Getting an MBA is hard, but breaking with your partner for an MBA is harder still. In the world of MBA, where everything is theoretical and practical, sometimes we need a little bit of drama.
Our hosts John, Maria, and Caroline will discuss the infamous MBA “turkey drop” on this episode of Business Casual and provide relationship advice to MBA students who leave their lovers behind.
They will discuss their own personal relationships as well as those of their friends and colleagues who either ended up leaving their partners or, as Caroline put it, “didn’t try very hard at all” yet managed to keep their lovers at home while they were having a “wild time, thank you very much.”
Additionally, Wharton’s incoming class profile was recently released – what does Wharton’s acceptance rate and drop in applications mean for MBA candidates?
[00:00:07.570] – John
Welcome to Business Casual the weekly podcast the Poets and Quants. I’m John Byrne, the editor of PNQ, and I have my co host with me, Maria Wich Vila, the founder of Applicant Lab and Caroline Diarte Edwards, the co founder of Fortuna Admissions and the former director of admissions at INSEAD. Right now, people are packing up their bags, quitting their jobs and getting ready to go off for the MBA Adventure. And one of the big issues that confronts a good number of people is leaving behind a relationship that’s meaningful to you or actually bringing along your partner on your journey for your MBA experience. I came across a really interesting post on the internet this morning and I want to read it to you because it’s basically written by someone who contends he is heartbroken because he is going across country for his MBA program and he decided to break up with his girlfriend this month. Let me read to you what he says. My partner and I decided to go our separate ways before school starts. Even though we love each other, I am struggling with accepting this. The reason we are going our separate ways is I will be focused on school and will be so busy I will not be able to give them the love they deserve.
[00:01:38.070] – John
If it’s meant to be, we will consider getting back together post program. Now he goes on to explain that he has been together with his partner for three years. They’ve lived together for two, but he is attending school across the country, far away, and he says, since I’m the one going to school, I made the decision. But we talked about it in depth together and both decided it was best to go our separate ways. We considered staying together, but I knew that would just hurt us both. It would have probably ended with the famous MBA turkey drop. Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the turkey drop, he’s referring to this phenomena real or invented, which MBA students who leave their partners behind end up breaking up with them by the time Thanksgiving holiday comes along in November. Maria, what do you make of this?
[00:02:33.870] – Maria
Well, first of all, I think going into this discussion, what I had to remind myself as I was thinking about the topic as you sent it out this morning, was these are people who are in their, what, their mid 20s, early 20s for the most part, right? Business school applicants and business school students are still in their twentys. And so the original poster, the Op, did the right thing and breaking up because they’re right. They are not ready for marriage, they are not even close. So the right result happened. In other words, that couple broke up, but not for the right reasons. Because if you say, well, I don’t know, we’re going to be far away from each other and I’m going to be too busy studying. I don’t think the relationship can make it. The relationship is never going to make it, right. Any relationship that is so fragile that it demands like constant face to face attention is not a mature relationship. Again, I’m not trying to offend the Op. The Op is probably 27, 28, 28. So it would be like if I got frustrated with my kid, for my twelve year old for not understanding calculus.
[00:03:39.200] – Maria
It’s not a judgment. It’s just that they’re right. They’re not ready. He’s just not there yet. And he probably will be in a few years. But I think the thing that for me that kills me about something like this is that they didn’t even try. They didn’t say, you know what, let’s try. I might be too busy or I might not be too busy because actually business school isn’t that much work. So the fact that there was not even sort of a seemingly honest attempt to try is very telling for me. I’m going to paraphrase that Henry Ford quote whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right. And so if you go into something like business school saying, well, our relationship is not going to survive this long distance thing, guess what, you’re right. It’s not going to because it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. So I think that the original poster, I think that the girlfriend perhaps dodged a bullet insofar as if she in fact was thinking that this was going to lead to marriage. This better that she found out now because I don’t know, I think it was probably not going to work out.
[00:04:38.730] – Maria
If this is the sort of relatively flimsy excuse that is given for ending the relationship, it probably wasn’t going to work out anyway. And in that case it is for the best that the relationship end instead of stringing someone along for a few years and then deciding that they’re not good enough. But I think if the posters original poster was honest with themselves, it’s not that they’re worried that they’re going to be too busy. It’s that they are looking forward to getting busy with all of their smart, cute female classmates.
[00:05:06.630] – Maria
Because especially now as we reach gender parity in many programs. I mean when I was in business school, it was like a two to one. I was a woman at HBS and I was like, well there’s a two to one male to female ratio here. I like my odds. Not to be a modest, but I blocked the percentage of how they work in my favor. But yeah, I don’t think that this is about like, oh, I can’t give her the love she deserves. Because there are many couples who do survive the long distance thing. In fact, we all talk about our private lives a little bit on this. My husband and I met in business school, but he was a year ahead of me and he moved to L.A while I still had one more year of school left. And so we were long distance for a year. And I know couples, we are friends with a couple. Who the woman? They’re from L.A. The woman went to HBS for two years, came back, they’re married now, have two kids, and they stayed together the whole time. So if you’re with someone, you’re with someone.
[00:06:06.710] – John
The discussion that this post has fueled on Reddit, which is where it originally appeared, one commenter confirmed that he had split up with his girlfriend only a month ago. He says, I miss her like crazy, but realize it’s best for everyone, even though it sucks in the short term. The mindset is short term loss, long term gain. However, we ended amicably and are still in touch here and there. We have even given each other dating tips. I’m a firm believer that exists can still be a part of your life going forward as the relationship changes and warfs into a new chapter. Pretty interesting stuff.
[00:06:50.510] – Maria
They’re so friendly because she’s like, oh, thank God I dodged a bullet. You were never serious about me to begin with. Now I realize how little I mean to you and so sure, go out there, let me give you some dating tips, let’s be friends. But yeah, don’t fool yourself. Sorry, Caroline. Go.
[00:07:08.930] – Caroline
I love the expression turkey drop. I’d never heard that before. Turkey drop, that’s wonderful. Certainly there’s a lot of relationship drama on MBA programs, right? And I certainly saw that whilst I was at it. I think it’s a real test of a relationship if you do enter the program and your partner is elsewhere. So it’s a good stress test, right? If you can survive that experience, then you’re probably right for each other and it’s probably a good long term birth. And if you don’t, then so much better that you found that out, as Maria says, and time to move on. I have a friend who during the program, she pulled up out of her wedding at the last minute, ended up marrying somebody else who she met on the program. So there’s always plenty of romantic drama going on in these schools. But yes, if you go into the program assuming that you’re not going to make it, and it’s probably just as well that both of you move on.
[00:08:16.430] – John
Well, in fact, there was another MBA graduate who has been out of school for a little while who contended that he went through a break up in the middle of his first year studies. And he basically said for the first half of the year his grades slipped dramatically because he was trying to juggle the program and appease his girlfriend’s request for more time together. Alternatively, he says, she ended things as I wasn’t able to give her the time she wanted. It was super difficult, but definitely allowed me to focus on the task at hand of finishing my first year strong. He advises that post or consider yourself lucky. You have the opportunity to focus strictly on yourself from the jump. You’re going to meet a ton of cool and accomplished individuals that will help get your mind off things. Sorry to hear you’re going through this, but focus on what you can control yourself and your actions and maybe look into therapy.
[00:09:15.070] – Maria
The language of I have to appease her with my time. That guy is that person dodged. I have to appease her with her demands of my time like yikes. But I will say in defense of the turkey drop, I do think that in some cases, the detrimental effect that the MBA has on many relationships is in some cases a good thing. So I know a couple of people who went into business school. These were women who were from more traditional countries, and they came to the US. And they were married because in their society, you get married when you’re 20. Like, that’s just how it works. And I think in one case in particular that I’m thinking of, I think coming to the US and seeing not that the US is like the paragon of gender equity, but being in a situation where women were treated with respect, where women were, it was okay for women to be independent, it was okay for women to be very outspoken. I think it made her realize that the marriage that she was in was not the right one. And she ended it and was able to find someone that is a much better fit for her.
[00:10:15.060] – Maria
So in some cases, it can be a good thing if you are from a more traditional background and you sort of realize, especially if you’re a woman, that, hey, I can be valued for my opinions in my brain. So that’s a positive spin on it.
[00:10:30.970] – John
I’m sure both of you, when you went into business school, had friends who were in a similar situation. They were trying to maintain their relationships through, let’s face it, the most demanding part of the MBA program is the core in the beginning, when more work than possibly could be done is thrown at you. The purpose of that is to make you rely on your team and learn how to prioritize your work. But in that process, people are struggling through and it’s pretty hard to maintain the kind of relationship you may have had before you left. And there is some consequence to that. You recall friends that who are in that similar boat.
[00:11:14.530] – Caroline
I’m actually thinking of some people who didn’t try very hard at all, but kept partners, stringing along at home and had a wild time thank you very much. Without letting on what was going on. It was a case of what goes on tour, stays on tour. Some of them got married afterwards and still marrying with kids and poor spouse, has absolutely no idea what happened while they were at business. School. Oh, god.
[00:11:44.940] – John
Well, you know, there is that saying that what MBA stands for is married but available.
[00:11:55.170] – Caroline
There’s a bit of that, that’s for sure. It’s not easy, but I’ve done the long term sorry, the long distance thing. It is not easy, and it takes a certain level of commitment and discipline, that’s for sure. And that’s not for everybody, shall we say.
[00:12:12.570] – John
Okay, but I was involved in a long distance thing, and that woman is now my wife. And I got to tell you, I loved it. She lived in San Francisco, I lived in New York, and we saw each other quite frequently because she had been in the advertising industry. And after all, New York City is the center of gravity for advertising. But nonetheless, when we weren’t together, I could focus entirely on work and nothing else. And then when we were together, I could focus more on her and less on work. And those periods of absence actually, I think were fantastic because of not only the separation and the work and focusing on one or the other more intently, but also absence does make the heart grow fondant. So it works for us.
[00:13:01.470] – Caroline
Now, I think I should try that with my kids. I think I might appreciate them so much more time with them.
[00:13:13.510] – Maria
I will say in defense of the long distance relationship. In case anyone’s thinking about it. The benefit of not seeing each other so often and relying only on phone calls is that it’s like you end up getting to know that person. I think. So much better than you would have if you were still hanging out in person. Because you don’t really have much of an option except to talk. And so you talk and you talk and you talk and you talk, and you get to know this person on a deeper level just because it’s like, well, we can’t go to a restaurant. We can’t go to the movies, so let’s just talk. And so in some cases, I would say, in case anyone is listening to this and they are in a long distance relationship and they’re worried about the impact of going to business school, it might be something that’s actually ultimately beneficial.
[00:13:54.110] – John
Yeah, that’s a good point. And I have to also say that reunions were really fun. Greetings to this whole conversation. I want to throw a little data out there. A few years ago, Wharton MBAs were asked by their student newspaper about this situation, and 59% of the MBA at Wharton admitted that they were in a relationship when they arrived on campus. But roughly one in four of those students when they filled that survey were no longer in the relationship. The largest number of breakups occurred just before or just after Thanksgiving. In fact, 49% of the breakups occurred just before or after the November holiday. And if the relationship lasted the first year, core chances are it would hold only 6% of the responding students said they broke off their premier relationship during the second year of business school. In other words, first year MBA experience claimed some 94% of the relationships went bad, which is pretty dramatic, I have to say, and leads a lot of credence to the whole turkey drop phenomenon. What advice do you have, the two of you, for, let’s say someone who is in a relationship who is saying goodbye to that person who’s trotting off to business school for a two year period and will stay behind.
[00:15:26.510] – John
What’s your advice? Your love advice?
[00:15:28.980] – Maria
Maria I am a love expert, so, yes, you did the right thing coming to me. John no, I think look, not to be flippant, but I think the advice is just relax. If it’s meant to be, it’s going to survive. And if it’s not meant to be, then you are destined for greater and better things. And I know that sounds flippant and I know that when you’re in the moment and you’re the one facing it seems like, oh, no, my life is going to be over if we break up. But I think one of the things that my husband and I decided when he was moving to L.A and I was staying to finish my degree was, okay, let’s just ask ourselves, instead of trying to stress ourselves out, where is this going? Are we going to get married? Is that like, oh, my God, what’s the end game? What’s going to happen a year and a half from now? Are you going to move to L.A? All those big questions, instead of stressing yourself out with hypotheticals that may or may not ever happen, just ask yourself, do I want to talk to this person today?
[00:16:35.560] – Maria
Do I want to talk to them today? Do I want to know how their day went? Do I want to joke with them? Whatever. And then you just do it day by day and then if many, many days go by and you’re like, I don’t really feel like talking to them, then, you know, it’s probably best if you move on. But if day after day after day goes by and you’re still together and you’re still enjoying each other’s company, albeit virtually, then that’s a pretty good way to do it. So I would say just take it day by day and let it unfold and just relax, because if it doesn’t work out, it’s probably again, I know I sound like a mom right now, but it is probably for the best. So just don’t put so much pressure on yourself with things that might not ever happen.
[00:17:19.230] – John
Caroline, your love advice.
[00:17:21.450] – Caroline
Well, I think it’s good to talk before you go your separate ways about how you’re going to communicate and when you’re going to see each other and what the plan. It’s right so that there are some sort of expectations there and it’s manageable for both sides. The partners left at home expecting that you’re going to speak three times a day and the student who’s off a business school who’s only calling every couple of days or something, that would create stress. So I would just have a discussion about how things are going to work and just keep communication open. Right. Just be willing to be flexible and try to see each other as regularly as you can see. You said, John, those reunions can be very special.
[00:18:12.150] – John
Yes, indeed. Well, there you have it, everybody. It is difficult. I think people are in really meaningful relationships and now have to deal with the intensity of one partner. Being an MBA program, we can make light of this here and there, but the truth is it can be hurtful to one or two parties and there is a right way to do this and there is a wrong way to do this. And I totally agree with you, Maria. This guy is looking for an excuse to just go to business school and have a lot of fun because he wasn’t willing to be committed in any meaningful way to his partner. In other news, Wharton came out with its class profile and why this is interesting to me and I think to my colleagues here is it’s the first class profile to be published by a major business school of the new cohort entry this fall. And the stats are kind of interesting because Wharton found that it got 14% fewer applicants for this coming year than it had the year before. That’s a pretty big drop in one year, 14% decline in applications. It amounts to more than 1000 people who did not apply, who applied the previous year.
[00:19:34.960] – John
And yet the school was able to maintain its record GMAT score of 733, and it was still able to meet gender parity. The number of women in the newest incoming class is 50%. The year before it was 52%. And Wharton is at the high end of this number for any major highly ranked business call in the world on that. I’m wondering, how do you maintain a 733 GMAT average for the class when you’ve lost more than 1000 applicants? Now, Caroline, you had to make some of these decisions when you were head of admissions at INSEAD. What’s your take on how work was able to do this?
[00:20:23.730] – Caroline
Well, sometimes when there are variations in application volume and when there’s a drop in application volume, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the average quality in the pool remains the same. So my experience, when there’s a peak in application volume, there’s an increase in applications from people who are very speculative, not necessarily terribly well prepared, and not necessarily the best quality MBA candidates. So schools like Wharton always have an incredibly strong pipeline of well qualified candidates Come hell or high water whether it’s the middle of the pandemic or the job market is strong or wherever we are in the cycle. So whilst it looks like there’s a lot of fluctuation in the applicant pool. There is some fluctuation, but it marks the fact that there is this incredibly steady flow of really strong candidates applying in year out. So they have a lot of flexibility with that to cherry pick who they want. Right. So I think that they had said, we laid a mark in the sand. We’re the first school to get to 50%, and we’ve gone above 50%. We can’t back down from that now. We want to maintain that. And so that’s what they’ve done. And they have the flexibility, because of the quality of the call, to make sure that they manage the class profile in that way. So I expect the offer rate for women went up a bit this year compared to male Atkins, but they have an incredibly well qualified pool. So I don’t think you could say that they’ve let in women who shouldn’t have got in, for example. They have such good candidates coming through, and I’m sure they’ve still got an incredibly strong class.
[00:22:25.330] – John
Yeah, and it’s true, all these great schools. I mean, the applicant pool is deep in quality. Often what changes an outcome is so small and little that it can’t even be described in any real detail because these decisions are made on such narrow basis. And in this case, Wharton had 6319 people apply for the 2024 class. The year before, it was 738. They enrolled 877 students. We don’t know how many they admitted because they don’t release their yield, at least just now. But still, that’s a lot of applicants for 877 positions. Do you have some more sinister reason, Maria, that you might cite for how they’re able to maintain a 733 class average GMAT in the face of a decline of more than 1000 applicants?
[00:23:23.780] – Maria
I don’t know why you think that I would have a sinister insight, of course. No, I’m very cynical, as we all know. Look, I think Caroline hit the nail on the head 100%. The fact is that there are people with 737 40 GMATs. I mean, the Wharton applicant pool is drowning in people with 740 plus GMATs. And so if you want to keep that GMAT average the same, I don’t think it’s all that difficult. And I don’t want the narrative here to be like, well, since Wharton is going for gender parity, if you’re a woman, it’s, quote, unquote, easier to get in. And so the women are, quote, unquote, less qualified. I love the fact that the GMAT score stayed the same, because that is proof that these women who are applying and getting in are, in fact, academically on par with the males from previous years. So I just think it’s such a strong applicant pool that they have their pick of the litter.
[00:24:23.380] – John
That’s really true. Now, the other interesting thing is the application decline. Since this is Wharton, the first school out with the class profile and the data, I think that we can expect, and we’ve been saying this all along, if you’ve been listening to our podcast, that applications are down. I guess it’s surprising that it wouldn’t be down 14%. But again, this is off pandemic highs, when there were record numbers of applicants who were basically applying to business school and applying to other graduate programs, for that matter, to evade what everyone thought would be a longer recession caused by the pandemic. And I think the fact that the decline occurred is a function of young professionals being kept in their jobs and out of graduate school by employers. They’re dangling pay increases and job promotions to them to keep them in their place. We know that even though the economy has been uncertain, the US job market has been very tight, unemployment rates in the United States are at historic lows, in fact. And for young professionals, that is very true. And so a lot of people who may have applied were basically talked out of it by their employers.
[00:25:45.730] – John
The other thing, and that’s really happened for domestic applicants, where we know the steepest declines have occurred, and then the other thing that’s happened, which has been pretty important in higher education in the United States, is the complete lockdown of China, which has turned off that faucet that had a steady flow of students in the United States into higher education and into business schools. That is completely gone and it’s being somewhat made up by increase in folks from India. But again, many schools don’t want to be over reliant on one market and cut down the diversity of crafting class. We think, and we’ve said this before, that Round One, which is right around the corner now, months away, is going to be round for applicants because we anticipate continuing to climb applications. But we’ve also said, with the recession looming, that Round Two could actually see a boom in applicants. And I wonder if, Caroline, you still think that that’s true?
[00:26:54.660] – Caroline
Yes, I do think it’s true, and I think business schools may well use the waitlist quite a bit in the coming season as well, given the uncertainty in the market and the fact that the pipeline could change quite a bit halfway through the season if the economic cycle changes. So, in a context of uncertainty, schools will often look to use the waitlist a bit more so that they are sort of keeping some great candidates in their back pocket and they can wait and see how things pan out in Round Two and Round Three.
[00:27:28.990] – John
The dreaded wait list. Everyone hates it. The idea that more people will be on it kind of sickens me, to be honest.
[00:27:39.410] – Maria
But if you were in the admissions committee’s shoes, John, you do this. I mean, of course I got to do it. Unnecessary evil. It’s unnecessary evil.
[00:27:48.680] – Caroline
It’s great to get on the way. It means the door still open. Come on.
[00:27:52.830] – John
Yeah, but we know how few people.
[00:27:57.050] – Maria
It’s not open particularly. It’s not very open. That’s right.
[00:28:08.290] – John
You’re also holding with your well stated prediction before that now is a good time to apply, but round Two could get tough again.
[00:28:17.430] – Maria
Yeah, I think so. I mean, gosh, this has been a roller coaster of a year, hasn’t it? Remember in 2020 when we were all like, wow, 2020 has been crazy. And now it’s like, oh, my gosh, there’s a war in Ukraine and that’s causing prices to spike around the world. And we went to these highs of the sort of post pandemic optimism and now things are plummeting again. So? I don’t know, man.
[00:28:42.170] – John
Yeah, inflation. We have the war, we basically have, well, big worries about the recession and market collapse. What else? The lingering pandemic that doesn’t want to go away. And if anything, I’m telling you, monkey.
[00:28:58.750] – Maria
[00:29:05.450] – John
In this pandemic. I know so many people there who have cold in, many of whom got it a second time and they’re completely fascinated. It’s crazy. Anyway, Boo is right. And for all of you out there, if you are going to apply this season, we’re going to urge you again, get it together. Spend the next five weeks or so before those round one deadlines kick in to get it over with. I think your result is going to be better if you do it now before the recession hits. And meantime, for those of you who are going off to business school and leaving a relationship behind, if you really love that person, there is a way to keep that relationship alive and well and maybe even build on it through your absence in business school. It takes work and there’s no doubt about it, but it can be be done. We all agree. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants, hallelujah. All right, everybody, this is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. You’ve been listening to Business Casual our weekly podcast.