Got an email from someone asking how hard it is to manage a long-distance relationship during grad school, a situation that I think is fairly common. Most of the stuff that I read on the subject before coming to grad school took a gloom and doom perspective and highlighted that a lot of relationships tend to end on the Monday during Thanksgiving break the first year. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but even if it is, there are also plenty of relationships that go strong throughout the whole thing. I’m certainly not qualified to give advice on how to do it (I’m still trying to figure it out and adapting as I go along), but regardless, here is what I sent back. I wouldn’t consider it anything more than a point of reference.
<blockquote>The reader’s digest version is that, yes, it’s hard, but I don’t think it’s impossible to maintain the relationship and enjoy business school. I think there are a lot of factors that go into it (and I consider myself pretty lucky to have some things working in my favor, like not having to recruit the first year), but part of it is about reflecting on what your priorities are during grad school and devoting time appropriately to the things that matter most to you, such as your relationship, going out, being active in clubs, etc.

I’ve found that it’s possible to manage my schedule in order to devote time to my GF on a pretty consistent basis while still squeezing in plenty of grad school stuff.  Early on, the biggest challenge was getting used to being a student again. I had to figure out how to manage classes, assignments, club events, school events, group meetings, and everything else on a daily basis. After a month or so though, I started to find myself with more free time as I settled into the rhythm of grad school life. After that point, the biggest challenge became figuring out how to devote the free time I had. It is really easy to stretch yourself very thin by getting involved in too many things because you are afraid of missing out on some crucial part of the experience (we refer to it as FOMO - Fear of Missing Out).  This is especially hard because you’ll always be exposed to classmates that are really active in some parts of the trifecta (school, extracurriculars, socializing), and it’s easy to convince yourself that you are doing the whole MBA thing “wrong.”  Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to do everything yet, so I’ve had to make tradeoffs, and that’s where having my priorities set has been really helpful.  For example, I’ll either leave early or skip out on a lot of social events at night because that happens to be one of the most convenient times to talk to my GF on the phone or on Skype, since most of the day is generally devoted to classes, meetings, clubs, presentations, exercise, etc.

Once you have your schedule under control, it is also possible to see each other more often.  During the first year, we were generally able to visit each other every 4 weeks by taking advantage of holidays, and anytime we did, I made sure to completely clear my plate of everything else beforehand. Again, this was mainly a process of managing the schedule carefully right before the trip to take care of everything that I needed to get done. We also tried to go on mini-vacations to get the most out of the time that we did have together.  This year, I’m going to try to be more proactive about making time to visit her by avoiding classes that end late on Fridays (part of the reason I switched out of a class this quarter), not getting involved in a lot of additional activities, and avoiding nighttime and weekend group meetings whenever possible.

It also helps to be open and set expectations (like saying that I won’t be able to talk much during midterms or finals).  I try to do the things that I think are important to keep the relationship going strong, but what I think is important isn’t always the same as what my GF thinks is important. So by talking about it and setting expectations, I can at least make sure that I’m putting effort into the things that matter most to her.

In the end, the distance relationship probably does limit the MBA experience some, but I think it’s totally worth it.</blockquote><p>