Couples do lots of things together. Road trips. Camping. New hobbies. Cooking lessons. Dance lessons.
How about getting an MBA from an elite business school?
Yep. Though the Graduate Management Admission Council has no statistics on the number of couples who attend B-school together, it’s no new phenomenon. While no school we’re aware of offers any kind of tuition discount for couples, the tandem approach makes sense on a number of levels: If you and your significant other pursue an MBA together, it means you both have a constant study partner, and you never have to explain why you can’t make this or that family function. You’ve always got a shoulder to lean on. It’s built-in support.
In the words of one couple Poets&Quants interviewed recently, a couple can be “bigger than the sum of our respective contributions.” And that’s an advantage other students don’t have. We’ve checked in with two couples–at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. Their stories:
A PAIR OF HIGHLY DESIRABLE CANDIDATES
Katie and Colin Robertson’s individual contributions would be enough to excel in just about any environment. They’ve already excelled in some of the toughest imaginable. Both are 10-year active-duty Army veterans with stellar service records, having both achieved commands — Colin an Opposing Forces Armor company at the Army’s training center in Germany, Katie a supply-and-services support company in Iraq. Both attained high ranks — Katie a major, Colin a captain — and both have the unusual experience of working directly for a commanding general officer. Perhaps most impressively, and unusually, they’ve earned two Bronze Stars apiece for distinguished service.
Now this formidable duo, married 11 years, has embarked on an MBA journey at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. One look at the Robertsons’ resumes and the easy conclusion is that B-school should be a breeze for these two — despite the fact that they have three children under the age of four. A big reason: support for each other throughout the process.
“We started with studying for the GMAT together, using flash cards and doing different things as we were preparing for that,” says Colin, who with his spouse is a second-year student at Carlson this fall. “It’s a great help to have a partner to go through the process with,” agrees Katie, who gave birth to twin sons in January 2016 just six weeks before taking the GMAT. “We’re together — that’s pretty cool. And we can commiserate together, too.”
THE ADVANTAGE VETERANS GIVE B-SCHOOLS & EMPLOYERS
Both Robertsons are humble about their accomplishments. But Chip Altman, director of Carlson’s MBA Military & Veterans Program and himself a retired naval officer, isn’t shy about singing their praises. He notes the couple’s military records and adds that both did well on the GMAT, aced their interviews, and wrote exceptional essays. Even more, he adds — they are exceptional people.
“The Robertsons have 10 years of leadership experience,” Altman says. “When they come out as MBAs they will be bright, shiny objects for employers.”
Veterans like the Robertsons are highly valued at B-schools, Altman says, because they are smart, goal-oriented, driven, and loyal. That’s why Carlson has a $10 million fund for veterans in the full-time MBA program, who comprise about 20% of each year’s class (this year it’s 36 out of 185 total students). The school is always on the lookout, Altman says, for those like the Robertsons who can benefit from the veterans fund and be a credit to the school in the bargain — bright, shiny objects in the business world.
“Veterans are very highly sought after for a lot of things around the nation, but we have discovered at Carlson that they bring a certain thing with them — their knees don’t shake when they stand up in front of CEOs. They volunteer, they sit in front of class, they come well-dressed, they come to class, they honor their commitments,” Altman says, pointing to Carlson’s 100% employment rate for veteran MBAs in the six years of the veterans program. “There’s a sense of loyalty that comes with it that faculty has really learned to appreciate. I wouldn’t tell you that any standards are changed for admission with respect to veterans, but I would say the veteran is at least looked at again, because it’s understood that they have this sense of pride, bearing, leadership.
“In particular, veterans are tailor-made for program management — that’s what we do, we are program managers. And that’s what Katie and Colin did in their various roles. Their military records are stunning and they did very well, and they got attracted to the program because of the gravitas it has.”
‘HERE, IT’S VERY DIFFICULT BUT NO ONE IS SHOOTING AT YOU’
The Robertsons, both 33, learned about the veterans program at Minnesota Carlson as they looked to transition out of the Army and back to civilian life. They were quickly convinced. “We looked at a lot of different options and this was the best way we could find to translate our military experience and knowledge and work our way into the business sector,” Katie says. They liked Carlson’s offerings in their areas of interest: supply chain and operations for Katie, marketing for Colin. And it helped that Colin has family in the Twin Cities area, and that both see the region as a great place to raise a family.
Family concerns, after all, were foremost after the arrival 18 months ago of the couple’s twin boys, making them a family of five (their other son, August, is 3). That complicated the application process — “I would not recommend” studying for the GMAT while pregnant, Katie says — but once they were admitted to Carlson, the Robertsons’ family concert were quickly assuaged.
“Everybody here was great with working with my schedule and our schedule,” Katie says. “It’s a whole family and everyone has been completely supportive.” Adds Colin: “Just about the only challenge we faced was trying to balance both taking the GMAT and travel time and coming up for the in-person interviews, trying to work out the schedule for all that with the kids. Carlson was really supportive.”
The couple agree: All the hurdles and challenges they’ve faced make the prospect of a rigorous MBA program somewhat less daunting.
“We were looking for ways to translate those skills from the Army and apply them to business,” Colin says. “We did a lot of the same things that we’re doing now, we just didn’t know what to call it. At the same time, this gives us an opportunity to explore our options and decompress.” Adds Katie: “(The military experience) gives us a different perspective. We’ve both deployed. Here, it’s very difficult but no one is shooting at you.”