Having kids and earning an MBA are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Many schools offer resources for partners and kids of MBAs. Harvard Business School, Kellogg School of Management and Columbia Business School are a few top programs that tout their networks and clubs for families.
But women MBAs, who need to juggle classes, networking events, and recruiting while either pregnant or caring for their kids, can have a harder time making it work than men with young kids. Kristina Milyuchikhina, a new mom who will graduate from the Wharton School this spring, says that while several of her married male colleagues had children while at school, none of her female colleagues did. Though parenting is becoming more equal, moms in the U.S. still spend twice as much time caring for children than dads, according to a study by Pew Research. The physical and scheduling demands of pregnancy can also be challenging to manage in a busy program.
Still, having a child while earning an MBA can actually be ideal for women about to launch their careers, argues Milyuchikhina, whose son, Ryan, is four months old. And by starting her family while earning her MBA, she may avoid the “mommy penalty,” which states that female MBAs who take 18 months off from their careers to raise children earn 41 percent less than their male counterparts.
“Business school is a very good time to have a baby,” says Milyuchikhina, who cites the flexibility of studying vs. working full time. Timing your child’s early years with schools lets you adapt to the schedule and demands of a newborn before launching into your post-business-school career, says Milyuchikhina, who blogged about the subject for Wharton. Besides, she says, if you want to have it all—degree, career, and family—you have to start at some point.
The trick to making it work: borderline-obsessive planning. Milyuchikhina found that the best way to balance school and life was to mind every detail of her B-school experience, smoothing out potential inconveniences and making the necessities accessible.
Here are five ways Milyuchikhina adapted her business school degree to the challenges of a newborn:
Pick a school with a great university hospital
While Wharton was Milyuchikhina’s first choice because of its stellar reputation and focus on finance, it didn’t hurt that the University of Pennsylvania has world-class medical facilities on campus, where she gave birth. She was able to squeeze in doctor’s appointments between classes and had the security of knowing her doctors were just a walk across campus, should there be an emergency.
Wait until your second year to give birth
“Your first year is very intense because of all the uncertainty,” says Milyuchikhina. “The second year is a great time to have a baby, because you already know your major and focus of study, you’ve established connections and friendships, and you’ve already tried different clubs and activities. The second year you can prioritize better.”
Map your course load based on your pregnancy
Work with your program office or dean of student affairs to manage your course selection and time off. If you are open to graduating late, depending on your school’s policy, you can take a leave of absence. Or if you’re determined to graduate with your cohort, you can front-load studies early in your pregnancy and take fewer courses when you’ll also be caring for a baby. Milyuchikhina took all her core classes her first year and interviewed for her summer internship at Omnicom while pregnant.
Map your campus, too
Instead of living in Philadelphia’s Center City with all her classmates, Milyuchikhina lived in University City, next to Penn’s campus. She was three blocks from school, the hospital, and university fitness center, which cut her commuting time to five minutes and helped her with another goal: to exercise through her pregnancy.
Participate when you can, don’t stress when you can’t
Networking events, student club happy hours, recruiting dinners—Milyuchikhina did them all while pregnant. But she didn’t travel long distances, and she didn’t go on the international trips with her cohort that are rapidly becoming the hallmark of business school education.
Even the best laid plans, however, would have been ineffective if her husband, who is a partner in a small firm and has a flexible working schedule, wasn’t able to relocate with her to Philadelphia to provide support, says Milyuchikhina. Wharton, she says, was extremely supportive but could make life as an MBA candidate and a parent easier by providing reasonably priced, drop-off child care for students.
“I want accepted women to know about my experience,” says Milyuchikhina. “I want them to know it is possible.”