East and West Coast Students Share Thoughts on Balancing School, Work and Parenthood

When Rachel Cervantes was thinking about applying to executive MBA programs, her biggest concern was how she would balance school with her job at Merck outside Philadelphia and two young children.   “I thought about things like if my kids would notice that I was studying all the time and how it would impact our family dynamic.  Life was already pretty hectic and I was thinking about throwing another ball into the mix,” she says.

We asked Rachel Cervantes, who is now director of business development in Merck Vaccines with kids ages 7 and 4, to share some of her experiences as a parent and second-year student in Wharton’s MBA for Executives Program in Philadelphia.  Here’s what she said:

“The first step was talking to other parents who were currently in Wharton’s program to see how they handled everything.  Then it was all about managing expectations starting with my husband since there were some things I might not be able to do around the house that he would either need to take over or we would need to outsource.  And I had to discuss my work schedule with my management because I might have to leave early on a certain day to see my daughter’s recital if I knew I would miss another event on the weekend because of school.

For the kids, I had to make sure there was a core of babysitters and friends in place so that if my husband couldn’t pick up my daughter at cheerleading then someone else would be able to do that.  And of course I had to talk to the kids about how I would try my best to be at their soccer games or help with homework, but that it might not always work out.  They had a lot of questions about why I needed to be in school.  I had a PhD so wasn’t I finished already?  I had to explain that adults are always learning and now I’ll be learning new things that I hadn’t learned before.

That first year was challenging because everyone had to adjust to the new schedule.  But after a while, we got into a rhythm and it’s gotten a lot better.  The girls have been more understanding about it than I expected.  They’ve even come to stay with me on campus a few times, which is nice because for them it’s a vacation in the city.

If you are the parent of young children, this program can be done successfully and happily.  It’s challenging, but definitely not as difficult as I made it out to be and my kids are just fine.  My 7-year-old is actually learning quite a bit about economics since she always wants to know what I’m studying!”

At Wharton | San Francisco, we asked second-year student Maia Hightower, who is a doctor in the Associated Internal Medicine Medical Group in Oakland, CA and whose kids are 2 and 5, to talk about her experiences as a parent in the program as well.  Here’s what she said:

“Before starting the program, I talked to my 5-year-old to tell him I was going back to school.  He was in preschool and thought it was neat that we’d both be in school at the same time.  And the Wharton | San Francisco program makes a great effort to incorporate families so there are a lot of activities for them. Like right after we started the program, we had a family evening with clowns and balloon makers.  Now, my son thinks I get to see clowns at my school all the time and he really wants to go to my school too!

Last year, things didn’t change too much for the kids because I have a rule where if they are awake, there are no books open.  I study after they go to bed so it’s a lot of late nights.  The thing my kids notice the most is when I’m gone every other weekend.  But they came to campus four times last year to spend the night at the hotel with me, which was great.

Other than fitting it all in, the biggest challenge has been supporting my husband on the weekends when I’m not there, especially because our kids are so small.  I’ve tried to get him more support, like asking my mom to help him out for a few hours or hiring a babysitter on some Saturday mornings.

Overall, it’s gone shockingly well.  We’ve formed a network with other parents in the program and in addition to the school events, we frequently attend their kids’ birthday parties, which are a nice informal opportunity to hang out and create a community bond.

I would definitely recommend the program to other parents and wouldn’t see having young kids as a barrier to going to Wharton.  If anything, the program’s residential format being every other weekend is great for parents.  You only meet on class weekends and then you can go through the material at your own pace even if that means studying at alternate hours like when the kids are sleeping.  It’s a lot of hard work, but the flexible schedule gives you options in terms of how you juggle it all.”

Thanks to Rachel and Maia for sharing their experiences!  We look forward to more fun family events this year!


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