An MBA, On The Family Plan

How B-schools help families relocateor manage being apart

Addison heard uses an image of his wife and infant son for the background on his laptop. An MBA student at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, Heard thinks about his family constantly. But because he's away at B-school, he has experienced much of his son's first year via phone calls and digital photos. Says Heard: "It has been particularly hard, not being there with them every day."

This was his family's choice. It didn't make financial sense for his wife, Eden, a corporate lawyer in Washington, to quit her job, sell their condo, and move to Charlottesville with her husband. So he went alone. In his first year each spouse made the 200-mile round-trip commute on alternate weekends. Since their son was born last May, Addison has been doing most of the driving.

As complicated as the Heards' situation seems, it isn't all that rare. In any year, hundreds of couples deal with how to handle the family logistics of going to B-school. Some choose a long-distance relationship, commuting back and forth on weekends and breaks. Others see partners and children only on vacations and holidays. Still others pack up the family and bring them along.

Being apart hasn't been easy, but the Heards have made it work. On weekends when the couple is in Virginia, they attend social events, so she can feel a part of the community. Heard also avoids Friday classes to gain more family time. "We've gotten into a routine that works," he says, "but I'm looking forward to being home, so the three of us can be a family."

Any long-distance commute puts pressure on a relationship, causing some couples to drift apart. Throw in a rigorous academic schedule for one spouse and a demanding career for the other, and the stress intensifies, often distracting students from their studies.

Some schools offer students in these situations a good deal of support. For faraway spouses, there are on-campus social events when they visit, online communities, even involvement in alumni networks in their home cities. But mainly B-schools try to make it easier for students to take their partners along for the ride. They help families find housing, preschools, or local employment. "We go out of our way to make sure they have all of the resources they need," says Amy Mitson, senior associate director of the MBA program at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.

The 110-member Partner's Group at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business has been a major benefit for MBA student Cory Hrncirik. He and his wife moved to Chicago last summer from the Czech Republic with their three young children. The Partner's Group introduced them to other new families in the area. "It helped us feel at home," Hrncirik says. He was also assigned a mentor, who went above and beyond the call. "He would look at apartments for us and then send pictures and thoughts," Hrncirik says.

The decision to attend a distant B-school is fraught with financial and logistical problems. Students also must decide if their families should stay or go. Either way, schools try to accommodate them. "We have more than ourselves to think about," Hrncirik says. "It's a family-influenced choice."

By Geoff Gloeckler

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