Reflections of an MBA Mom with Two Kids

by Carolyn Austring on

Carolyn Austring, with children Donovan and Cara, on Virginia's Darden campus

As I attended an Admitted Student’s Weekend last month, I was swept away by the beautiful campus, welcoming faculty and the impressive student body. Beyond all else though, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of kids I saw running around the grounds enjoying the evening festivities.

As an incoming full-time MBA student at the University of Virginia’s Darden School this fall, I breathed a sigh of relief that I would not be the only parent trying to juggle family obligations while pursuing a challenging MBA and the subsequent high-octane career.

After all, I have two children–Donovan who is just about to turn one, and Cara who will be three in June–and a husband who works as a management consultant in Washington, D.C. Indeed, I was happy to see that there were many dads who were braving the academic challenges and market uncertainties to advance their career, but I wish I had found other mothers.

My husband and I were both amused by how many current and prospective students simply assumed that he was the one that was attending business school after we introduced our family. Sometimes we would chuckle out loud at their reactions when we would correct them and point out that I was the one who was going to take the plunge. The prevailing assumption was that a top-tier business school wasn’t really practical for a mother of two, but I think there are many reasons why business school represents a realistic, although challenging, opportunity for working mothers.

To help make this point clear, I always like to first point out the biggest similarities between working mothers pursuing a challenging career and the working fathers who choose to attend a top-tier business school. Both types of parents have had success in the workplace. Both are providing a substantial portion of their family’s income. Both are actively responsible for more than just their career. For either the mother or father, choosing to go to business school represents a similarly significant sacrifice. In many cases, these family oriented professionals are also pursuing similar types of challenging post-MBA careers, thus balancing out the overall ROI for both types of parents.

However, this ROI does not account for perceived risk, and that is where perceptions start to get distorted. Investing in an MBA does entail some risk, but there is a common perception that pursuing an MBA is less risky for a dad than it is for a mother. A B-school dad is perceived as being a strong willed overachiever who can overcome almost any job-hunting and post-MBA career setbacks. Their counterparts are somehow more susceptible to the pitfalls associated with landing the ideal job and later climbing the corporate ladder. Not only are mothers just as capable of managing the risk, but I propose that pursuing an MBA as mother is actually a risk reducing strategy to advancing one’s career overall.

I have many female friends that were just as focused on developing their career as I was coming out of college, and I had the benefit of seeing a variety of different approaches. Some women were rock stars from the start and quickly got into a top-tier business school that enabled them to pursue their dream job. For these women, family was not a primary concern at this stage of their life, and they were successful at the careers they pursued whole heartedly. Other friends chose a slightly different balance, and some got married before attending business school. For these women, family was on the horizon, but short term emphasis was still placed on accelerating their career. Then there were friends most similar to me, who chose to embrace the pre-MBA career while raising a family before choosing to hit the career accelerator and attend a top-tier school.

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  • klughing

    “She moved to Charlottesville, Va., from northern Virginia a year ago to target Darden for her MBA program.” She moved to Charlottesville TO TARGET Darden? So before applying to Darden? I want to hear more about that.

  • Bruce Vann

    I couldn’t imagine going through that process with two kids. My hat’s off to her.

  • Guiseppe

    Carolyn is an inspiration to me. I am married with a young child and will commence my MBA in fall. I must learn to be time efficient to divide time between studies, internship hunt and family. My wife is very understanding and will do most of childcare. Carolyn is the main care person for her two young children as her husband is a busy consultant. Hope she will succeed and her husband will support her accordingly. Carolyn won’t get much sleep, respect.

    Does Darden provide child care support such as flexible creche and parent’s club?

  • Carolyn Austring

    @Guiseppe, Darden doesn’t formally provide any child care support, but the Darden Partners Association is very supportive and full of other parents.

    @klughing, Applying to b-schools takes a bit more planning when the whole family is involved. I researched the schools and communities close to two years ago and decided that Darden would be the best top-tier program for us. Committing to a school before they commit to you is a bit risky, but for me it was worth the risk.

  • Guiseppe

    @Carolyn, Thanks for clarifying the childcare support issue. I think, this is important to parents. I have to commend Darden to take a holistic view and admit a married student with 2 young children to its programme. Some adcom could have taken the safe route and prefer more traditional students, particularly with the current trend towards younger single students. Did adcom bring family commitment vs workload in interview and how you will handle it? Good luck.

  • Darden2013

    Hi Carolyn,

    I am also an admitted Mother to Darden. I will definitely be coming to you to vent. I am not yet there on facebook for Darden class of 2013. I am yet to give notice at work. How can I get your personal email-id? Shall I post your name in admitted students portal?

    Thanks,
    Darden2013

  • Vani Anand03

    Hi Carolyn,
    It was nice to read your post. I am planning to apply for fall admission to Darden and I am also a mom. Good to know that Darden does not hold that against you. 

  • anonymous

    Thank God for your article. Now I know that I can manage it too :-)

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