(This story has been updated.)
Love conquers all — even the rigors of a MBA program.
Just ask Alex and Gabe Gerson. The couple met as undergrads at Carnegie Mellon University when both were engineering students: Alex in chemical engineering and Gabe in materials science engineering. Both were heavily involved in Greek life on campus, “and that caused our paths to collide!” Alex says. Now they’ve been together eight and a half years, which included a few years of long-distance relationshipping before they moved in together in New Jersey. They were married two and a half years ago.
Initially, graduate school wasn’t part of Gabe’s plan. But after working for years in heavy manufacturing in the steel and aerospace industries, he became more excited about higher-level strategic problems and discovered a desire to pivot into management consulting. Business school suddenly made sense. Alex, who worked more than six years at Johnson & Johnson, was interested in the fundamentals of large corporations and had always wanted to go back to B-school — though she didn’t necessarily want to change careers.
“With both of us becoming more curious about business school, we knew that if we wanted to take a leap of faith on our careers, we would prefer it to be sooner rather than later — once family and kids come into the scene,” Alex tells Poets&Quants. “Having done our tour-of-duty with long distance, we wanted to stay together for business school.” And they needed to look no further than their alma mater.
“Tepper was the perfect fit for us in more ways than one: it offered an incredibly supportive community with a smaller class size but with outsized opportunities,” Gabe says. “The program also provided the powerful combination of leadership development and analytical rigor, two skills that are the backbone of leaders today and into the future.”
COUPLES TAKE ON THE MBA: ‘IT HAPPENS MORE OFTEN THAN YOU MIGHT THINK’
There is no available data on how many couples attend top MBA programs together, but it’s a phenomenon that is both uncommon and not unheard of, says Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, an admissions consulting and test prep tutoring company. A few couples seek Min’s company’s services every admissions season, he says, and while all clients are different, with couples there are some basic realities that must be explored, acknowledged — and possibly used to the clients’ advantage.
“It happens more often than you might think!” Min tells Poets&Quants. “One of the first topics we discuss when we work with couples applying together is selection of target schools, respectively and together. Would the couple consider possibly attending different schools if not both admitted to the same school? If not, perhaps there can be a geographical ‘consideration,’ such as both applying to HBS and MIT Sloan together, or both applying to Stanford GSB and UC Berkeley Haas together, or both applying to Columbia and NYU Stern together. That way, if they each get accepted to one of the schools, but not both to the same school, they can at least be located in the same general area.
“We also have to be upfront when assessing each person’s candidacy. It can be a somewhat challenging and sometimes sensitive conversation when the two are not similar in terms of candidacy and competitiveness — which also ties back to their target schools list.”
What advantages might being a couple offer? “I think first and foremost, no top-tier school’s adcom is going to admit anyone that isn’t qualified, period. However, assuming both are qualified, admitting both can’t help but to increase the probability of both matriculating (increase yield), not to mention the “human interest story” angle it will add to that particular cohort. I think one of the challenges from an adcom’s perspective might be when one is highly qualified and attractive to the school, but the other is less so. We’ve had couples end up East Coast (MIT Sloan)/West Coast (Stanford GSB) for two years; both at the same school — HBS for one couple comes to mind, and Wharton for another also comes to mind) — and everything in between! We’ve had couples work with the same admissions consultant and couples work with two separate consultants. There is no one shoe that fits all sizes! That’s part of the fun and what keeps things interesting. I think what’s important is to listen to both people, help them ascertain what factors are most important to them, and then help them make some decisions that are the most ‘right’ for that particular couple and situation.”
A WAY TO TAKE DOUBLE THE ELECTIVES
The business school experience always has highs and lows. With a partner, there are obvious benefits, Alex says. “A few weeks into business school, we realized we would be recruiting for consulting,” she says. “There were huge benefits to this, including having an in-house email editor and typo-checker, as well as a case interview buddy always nearby. The down-side of us both recruiting for consulting was we were in direct competition for the same jobs — but we were able to lean on each other during interview season and both landed consulting internships and are excited to be entering the industry full-time upon graduation.”
Alex was a summer associate with A.T Kearney, and Gabe interned with PwC. Now the couple is back at school for their second year, and right back in the flow of things. “We initially thought it may be difficult to spend so much time together being in the same small program, and both recruiting for the same career,” Gabe says. “Instead we’ve found that we perfectly understand what the other is going through and we are able to support each other through all of it.”
“Another big benefit of going to school together is that you always have a study buddy!” Alex says. “Now that we are in our 2nd year and taking different electives, we get to learn about additional subjects through our date-night chats. We also have different groups of friends, so we continue to build our own unique experiences.”
The couple, who have no kids, say overall their experience has been made easier by doing it together. “It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience,” Alex says. “We actually believe it is easier for couples to both go through the business school experience at the same time, as you really understand the demands on your partner’s time in terms of academics, clubs, and recruiting. It is also great to share this experience with your partner, and one that we will always look back upon fondly.”