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Business Schools Welcome Students' Partners, Spouses

Some say they feel as much a part of the M.B.A. program community as the actual students.

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Dargan Rain learned her husband Rob had been accepted to Harvard Business School before he did. Rob, who was serving in Afghanistan at the time, didn't have computer access, so he couldn't check the Harvard admissions site. He had completed his application in record time before deploying and interviewed with Harvard via satellite phone from a military base. 

"Having been separated for 14 out of the last 24 months, the idea of business school was dreamy for me," Dargan says. "My husband would be stateside; he would have a 'normal' schedule; and we would start our first-ever year lease on an apartment. These comforts were something we didn't have before."

While most M.B.A. applicants don't interview remotely from military bases in the Middle East, one aspect of Dargan's experience is the norm at business schools across the country. At Harvard—where Rob is currently finishing his first year—Dargan was pleasantly surprised by the effort the school made to include M.B.A. students' partners and spouses in clubs, off-campus activities, and speaking engagements. "I have felt just as much a part of the HBS community as my husband," she says.

Harvard isn't the only school to have a Partners' Club. At Columbia Business School, the partner group is called Columbia Better Halves, and the website of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management states that nearly 40 percent of its students are accompanied by a spouse or a partner.

[Learn about child-friendly college programs for parents.]

Groups for spouses also exist at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management, Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School, and Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management.

The M.B.A. Spouse Association at Brigham Young University—Provo's Marriott School of Management makes the claim on its website that BYU offers "the 'most family-friendly' M.B.A. program in the nation." Rebecca Walsman, president of the association, defends that claim by saying that the MBASA provides "almost daily opportunities" for M.B.A. students' spouses to make friends and attend free evening classes and activities.

"I believe this program and spouse association is one of a kind in the country at this time," says Walsman, whose husband is an M.B.A. student. "I personally believe there is no better place for a student who has a family to obtain their M.B.A."

[Read about how to manage your family and still study.]

Joseph Ogden, an assistant dean at the Marriott School, says it's important for business schools to recognize that their requirements that students have significant work experience means that many applicants will also be married or have families.

"It's pretty disruptive to uproot your family and move back to a relatively small town and go through an intense schooling program when you're used to a different lifestyle working in the professional field," he says. "[Given] the mechanics of having a large percentage of our students be married, the spouse association really helps to mitigate that impact by creating an environment and a place where spouses can get together and talk about the things they're experiencing."

The association also helps spouses share baby-sitting duties, collaborate on community service, and learn about what their students are going through in their academic programs, Ogden says.

Beth Campbell, a member of the board of the Darden Partners Association at the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business, says her husband's school not only involves partners in social activities and clubs, but also in academic events. And, she says, the presence of the association figured into her husband's admissions decisions. 

"Of course, I only have my own experience to draw from, but I think what a school does for partners during the application process is likely indicative of what's to come," she says. "For my husband and [me], it was reassuring to see that partners had an organization. We found the place we rent through the DPA, and I began my job search using their resources.