We were talking about partners applying together recently and figured we’d take the opportunity to issue a reminder:
What the schools say, and what you may be hearing, are often very different things.
Frequently the admissions directors are asked about this topic in info sessions, and what they will usually do is play to their audience. They will tell you, “Yes, we are very partner-friendly! There are all sorts of resources available for partners in our community.”
And then when you clarify that you’re asking about applying together as a couple, they will say, “Yes, we appreciate knowing when partners are applying together, so that we can process the applications together.”
So you’ll note that the first comment is a different situation: One person is applying, his/her partner is not, but the partner plans to relocate to be with the student during the student’s MBA experience.
This is sometimes called the “trailing partner” and the questions that arise are about visas for internationals, and employment possibilities in the town where the school is located. Some schools have extensive support systems built up for trailing partners, especially schools like Tuck that a) have an older student population where more students come with spouses and children, and b) where they’re quite remote, in a small town with not that many career opportunities at all. When the trailing partner can work remotely, then it’s much less of an issue, though you do want to still ask questions about the community support for the partner, so that he/she doesn’t feel isolated while you’re off doing your fun MBA thing with all your new friends. An inclusive community where the partner is just as engaged is important.
But the second situation is at least as critical to understand, because the planning is so difficult when both of you are trying for grad school and you don’t know where each of you might end up.
Applying together does not guarantee you’ll both get in — which should be an obvious statement but which is often misunderstood. Which is exactly what we were focusing on before.
When the admissions director tells you in an info session, “Yes, we process the apps together when couples apply in the same round,” that does not mean that they will look at your partner’s 760 and your 690 and say, “Ooooo goodie, one of them looks strong, let’s admit the both of them!”
Actually, what it means is, if they go through the whole review cycle on both of you who have submitted in the same round, and they determine that they probably do want to admit you, but they’re not sure about their partner…. Then one of these 4 things might happen:
1. They decide not to make a pre-decision-release phone call to you and instead just release the news of your partner’s admit decision in their admissions portal, at the same time they release the news that you were declined
2. They decide to put you both on the waitlist instead of admitting your partner and rejecting you
3. They decide to put your partner on the waitlist and reject you
4. They decide to reject you both, because while they like your partner, there’s plenty of other candidates who are similar enough, and they figure that they don’t want to split up a partnership (this is less likely to occur but it’s possible; more likely would be 2 or #3 above)
We see #3 happening more in a high-volume application situation such as we’ve been experiencing in the past few years. Depending on how the economy fares over the next few months, this year may be another such scene.
Which means you cannot assume anything.
And going back to the title of this post: Everything that the admissions team says must be parsed carefully.
They’re job is to encourage you to apply.
They are not promising anything when they answer your questions in an info session. They are always hedging their bets and being vague on the important points. Most often what they are saying on the couples-applying-together question is that they will release the decision on both of your apps at the same time.
If they’re admitting the two of you, then they may even try to have two admissions people make those calls semi-simultaneously, so that both partners get the news at around the same time. It’s rare that the calls literally are coordinated for the exact moment, so one of you will inevitably find out first and the other will be chewing fingernails raw for awhile. But the schools try to be sensitive to these dynamics.
If they’re only admitting one, then they’ll likely seek to navigate that with compassion. But they won’t change their standards to admit one of you if they are not going to benefit by doing so.
It’s a transaction, folks. Yes it sucks but that’s what it means to be in a competitive environment, where there are always far fewer seats than candidates wanting them.
Again, if one of you is truly a superstar, then sure, it could work differently. The rules also bend when you move lower down the ladder of school rankings. How an admissions team at a less-prestigious and by definition less-competition school will react to the two of you as a package is very different than how it will work at a place like Wharton or Booth. All the schools would be happy to have the two of you enrolled. Provided both of you are showing how you belong there.
Listen carefully to what the admissions team tells you, and always remember to use a grain of salt when you interpret it.
(Shameless self-promotion: This is where our Comprehensive Profile Review can add so much value!! We go into the details of YOUR profile against YOUR target schools and help you understand where the true strengths and weaknesses lie. If you’re one of a partnership, you both need to get your own Profile Review though we can make some generalized comments about the applying-together thing in yours individually.)
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