How to care for and feed your MBA student

March 17, 2011: 12:17 PM ET

Relationships do survive business school, but it's important that you know what you and your partner are signing up for if you want to be one of the triumphant ones.

By Carrie Shuchart and Chris Ryan, contributors

Dear S.O.,

Congratulations!

After what has probably been an agonizing period of watching your loved one study for the GMAT or GRE (or maybe even both), scour the Internet for information on schools, write draft after draft after draft of silly essay after silly essay, and then wait for a decision, your loved one has finally been admitted to business school!

No doubt, you have played a part in his or her success. You both deserve kudos. Whether you are married or not, you are involved. It's important that you know what you and your partner are signing up for if you want your relationship to survive business school.

We are here to tell you all the stuff that your beloved B-school admit needs to know but a) either doesn't know yet or b) doesn't know how to tell you. Please recognize that everything here is said with the best of intentions. Relationships do survive B-school, and we want yours to be one of the triumphant ones.

1. The next two years are not about you.

One key lesson that your partner will (hopefully) be learning in business school is that all partnerships are about compromise. Sadly, you will probably have to learn this first.

Your partner's focus is going to be all over the map for the next long while -- classes, activities, recruiting, travel, etc. He or she will have a very erratic schedule. Projects will take longer than expected and involve other people whom you will hear about constantly and sometimes see at your home. Abilities will be doubted, career plans will change. In all likelihood, you will have to bear the brunt of the frustration and anxiety that your partner experiences.

Thanks for having your partner's back through this time. You will be asked to provide any or all of the following: financial support, emotional support, life-management support, and even bodily support (after a night out). It will be an unbalanced relationship during this time, and the best you can do is accept it as such, trusting that in times to come, your partner will be there for you. If it helps, have a discussion with your B-schooler about how you will balance things over the long haul. And, ideally, the haul will be a long one.

2. Your partner is not picking other things over you.

Business school, done right, is all-consuming. You may be thinking back to your own college or graduate school days, when you had a few hours of class, a few hours of work, and plenty of time to participate in whatever activities you wanted.

MBA programs, while seemingly similar, are actually very different. While classroom hours are limited, class projects can extend far beyond normal working hours. Having to work around the schedules of five other people often means that a business school student has to make sacrifices within his or her personal schedule. Moreover, things that feel like recreational activities, from clubs and company presentations to social events, are integral parts of the MBA experience, and attendance should be considered mandatory.

The last thing you want to do is make your partner (already super-worried about debt burdens and job prospects) feel guilty for having to choose between you and school priorities. He or she may not realize all that you are giving up now but you will be thanked aplenty later. (We're insisting on it.) On a related note, prepare yourself to hear a lot about various classmates and learning team members. Don't assume that any of them are a threat to your relationship.

3. Happy Hour is a class.

It's Thursday night at 10 p.m. Do you know where your B-schooler is?

Chances are, he or she is at Happy Hour, drinking a couple of cold ones. Meanwhile, you're at home, taking care of the bills, the laundry, the kids, work, TiVo, and holding the short end of the stick. The truly tough pill to swallow is that he or she actually needs to be at Happy Hour. Socializing is a non-negotiable part of the MBA curriculum. Your partner can skip events here and there, but he or she needs to be part of the social scene.

Recruiting-related events are mandatory, whether it's a Sunday on the golf course or a six-course meal on a Tuesday night. And if you do get to join, your job is to make your partner look like partner material. Be an asset, not a liability. Get a little dressed up and play by the rules for the night.

4. Feel free to join in.

Most schools have significant others' clubs or allow you to join student clubs. Give them a try, particularly if you are accompanying your partner to a new location. You can meet others in your position and become a real part of the business school community.

Talk to your partner about what events you should attend. Want to come to Happy Hour? How about organizing a dinner for the study group and their respective significant others? Participating in school life is another way to show your support -- and for you to sneak in some time with your partner, too.

5. Don't be afraid of being the CEO.

Just because so much of this time is focused on your partner, you still get to call the shots half the time. Don't be afraid of asking for particular time to be set aside or for help in various activities. Make demands, but be reasonable. You and your happiness are every bit as important as your partner and his or her happiness.

We recognize what a huge role you play in the life of your B-schoolers and we think that he or she is incredibly lucky to have you. And you're lucky, too....at least, most of the time. Take a deep breath and know that this is a very unique time for both of you. Good or bad, it'll be over before you know it.

Sincerely,

Carrie and Chris

Carrie Shuchart and Chris Ryan are the authors of "Case Studies & Cocktails: The 'Now What?' Guide to Surviving Business School." This article is an adaptation from the book. Shuchart, who has an MBA from Columbia Business School, is a consultant with McKinsey & Co. in Los Angeles. Ryan, who has an MBA from Duke's Fuqua School of Business, is director of product and instructor development for ManhattanGMAT in New York.

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