By Kelsey McKinnon, MBA partner and Fuqua Families Co-President.
The MBA experience is a wild ride. For two short years, students are engulfed in a whirlwind of learning, recruiting, and networking, all in pursuit of their dreams. To ensure success in the end, it is imperative that students begin by choosing the right program for them. This decision would be difficult enough if a student only had him or herself to consider, but add spouses/partners and children to the mix and you’ve got something even more complex. Because the choice of which school to attend impacts the entire family, the prospective student’s partner becomes a large factor in the decision-making process.
I know this from personal experience. I’m the wife of Trevor McKinnon, a first-year MBA student and blogger at Fuqua. We moved to Durham in July from across the country with our (then) 16-month old daughter. We left family and friends behind in pursuit of a stellar education for my husband and endless opportunities for our family. But I can’t say that the decision to attend Duke was simple. My husband was accepted to several MBA programs, and while we were grateful for that, it definitely made things complicated for us. After lots of research, pro/con lists, and deep thinking, we eventually made the decision to attend Fuqua—a decision that I haven’t regretted for even a moment. And now that I’m here, I’d be delighted to break down the main reasons I cast my vote for Duke:
1. There is absolutely no denying that Fuqua is elite. Frankly, I figured that if I was going to make the sacrifices involved with supporting my husband through the rigor of an MBA program, I should be sure we would get as much out of the experience as possible. Fuqua boasts top-rate faculty, connections, and an unparalleled education that prepares students to succeed in the business-world, whatever their goals. It’s wonderful not having to worry if we’ll regret this move 10 years from now. Fuqua is a top-10 program, for goodness sake. And, I mean, it’s Duke. You just can’t go wrong.
2. Fuqua values families. I can’t imagine anything worse than having Trevor attend a program this intense that didn’t take good care of his loved ones. In doing our research, we couldn’t find a school that we felt matched Fuqua in terms of inclusiveness of partners and families. For one thing, Fuqua holds an event each week called “Fuqua Friday.” Basically, every Friday night all students and their families gather together in the Fox Center for a big catered meal. They even have a special room dedicated for the families with small children that includes child-friendly food and fun toys. So even during a particularly busy week, I always know I’ll have a fun Friday night with my husband, daughter, and our friends (and I don’t have to cook! Score!).
3. In addition, Fuqua has two separate groups dedicated to students’ families: The Fuqua Partners Association and Fuqua Families. The Partners do tons of things together including weekly lunches and other activities. They make sure everyone is included with regular emails about upcoming events. And the Fuqua Families host monthly events and semi-annual parties for partners and their children to enjoy. And if that’s not enough, partners are also welcome to participate in many of the student clubs here at Fuqua! Basically I have realized that if I want to be active in this community, there are always things to do.I’ve loved the social aspect of Fuqua so much that I’ve even decided to take on a co-chair position for the Fuqua Families club for 2014. It’s something that was originally way out of my comfort zone, but I have felt so blessed by the Fuqua Partners and Fuqua Families clubs the past few months, as they have offered me the friendship and support that I so needed during this transition. Therefore, it has become so important to me that I “pay it forward” and make sure that the incoming families are equally taken care of so they can enjoy their experience here as much as I have.
4. As much fun as a big city would be, let’s face it, my toddler has a lot of energy, and I have a lot of clothes. I wasn’t anxious to live in a shoebox. That’s why the cost of living in Durham was oh-so appealing to me. Our apartment doesn’t exactly rival Neuschwanstein castle, but we have plenty of space for our family at an affordable price. And when it comes down to it, the lower we can keep those delightful student loans, the better.
5. To continue my ode-to-Durham, let’s chat about all the fun things there are to do here. Since I’m from California, this moving-all-the-way-to-Durham business was quite daunting. But guess what? It’s great. Truly! I’ve been shocked at the long list of fun activities to keep us busy here. As a mother, I appreciate the beautiful (and numerous) parks, the children’s museums, libraries, kids’ classes, etc. My husband and I have also appreciated all the unique and delicious eateries in the area. Don’t feel overwhelmed though, because the Fuqua Partner’s Association will send you a list of suggestions for everything from restaurants to dry cleaners before you arrive. But in the meantime, here’s a wonderful blog with long lists of things to do (bonus—they’re categorized! Double bonus—many of them have reviews!). In fact, some of my friends here have even started creating their own “Durham Bucket Lists,” of things they want to do before their time here is up. Who knew Durham was so cool? You know you want in on the action!
6. There’s a J. Crew Warehouse about 3 hours from Durham. Girls trip, anyone?
7. Team Fuqua. I know I’m not the student, but Team Fuqua became a big selling point for me when choosing a school. I believe there is so much value in this idea. Fuqua doesn’t want their students to be sharks. The environment isn’t meant to be as cut-throat or dog-eat-dog as other programs may be. The students here work hard as a team to succeed together. How refreshing! Call me naïve, but I like to think that Trevor will be able to succeed in the world and still exert kindness and be a team player. I love that he is being prepared to be that kind of a leader—one of consequence and integrity, as opposed to one that only cares about his own success.
8. Fit. I can’t stress this enough. It’s gotta feel right. You can do all your research, make all your lists, and talk it through a million times, but nothing will convince you to come to Fuqua more than the gut feeling that it’s right. That’s why I highly recommend that prospective students (and their partners, if possible) try to visit campus at some point. My husband and I took a trip to Durham while we were in the process of making a decision, and that’s ultimately what decided things for us. From the moment I stepped onto this gorgeous campus I felt like this was our place. Talking with people that day and exploring further only confirmed this feeling, and by the end of our trip we knew where we would be spending the next two years of our lives. We haven’t looked back. If you can’t visit, try chatting with some current students or alumni to get a better feel for the environment here!
Being an MBA partner certainly has its challenges. Aside from all the things going on in our own lives, we’re also supporting our student through an incredibly demanding educational experience. That’s why I believe it is essential to make the right choice about which school to attend. After all our research, Trevor and I found that Fuqua was, without a doubt, the best place for each member of our family to thrive. I have absolutely loved my experience in Durham so far, and I can’t wait to see what doors Fuqua will open for us, and what the future holds. Join me in this crazy adventure!