 years to finish my undergraduate degree, and sometimes struggle to keep my own Frank-the-Tank at bay.  But the simple truth is, even for single people, that when you go back to school you're not reliving the glory days. The material is harder, the pace is faster, and it's a lot of work.

It's important you realize this, and it's important that you communicate this to your spouse or significant other.

No matter what your reason is for going back to school, it's a journey that you'll both be on together.

Some helpful tips:

1. Bring your Spouse to the Information Sessions During the Application Process.

It's becoming more common especially since many households are dual income, some simply meet at the school after work. When I was in my MBA search there were a few couples who attended the info sessions and the number increased throughout the application season.

There are many benefits to having them there. Many info sessions have mixers afterward which is a good social setting to have your spouse to mingle and network. You can tag-team asking questions and find they have just as many questions as you (and some you haven't thought of). They may pick up on subtle cues from body language you may have missed, and provide a different insight into the culture of the institution. 

It also makes you seem more approachable and builds on a brand of being family oriented.  It's even better when your spouse is an alumnus!

Most important of all is that it helps get buy-in from your spouse. This is especially true if they have reservations about you applying for graduate school. They now have a better sense of what you're getting into; there's nothing better than getting information straight from the source.

2. It helps When the Other Person is Busy Too.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but I have found it helps when your spouse is also engaged in some other activity while you're in school, particularly when you're studying at home.
It can be in the form of an extra hobby, volunteer work, or some other form of self-improvement. Or if they appreciate the quiet "me time" while you're gone... that's fine too!

In my case, my wife is studying for her CPA while working full time. We motivate each other to study and hold each other accountable. Sometimes we hold "study dates" on the weekends or during the week.

This may not work for everyone depending on what else is going on in your life. If you have kids you may already be busy enough!

3. Make Time for Each Other!

This should go without saying, and may be useful even if you aren't in school! But it's important to make time for each other to talk, communicate your thoughts and feelings, vent, and get on the same page. You can manage it in whatever way works best for you.

For us, my wife and I share a calendar on our smartphones and schedule date time. We also get up early and chat over morning coffee an hour before work and school.

To conclude, balancing married life while in school can be a source of stress if you let it, but for me, it's been a great asset.

By Rob Pelley, C.T. Bauer College of Business MBA Candidate