Debunking B-School Myths at Harvard Business School

As the spouse of a Harvard Business School first-year MBA student, I came across an article the other day about the ten biggest lies of business school. It inspired me to write a debunking of my own business school myths, but from a spouse’s perspective. I asked my HBS partner friends for their opinions, and between us we came up with these five:

1. Business School is One Big Party

Ever read the article “Ain’t No Party Like an HBS Party” in The Harbus? I did and foolishly used that as my guide for what I could expect from business school. It’s hard to believe that HBS is one big party when my husband is spending hours each night on cases and like recently, spending until almost midnight in a Field workshop. Yes, there’s some partying here, but that’s not what the degree is in. If you spend each night getting wasted and show up to a Financial Reporting and Control class without solid opinions and facts to back it up…beware when you get your mid-term feedback.

2. You’ll Never See Your Spouse

This was the big eye opener for me. Every time someone found out my husband, Ryan, had been accepted to Harvard Business School, they’d say “Wow, good luck that first year” or “Ooh, my friend’s sister’s cousin’s husband went to HBS and his wife never saw him at all.” Thanks. That’s really helpful.

It’s true; he’s busy. It’s true that I’m busy. Somehow, though, we make time for each other. It might mean getting up a little early to have coffee together or blocking out one night a week for date night, but I haven’t forgotten what Ryan looks like. We’ll all be fine.

3. The Other Partners will be Hard to Get Along With

I don’t know who planted the seed – maybe I planted it in myself? Either way, I was way nervous about meeting other spouses/significant others. I figured they might be snobby, or have a career way more impressive than mine, or be too wrapped up in their Ivy League track toddlers to relate to me. I was 100% wrong. The ladies (and gents) here are wonderful. If I were to write a guide on surviving the MBA experience, my first chapter would be on how important it is to get to know other partners. They are my best resource – for articles, sure, but also for just getting by here (thanks Jenny, Ashley, Jessie, Holly, and Stephanie!).

4. All Social Events are First Class

It’s kind of a set up. That first weekend, the fancy gala, etc. You think HBS parties are pretty top notch. It’s mostly true – there are a lot of pretty fancy pants happenings here. However, there are a lot of dorm room parties, nights at Estate, and beer pong games as well. Don’t think you’ve got to show up to every get-together all decked out because it’s HBS – it’s just like undergrad in a lot of ways.

5. Harvard’s Just for the Student

Ryan always started sentences with “when we’re at HBS.” I’d stop him and say “no, when you’re at HBS.” Subtle difference, but loaded at the same time. I really thought he’d go, put his two years in, and I’d be relieved when it was all over (I was totally prepared to be a martyr and accept other people’s pity for my suffering). Instead, I found myself wanting to get more involved than him! I think it threw him for a loop when people would approach him and ask how I was doing. Thankfully, HBS includes partners so well, that it’s hard not to get involved here and make it your own experience.

I can’t say for sure that everyone’s found these to be true, but it’s been my experience so far. I really hope that everyone’s had a couple misconceptions turn out well…until next time!

Megan Birkel is the wife of HBS MBA student Ryan Birkel and a member of the school’s Partners Club. When she’s not working as a nutritionist, she enjoys making a mess in the kitchen, trying to convince her husband to get a dog, hanging out with Section D mates, and making road trips to Maine to spend time with family.

This story is reprinted with permission from The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper of the Harvard Business School. Also from The Harbus:

An HBS Startup Hits it Big: CloudFlare — 350 Million Monthly Visitors

Tata Hall — Seeds of An Evolving Campus


  • jay

    Yes, obviously….

  • Matt

    @jay Obviously the author and some of the other spouses did, otherwise she wouldn’t have written such an article. I thought this was good information, albeit somewhat self-evident.

  • jay

    Aside from the whole spouse debate, i didn’t find this article terribly insightful. I could see how perhaps #5 and to a lesser extent #3 would help concerned partners, but the rest seem fairly obvious. Did anyone honestly believe that HBS is a constant stream of black tie parties? Or that students don’t have enough time to have coffee with their partners?

  • saul

    Alright I concede I may have been overly harsh. MBA Asp. points out an interesting statistic concerning the number of couples who attend bschool. Still, the article is a little cliche by my standards, but who am I to judge?

    Toby G, I’m not going to validate what I’ve done with my life, but its more than impressive to warrant an acceptance into Bschool. First, work experience does not equal life experience. Such a complex equation I know. I bet you’re one of those liberal arts majors who never had to take a math class beyond algebra. How tragic. I can think of few magnus opus that were published by people who would be considered “mature” by your standards. God have mercy on your pathetic concept of learning & innovation.

  • MBA Aspirant 2012

    @ saul, around 30-40% of MBA students are couples, and this post maybe helpful to them or those with partners applying. Though i am a bachelor and applying to B schools, i still found this article an interesting read.

    and further, this was the first lesson I learned at workplace. I work in a manufacturing firm, and the first thing my boss told me on the first day of my job was that most of the workers I will be working with or those under me will be married or elders, but it should not matter as long as we all are friends. this truly goes a long way at workplace and beyond….

  • Toby G.

    Saul, your immaturity clearly shows. I think we can safely assume you’re not married. It’s also a reason why Bschool lose credibility by allowing juveniles, like yourself, attend school with zero work experience (aka life experience). Please re-read bullet point #1 again and God have mercy on the learning team that has you in their group.

  • Matt


    This article is intelligently written, and the author is not even a housewife; she has a career as a nutritionist. Furthermore, why demean the importance of spouses or significant others, whether they choose to work or to devote their time to their children?

    For those of us who have spouses or significant others, their experiences as we go through business school are anything but “dumb” or unimportant. You may need to spend some time think about how you will relate to us, since we will be some of your classmates.

    – Husband and Father

  • what’s the article she’s referring to (10 biggest lies of bschool)? would be nice to have a link to that.

  • saul

    This is the dumbest article to date posted on P&Q. Whats next, a Real Housewives of HBS article?