Surviving an MBA: Tips from Partners of Recent Wharton EMBA Grads

When students graduate from Wharton’s EMBA program, their partners also receive a degree of sorts. We call it a Master’s of Understanding, and it’s our way of showing partners how much we appreciate their support. Students juggle full-time jobs and school along with all of their other personal responsibilities, and partners are an essential part of their support networks.

We asked two partners to share their experiences and offer a few tips for the partners of prospective students:  Lauren Tanzer, whose husband Matt just graduated in May from the Philadelphia program, and Susan Weems, whose husband Nathan just graduated from the San Francisco program.

Here’s what Lauren had to say:

“When Matt was accepted into Wharton’s executive MBA program, I was already in my first year of a Master’s degree program in the Philadelphia area so I knew we both would have time constraints on our schedules. But I wasn’t expecting Matt to spend 10-20 hours outside of school weekends, including 6-8 hours on off weekends working on stuff for school.

“The first semester was the hardest in terms of getting used to the time constraints. Matt would stay up to do school work each night until after midnight and wake up early so I didn’t see him that much. We figured out early on how important communication and planning were going to be during the program. We started scheduling everything in two-week blocks so we both would know how much studying he needed to do each night and when we might be able to spend more time together. As important as it is for them block out study time, it’s also important to schedule time for each other too.

“I also recommend making an effort to visit campus whenever possible to informally go out with your partner and other students or for a formal school event like a family barbeque. Getting to know his classmates and their partners was really helpful because they are a built-in support network, and the other partners know what you’re going through.

“You also need to recognize that what your partner is doing will be extremely beneficial in the end. They aren’t trying to keep everything status quo, but want to make a difference in their careers, which will benefit your family.

“And finally, it’s helpful to keep yourself busy during those two years. I was in school at the time and was planning a wedding, but plenty of other partners had their own jobs and kids. During the program, many students got engaged, married or had kids. Life clearly goes on, even during this intense program. You can still do all the big things in life, but you do need to make some adjustments and set expectations. I’m actually kind of sad that the program is now over!”

And here are Susan’s thoughts:

“Our daughter was born in December and Nathan started the Wharton program in May. At first, I joked that he was just trying to escape diaper duty, but I soon saw how much a part of the community my daughter and I would be. We came to school almost every weekend and joined Nathan and his friends for dinners and even on their international trips to China and Brazil. My daughter thinks she goes to Wharton and frequently asks about Nathan’s school friends, which is very neat.

“In addition to spending time at school, it’s also helpful to meet other partners, many of whom might become your close friends. Those partners understand what it’s like and there is an immediate bond. We’ve vacationed with other families from the program and are even planning a cruise with some of them next year.

“If you have kids, make sure that your partner carves out some time for them. You will feel like a single parent at times so it’s good to make the time they are able to spend with your family count. For example, my husband would schedule his calls with other students for later at night after our daughter would go to bed so that he didn’t miss seeing her earlier in the evening.

“And remember that the program is only for a finite period of time. There is no magic way to approach it where it won’t be stressful at times, but take advantage of the benefits of your partner being at Wharton. Be open to making new friends and focus on the positives that will come out of the program. In the scheme of things, two years feels like nothing.”

Thanks to Lauren and Susan for their tips! To read more advice from other partners, click here.

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