Debunking B-School Myths at Harvard Business School

Originally published in The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper of 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




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