Getting Into Top MBA Programs as a Couple (plus $$$$)

After a year of hard work on their candidacy and their applications, Hayley and Harry were faced with a happy dilemma: choosing between Northwestern Kellogg + $80,000, Chicago Booth + $80,000, Berkeley Haas + $80,000, and Duke Fuqua + $280,000. How did they make it happen?

Applicant Stats


  • Undergraduate Institution
    Duke University
  • Pre-MBA Industry: 
    Consulting & Finance 
  • Career Goals: 
    Private Equity & Management Consulting
  • Admitted At:
    Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Fuqua
  • Coach:

Challenge #1: Finding the Right Career Goals

Version 1 of Hayley’s career goal was safe and conventional: move from a consulting role where she’d handled several marketing-related engagements into a product marketing role. However, this didn’t excite Hayley, and the lack of genuine enthusiasm showed in the essay.

Diving deeper into Hayley’s work experience, what really stood out was that she’d handled a much more responsible, high-pressured role than most junior consultants:

And these high-pressure roles were exactly what excited her most. With this in mind, she identified a goal she was truly excited about: working on the operations team of a private equity firm. We introduced Hayley to a few PE professionals in the Menlo Coaching network to validate this goal, and it was a done deal.

With this in mind, Harry chose a goal to become a management consultant, and then exit the industry after a few years, giving him better work-life balance, and some ability to support Hayley’s career in the private equity industry—which was a refreshing subversion of gender norms when it comes to planning careers as a couple.

This was good for Hayley, but what about Harry? To apply as a couple, everything had to make sense as a couple, and if both of them selected ultra-high-pressure jobs with extensive travel, the story just wouldn’t make sense.

Challenge #2: Proving that Harry Wasn’t Just Another Man in Finance

Some men in finance are admitted to top MBA programs because they have a “perfect” background: after graduating from Yale, they work at Goldman Sachs, and then Blackstone. Harry had a dynamic, responsible job, but not at the level where he could just sit back and expect his employer’s reputation and connections to secure his MBA admissions. So we had to think about how to show that he was more than “just another man in finance”.

Mostly, this involved showing Harry’s personal side, recounting experiences such as:

By presenting this side of his profile, Harry allowed the reader to see both sides of him: not just the successful finance professional with strong analytical skills, but also a caring person with high emotional intelligence.

Challenge #3: Stage Managing the Contact With MBA Programs

Like all MBA applicants coached by Menlo Coaching, Harry and Hayley spent time attending info sessions, and talking to alumni from their target MBA programs in other more informal settings. This led to a number of MBA programs taking an intense interest in their candidacy. After all, which MBA program wouldn’t want to enroll two great students at once—and as a couple at that?

This led to a tricky situation, but fortunately one that they were prepared for. One set of alumni Hayley and Harry met were from Northwestern Kellogg, and as the conversations became deeper and deeper, they asked Hayley and Harry the “big question” that Menlo Coaching had prepared them for: is Kellogg your first choice school? Hayley and Harry knew that the only acceptable answer was to show great enthusiasm for Northwestern Kellogg.

However, this led to a scholarship negotiation standoff, in which Kellogg offered a financial aid package that was only half of what peer schools had offered them. Upon hearing this, we diagnosed the cause: Kellogg assumed they would enroll already because of the positive feedback that had been relayed by the alumni.

We also prescribed the solution: politely explaining the reasons why money mattered to Hayley and Harry as a couple, explaining the other offers they had received, and asking whether Kellogg could do something to make the decision easier. After making this case and waiting a few days, the good news came that Northwestern Kellogg would offer an additional $40k scholarship, matching peer schools and making the enrollment decision easy: Haley Harry would be joining the Kellogg family.

Want to hear more admissions case studies from real MBA candidates? Check out our collection of Applicant Stories.

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