Erin Kaivan is a member of the Class of 2020. Prior to starting at Harvard Business School, she served for seven years as a Military Intelligence Officer in the United States Army. Since graduating from HBS, she is working as a consultant with Boston Consulting Group in the Washington D.C. office. Erin wanted to write this article because before starting school she would furiously google key terms like “pregnant and in business school” and “moms and business school” and every other variation of the same. However, for her, these searches came up with maybe one or two articles on the subject. She hopes this blog post will represent for woman considering business school and motherhood that the two are not mutually exclusive.

Decision Time

After serving for seven years in the United States Army, the decision to transition my career to the “civilian world” was daunting. The Army is where I grew into myself – I found my strength, my confidence, and who I wanted to be in this world. Only two years ago, the Army was one of the main parts of my identity. But in December of 2017, with tightness in my chest and an inability to breathe, I read the words “Yes! You’re accepted.” And so I had to choose between staying in the military and accepting my spot at Harvard Business School.

To provide some context, I had wanted to “go to Harvard” ever since I was 5 or 6 years old. I didn’t have the means or support system to even consider applying for my undergraduate degree, and this was my chance to fulfill a lifelong dream. I had to take it. With the support of my chain of command, I decided to pursue my MBA, and I separated from the military in April of 2018. It was scary at the time to leave a job I was good at and felt a connection to in order to pursue a field where I had no experience. To add even more complications to my decision, my husband Alex is still an active duty infantry officer stationed in North Carolina, so we knew we would be spending the next two years apart - of which 9 months would be a deployment to Iraq.

As an MBA candidate, I was already a non-traditional student as a military veteran, and I was about to become even more so. In the same month as my separation, my husband and I were thrilled to discover that we were about to become first time parents! As I’m sure you know from your own research of business school, MBA programs are supposed to be a time of networking and trip taking and meeting friends. While I knew this was the best time to start our family because I would never have as much free time and flexibility again once I started working, I was really nervous of how my classmates would react.

After doing the calculation, I knew I would be starting school with a giant five and a half month pregnant belly. As a result, I had so much anxiety surrounding the judgement of others. I wasn’t even sure if I’d make any new friends. But my mind was made up, I was going to school to transition my career and to learn business fundamentals from the best institution I knew of, and if I didn’t make friends then so be it.

I have never been so happy to be wrong.

Making Memories

Throughout my two years here, I’ve been blown away by the generosity, warmth and connection I genuinely feel to each one of my 93 section mates, and many other incredible students and professors I’ve met.

In my first semester alone, there were so many activities and memories I’ll cherish forever. In September, my section’s social chairs organized an apple-picking outing. I loved every part of our section retreat in October from admiring the leaves changing colors in Vermont to social gatherings at night. I had a memorable and delicious Friendsgiving in November that the entire section attended. And the most special event my section organized truly made me feel seen and appreciated. They threw me a beautiful baby shower where everyone pitched in to arrange decorations, food, an incredible cake, and really fun games. I am so grateful to these amazing people who quickly became my friends and support system in just a few short months. Additionally, and somewhat hilariously, we had excellent timing with our daughter Odette’s due date – she was born just 6 days after our last exam. After her birth, my section mates visited, brought us food, and overall helped celebrate a new member of our famil-eee (for section E of course!).  

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Apple picking with my section mates

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At the baby shower my section threw me

As wonderful as my classmates were, the school was just as great. The administration ensured I had a seat in the back of the classroom so that when I inevitably had to take a break it was easy and non-disturbing to the class. When it came time to take exams, I was able to request a room by myself so that I was able to spread out and make room for my giant belly as well as being MUCH closer to the bathroom – a must have at 9 months pregnant. Additionally, there are great lactation rooms with refrigerators and breast pumps in the same building as our classes. And most reassuringly, every single one of my professors was excited for me. Furthermore, while I did not need any special accommodations, they would have absolutely been willing to work with me if I did. In fact, HBS just formalized their maternity policy so that expecting students don’t have to make requests to the institution if they give birth during the academic year. The policy is already in place to accommodate them.

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Recruiting Season

You might be thinking, all of this is fine, but I’m interested in getting a job out of business school too, not just having a great social life… I will share that experience too! At HBS, formal recruiting isn’t allowed to begin prior to October of your first year so that you have time to acclimate to academic requirements as well as to just settle in and to establish a community. When I analyzed various industries, my top priorities were: a company that provided the framework for work-life balance, a respect for individuals outside of their position in the firm, and a location near my husband’s next duty station. For me, the industry that met all of those criteria was consulting.

As recruiting began, I went to every coffee chat, lunch, dinner, and event that I was invited to in order to experience each company and find the one whose culture fit me best. That firm turned out to be Boston Consulting Group. BCG recruiters went out of their way to make my interview period one that worked best for me. They asked me if I wanted to interview in mid-December, about a month before the school’s dedicated interview period, so that I didn’t have to travel and prepare just after giving birth. When I said yes, they requested special permission from the school to interview me early, and HBS allowed it.  To help ensure I was ready a month early, all of the recruiters as well as my section mates went out of their way to make sure that I could practice the case interview with experienced consultants, and they spent a great deal of their own time helping me practice as well.

Reflection on Harvard Business School

I am so grateful for all of the support I had during my two years at HBS, from my classmates, the administration, and from my professors. I started business school at 29 years old, and I knew from the intense training schedule in the Army that flexible hours at school would work best for me to start our family.  With hindsight being 20/20, I wish I’d known just how fantastic and transformative my experience would be before I started school.

Good luck as you craft your own journey!