Making business school work for MBA partners and families too

By Morgan Bernstein

Students from the three MBA programs at Berkeley Haas often remark on the strong sense of community—not only among students, but also among MBA partners, spouses, and families.  

Many students start—or end—their program with a partner or a family, and that's why Berkeley Haas makes every effort to create a stimulating and inviting environment not only for students, but also for their support systems, offering open panels for partners to ask questions, campus events that welcome family members, and weekend trips that invite spouses and partners to join the fun.  

We sat down with six Berkeley Haas MBA students and their partners discuss what the business school experience has been like for them.  Meet our first three couples:

Couple #1: Evening and Weekend MBA student Matthew Wong and Jaclyn Wong

 Berkeley Evening & Weekend MBA student Matt Wong and family

Matthew and Jaclyn met in the dorms freshman year of college. One golden retriever, one daughter, and some years later, the couple found themselves at Berkeley Haas when Matthew decided to pursue the EWMBA program, while maintaining his position at Cisco. Jaclyn works full-time at a financial planning firm in San Francisco, so their busy schedules keep them going between home, two cities, and school.

What do you enjoy about being a couple at Berkeley Haas?

Matthew: I think the first thing is that everyone in the program understands it’s not just you going through the program. Even those who are single know there’s someone else supporting you and so they engage that spouse or partner as part of the family. Everyone makes an effort to meet and know your significant other.

Jaclyn: I’ve met a lot of other students in the program and they’re all friendly and open. I also enjoy the welcome panels for admitted students that help couples get a glimpse into what it will be like when your significant other is in class or doing homework, and how life changes. The panel sets a realistic expectation, but also shows that this is the kind of program and culture where couples are supported and included.

Why did you decide Berkeley Haas was the right fit—for both of you?

Matthew: A coworker encouraged me to apply and put me in touch with students who were single, just married, and married and about to have kids. Meeting people is what made me apply to Haas—it convinced me that this was the right fit, and I knew it was also going to be the caliber of the program I was looking for.  

Jaclyn: I feel Haas was a good fit not just for Matt, but also for our family. It’s a plus that it’s in the Bay Area, so we did not have to relocate, and Matt’s classmates are great people.  

What's hard about juggling a relationship and an MBA program?  

Matthew: Making the time for your partner. I make time for Jaclyn between my little girls, serving as EWMBA Student Association President, volunteering for a non-profit, and a full-time job. It’s several part-time jobs on top of two full-time jobs, but If I can do it, you can too! The first six months is the hardest because you are adjusting to class, homework, networking events, and social activities, which are an essential part of meeting people and bonding with your classmates. 

Jaclyn: In our situation we had been married a couple years and I gave birth to our daughter a month before he started school. So we had a newborn and he started, and there were a lot of changes all at once. And, you just have less time together. 

What advice would you give to a couple with one partner considering an MBA program?

Matthew: Make time for each other during the days when there is that time. Make the effort for your partner. It’s a two-way street, and it’s not just about the student.

Jaclyn: Communication builds a strong relationship, and using tools like a shared Google calendar makes that much easier. What might have been discussed in person [before business school] is now a chain of emails, but it keeps the two of you on the same page.

Couple #2: Full-time MBA student Kate Cote and David Cote

Recent Ful-time Berkeley MBA grad Kate Cote and husband David

Kate Cote of the Full-time Berkeley MBA program, married her husband David Cote seven years after they met on a blind date. Coming from a career in healthcare consulting, Kate pursued the dual MPH/MBA while David worked full time at a startup called Augmedix. Amid full-time jobs and dual degrees, David and Kate got married between Kate’s first and second year in the program, throwing wedding planning into the mix. 

What do you enjoy about being a couple at Berkeley Haas?

Kate: Everyone genuinely cares about getting to know not only their classmates but also their partners. Partners and families are very much part of the community.

David: It wasn’t just Kate who benefited from the program; the knowledge and network that she built was enjoyable for me, as well. I learned a lot from [her] classmates’ unique experiences.

Why did you decide Berkeley Haas was the right fit for both of you?

Kate: We both came to Days at Haas and participated in activities and panels that gave us a sense of the school. From the beginning, Haas felt like a place where I could be myself. I fell in love with the people and the culture because it was such a collaborative and supportive environment. 

David: There was a common culture in the Haas community that was really inviting and appealing. Haas really tries to include partners, and there was always outreach and invites to join events.

What's hard about juggling a relationship and an MBA program?  

Kate: Doing it all. There’s always something going on.

David: The impact on a couple’s relationship is that you’re sort of living in two different worlds, and it can be hard when your schedules aren’t in sync.

What advice would you give to a couple with one partner considering an MBA program?

Kate: Both of you should attend the new admit welcome events if you can. We made friends that weekend that are still great friends of ours today.

David: We relocated from San Francisco to be closer to Berkeley for Kate’s first year. People told us that not having a commute would make it easier to see each other and go to events together. They were right—being close to campus was definitely helpful that first year, and it was worth it even though we ended up moving back to San Francisco for year two.

Couple #3: MBA for Executives student Kriya Chantalat and Nina Washington

Berkeley MBA for Executives student Kriya Chantalat and wife Nina Washington

Berkeley Haas EMBA student Kriya Chantalat and wife Nina Washington’s story started on the dance floor—and the rest is history. Nina, the director of a preschool, encouraged Kriya, the CFO at a real estate development firm, to pursue her goal of getting an MBA. The two found that Berkeley Haas was the program with right caliber and culture.

What do/did you enjoy about being a couple at Berkeley Haas?

Kriya: In addition to campus events, there are always informal get-togethers to spend time with one another, and also with other students. For example, during Fleet Week, one of the classmates had a party on his rooftop to watch the Blue Angels perform. We also gather for casual brunches, and spouses and partners are always welcome.

Nina: The partner panel was very nice to help new students and spouses understand the program. The Facebook group and the class outings to which partners are invited keep us connected and in the loop. I especially enjoyed the Napa Valley immersion week, because the partners of the students all had dinner, a spa day, and brunch together. I really enjoyed meeting other partners. 

Why did you decide Berkeley Haas was the right fit for both of you?

Kriya: I loved what Berkeley Haas stands for. While evaluating schools, Haas’ four Defining Principles resonated with me. The students that I met during the admissions process also embodied these principles.  Now that I’m in the program, I can attest to these character traits shining through in the class.

Nina: It was Kriya's first choice, and it’s close to home so we were able to stay in the Bay Area.

What's hard about juggling a relationship and an MBA program?  

Kriya: The biggest challenge was at the beginning, just getting into the groove of things and making sure there was work-life balance.

What advice would you give to a couple with one partner considering an MBA program?

Nina: Be very supportive of your partner. Encourage them and be a listening ear.

Kriya: It can get stressful at times, so just being a support system for each other is important because each of you will need it at different times.

You might also enjoy Part II, featuring interviews with three more couples.

Wonder how an MBA program might impact your life (and partner or family)? You can compare things like schedules on our Compare Berkeley MBA programs page.

Compare Berkeley MBA Programs

Posted on February 11, 2016
Themes: MBA Benefits
Morgan Bernstein
Morgan was the Executive Director of Full-time MBA Admissions at Haas from 2016-2019 as well as a graduate of the program. She enjoys making personal connections with prospective students and guiding them through the MBA admission process.