Sarah Costa (MBA ’21), Kat Jorgensen (MBA ’21) and Jungae “Jess” Kim-Schmid (Class of 2022) have had remarkable Darden experiences — being a mom while also pursuing Darden’s Full-Time MBA. Each took time out of busy work, internship and family schedules to share personal insights on what it’s really like to be a mom and an MBA student. A MomBA, if you will. Their responses are thoughtful and thought-provoking — and take it from us, it’s worth reading the whole post. Settle in and check it out.
Now with degree and family in hand, Costa is heading to Vanguard for their Leadership Development Program, where she’ll spend 15 months rotating through the various areas and functional roles of one of the world’s largest investment companies. Jorgensen welcomed her second son in June, and will be headed to Draper & Kramer Chicago this fall as a real estate asset manager. After an already uncommon First Year pandemic experience, Kim-Schmid will kick off her Second Year at Darden in August. She also serves as the president of the Business Ethics Club, a student-run organization now in its second year.
Q: What led you to pursue an MBA?
Sarah: In part, it was being a mother that made me think an MBA might be right for me. I’d always been very impact-focused, which led me to my first career in non-profit leadership. Having children widened my lens beyond my immediate community and made me think more about the world my generation would be leaving for the next. I realized that my scope for impact would be far greater if I honed my leadership skills more intentionally and pivoted to the private sector, and an MBA was a natural fit to accomplish that.
Kat: I never thought I would go back to school, but I ended up growing my career at several real estate firms, and realize my undergraduate liberal arts degree prepared me for many things, but not for crunching numbers and building spreadsheets, nor for understanding the finance world. I also realized I would often be the only woman in the room so I needed the right credentials to become a decisionmaker, and an MBA would give me the leg up I needed to get there.
Jess: When I was in consulting, it seemed to be the norm for everyone to at least consider an MBA. After looking into it, I found that the MBA curriculum and experience really appealed to me. Demonstrating effective and ethical leadership, navigating difficult problems, and orchestrating strategic change across global organizations are all skillsets I want to develop in my career, and there are few better ways to jumpstart those abilities than an MBA!
Q: What was it about Darden that made you realize it would be a good fit for your academic experience and career goals, as well as a good fit for your family?
Sarah: I chose Darden based on three criteria:
1) ROI: this wasn’t just two years of my life I’d be spending back at school, but it was uprooting a family of four and putting us in a totally new part of the country far away from existing support networks. I needed to know the investment – both in time and in money – would pay off. Darden’s employment outcomes made me confident that this wouldn’t be a problem.
2) Academics: I’m a lifelong nerd, and wanted an academically rigorous program where I would really learn and internalize the material. Again, Darden was the clear choice on this front, and the classroom experience and faculty proved even better than I’d hoped.
3) Community: As both a mom and someone coming from the social sector, I felt a bit like an outsider when I was applying for my MBA. I knew I needed to find a community I felt I could be a part of, one with smart, humble, engaged, inquisitive, diverse, and generous people. Every one of my many engagements with students confirmed that Darden had the community I was looking for. And because this is for a MomBA post, I’ll also mention that when I came for my interview day, my baby daughter came to Charlottesville too. The admissions folk at the desk were so kind about finding me a space to nurse her, which was clearly not the usual applicant question they were used to answering!
Kat: We looked at a lot of programs, but my interview at Darden stood out because of how genuine the people were and how rigorous the academics are. I was very worried in the application process about disclosing that I was a mom, as I didn’t see anyone like me on any of the websites for the MBA programs I was looking at. Dads, sure, but no mothers. I was afraid to bring that part of me into the conversation in case it reflected negatively. It sounds silly now, having experienced such a fantastic, inclusive two years at Darden. During my interview day, I was too nervous to talk to admissions about being a parent, but the students I met were so willing to connect me to the current parents in the program, and I was able to talk to them and their partners about Darden and Charlottesville, which certainly set my mind at ease.
I think the community feel of the Darden student body is what ultimately drew us in. I knew as a parent, my feet were already planted in two worlds, firmly at home with my family and firmly at school. The fact that the majority of Darden students choose to live in close proximity to one another and to campus seemed like a great thing for me. Not only would we go to school together, but we would be neighbors. That additional interaction gave me the space to do bedtime with my son, and then invite friends to our yard for a bonfire once he was sleeping. Or to watch him ride his bike while chatting with our friends out for a walk. The village feel of Darden is truly special, and I can’t imagine many other schools match the living and learning environment that Darden provides.
Jess: As a former teacher, I am very cognizant of how teaching quality can impact students’ ability to learn and be inspired, regardless of content. Darden is renowned for having the best teaching faculty and an academically rigorous program while also providing great career exploration opportunities – it fit everything I was looking for in an MBA program! And from the family perspective, Darden’s location couldn’t be beat. We wanted to be close to my parents, who live in Northern Virginia, without having to live in a big city like DC. Charlottesville fit the bill perfectly. Because of how well Darden fit both my personal and professional criteria, I decided not to apply to any other MBA programs. Definitely risky, but for me it was Darden or bust!
Q: What were you most worried about when it came to being a parent and getting your MBA?
Sarah: I was worried about time management, and whether I would be able to “do it all”. I knew the first few months during recruiting would be the most challenging, and I tried to prepare my kids and partner for that. This would not be a year for elaborate homemade Halloween costumes or lots of homecooked meals, but I also knew those weren’t the things that would make me a good mom. I strived to just be fully present and focused in each moment, so that the time I spent with my kids I was fully there for them and not trying to answer emails or do anything else, while the time I spent in class or networking I was fully focused on that. It was still seriously challenging, yet we all rose to the challenge. It did teach me a lot about the raw algebra of how many hours you have in a day or a week, and that in turn helped me make the right choices for me and my family on what sort of balance I wanted to strike with those hours in my post-MBA work.
Kat: I was most worried about failing at both things, not being enough of a student and not being enough of a parent. I was also worried about being the only one. I won’t lie and say it was easy or that there weren’t tears shed at the beginning. But I think one thing I learned is that everyone has something going on behind the scenes. Sure, mine happens to call me mom, and is very physically present, but everyone is struggling with that same imposter syndrome their first year. Some people are in long distance relationships, some have sick parents, some are very far from home for the first time. But you are never truly alone, and there are some really incredible people here that will help you through the hard days.
My peers at Darden were always happy to see Ivan, and incredibly considerate when my family needed me. My son and husband were honorary members of my learning team from day one. We brought Ivan to picnics and happy hours, and Darden Cup events. He became a mascot for my section. My peers accepted and appreciated my experience as a working mom. I think I also learned that if you can survive your First Year at Darden, you can survive anything else your career throws at you. Being given more than you think you can bear is part of the growth of the program, and once you make it to the other side and realize how much learned in such a short time, on such little sleep, while still being there for your kids and your partner, you have learned your limits, but also seen how strong you are.
Jess: I was worried that I would be stretched too thin and that I would fail at everything: academics, recruiting, and parenting, as a result. The year was definitely busy, but I received some great advice to be really strict with my priorities and try to get my summer internship offer as early as possible. I was fortunate to get an internship offer from Danaher during the Consortium’s pre-matriculation recruiting conference, and this really enabled me to dedicate a lot of time to my son (Teddy) and my classes during the school year. Not everyone comes in to Darden with the same priorities, but being clear on what they are before you show up in August is critical for everyone, but especially parents!
Q: What are you most proud of accomplishing during your MBA journey?
Sarah: There are certainly specific accomplishments I’m proud of – writing a case for publication, my membership in the Raven Society, and organizing programs with business leaders I deeply admire. Yet what I’m most proud of is not so tangible or easily named. It’s the ways I’ve grown and the “soft skills” gained at Darden. Two years here made me infinitely more confident speaking my truth, advocating action, asking hard questions, and even being willing to analyze incomplete information, take a chance, be wrong publicly, and pivot when needed. I am leaving Darden a more capable leader, and I’m proud of that growth over these two years.
Kat: I found out I was pregnant with my son two weeks before my scheduled GMAT. I did all my applications while I was on maternity leave, just after my son was born. My first trip away from him was for MBA interviews. My second son was born three weeks after I walked the lawn for Darden graduation. My MBA journey and my parenthood journey have been closely tied to one another, there have been beautiful times as well as hard ones, and there were several moments I sat down early on and thought about putting school on hold, waiting a year, waiting for life to slow down before making such a big change. But I am so glad I didn’t wait, I am so grateful to have a partner who has been entirely supportive of my dream, and so thankful to have the experience I did. I am proud that all of these accomplishments were able to overlap and coexist with one another.
Jess: I was able to get involved with the new Business Ethics at Darden club as a First Year Liaison and was recently elected President of the club for next year. When I came to Darden, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to fit in involvement with clubs at all, so I’m thrilled and fortunate that I was able to earn a leadership spot in a club that I’m passionate about while also meeting my academic goals.
Q: Do you have a favorite class/moment/memory that you’d like to share?
Sarah: I was “voluntold” to do my personal networking pitch during Marketing class, and my 64 section-mates spent the next hour dissecting and improving it. They were so kind, insightful, and helpfully challenging throughout what could have been a mortifying experience but was instead deeply valuable. Beyond that one memorable experience, I have too many favorite classes to list! Two standout courses for me were Project Management with Yael Grushka-Cockayne and Financial Crises and Civic Reactions with Scott Miller. For the latter, Timothy Geithner visited our class at the end, and I got to introduce him and hear firsthand about how the response to the 2008 financial crisis unfolded.
Kat: We take this class in First Year called “Leadership and Organizations”. The cases are all focused on human centric issues, often HR related. There is this one case about a working mom who has had a really rough day and has taken it out on her direct reports, her husband, and her kid’s doctor’s office receptionist. I wept when I read this case. When we came to class to have our conversation, I raised my hand and explained how much this case sounded like me on a bad day. How hard it is to keep little humans alive, and how tough it is when of course your big meeting is the day your kid spikes a fever. And my classmates listened, waited after class to thank me for sharing, and heard me. I like to think that someday, when the individuals in my class are managing a team, and they see a parent struggling, burning it at both ends, they will think of me, and realize a little more humanly what it is they are dealing with.
I think bringing my son to the first meeting of the private equity club was one of the funniest experiences I had. He was napping in the stroller, but of course woke up immediately when the presentation started, and spent an hour climbing up and down the classroom steps. But I think an infant was the last thing this room full of private equity bros expected to see in this meeting. But several classmates played with him while I asked my questions, and walked home together afterwards. It felt like a very girl power moment.
Jess: Q3 Ethics with Bobby Parmar was amazing and Peter Belmi’s Paths to Power class in Q4 was life-changing! I also loved Elean Loutskina’s Finance core class – she is the only reason I’m taking finance electives next year. I could go on and on about all the amazing faculty here. If you are passionate about learning and want the best class experience, Darden is definitely the place for you.
Q: When a situation came up where you needed to be fully present for your family (sick little one, etc), did you feel that you were able to voice that need to your classmates and/or professor? And if so, what was the response/support/accommodation like?
Sarah: My professors were always very understanding on the rare occasions when something unavoidable came up. I remember being worried early on about even revealing that I had kids, but no one ever made me feel like I was disadvantaged or faced different expectations because I was a mother. Professors were supportive while still challenging me to continue pushing myself and growing. My classmates were unbelievably supportive. When we moved to virtual classes in Spring of 2020, it was our first quarter of electives, which meant it was our first quarter of classes with people other than our 65 section-mates we’d gone through all of core with. Those months were disorienting and challenging for absolutely everyone in the midst of figuring out what virtual learning looked like, wondering how our internships would work, adapting to less than ideal work-from-home situations, and worrying about a global pandemic. My section-mates secretly raised funds from each other and our section faculty to send generous gift cards for kids’ activity subscription boxes to all of the parents in our section. My kids loved getting those boxes throughout lockdown, and I felt so supported and seen by my incredible classmates and professors
Kat: If you have a sick little one, Sarah in the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) will contact your professors and help you get access to classes if you need. There is also a room at Darden with privacy booths to pump if needed, as well as a mini-fridge and changing table. It was a lifesaver. I had a key for all of the first semester to use it whenever I needed to pump between classes. The OSA is incredibly helpful if you bring your concerns to them.
Jess: We spent Q3 and Q4 of my first year in Germany with my in-laws. (Not intentionally – we actually went for the holidays and ended up staying because most of our classes were virtual due to COVID.) The six-hour time difference meant that one of my classes was at the same time as Teddy’s bedtime routine, which was really important for me to be a part of as much as I could. I contacted my professor about having to step away or at least be off-camera for certain parts of class, and he was very understanding, especially since he has an infant himself! Accommodations would definitely have needed to look different had we been in-person (and I’m sure I’ll run into those situations when we are in person next school year!), but I have felt completely comfortable initiating those dialogues when needed.
Q: How were you able to create a ‘mom’ community for yourself as a parent at Darden? How have your partners/children (if applicable) found community?
Sarah: The other mom in my class, Kat, and I started the Parents of Darden club (PoD). We knew parents in general and moms in particular would always be less represented at Darden, but we wanted to be sure that they were a visible part of the student population and that whatever recognition and resources each class of student parents gathered could be passed on to the next year’s group. We’re proud to have used some of our COVID downtime to get that organization established! It was more challenging for my partner to find community as a working dad, but living close to Darden in a housing complex (Huntington Village) where a lot of other Darden families lived helped a lot. It was a little built in community for our whole family, complete with playmates for our kids!
Kat: I was fortunate that Sarah Costa and I were in the same class. There were certain days when a case hit differently as a parent, or as a mom, and Sarah and I sought each other out on more than one occasion for a quick hug in the hall before class. When Jess reached out before her admission, I was so excited to get to talk with an incoming mom because I remembered all the feelings and fears I had during the admissions process. I think visibility is really important, because it is so hard to picture yourself achieving something when you don’t see anyone who looks like you succeeding. I would love to see a future Darden class full of moms, and I think the best way to ensure that is to show that it can be done, and that Darden is a great, inclusive community that will support you every step of the way.
Jess: We weren’t able to engage much with my Darden peers in-person last year because of COVID restrictions, but there is such a warm community of Darden parents and partners that we’ve been getting to know as restrictions have lifted. There are so many family friendly events and venues here in Charlottesville, and we are looking forward to making playdates and Darden family outings a big part of our experience next year!
Q: For moms or moms-to-be who are thinking about business school, what is your top advice for them?
Sarah: Talk a LOT with your partner beforehand about time management and expectations. You know how busy you’ve heard first year will be? It really is that busy, but more so. It will get stressful for everyone, and you will reach your limits and push beyond them. Nothing can really prepare you for how hard it will be, but setting expectations and having those conversations ahead of time makes you much more resilient in the midst of those challenging months. Also, line up great childcare!
Kat: If you’ve decided that an MBA is the right next step, don’t wait. Life with kids is a beautiful chaos. It doesn’t slow down. If I had put it on hold for another year or two, I think it would have only been more difficult to make the change. Diving in and moving to Charlottesville is one of the best decisions our family has made. I would also say that childcare in Charlottesville is really great. There are great school options, and an excellent daycare (UVA Child Development Center Kindercare) associated with the university. If you are considering Darden, make sure to contact them early to get on the list for fall enrollment.
Jess: First, do not automatically write off an MBA as an option just because you are a mom! The ratio of dads to moms here at Darden (and most other business schools) is 15:1, at least. If there are so many dads here, you should realize that parenthood is not the limiting factor! It is, for many systemic reasons, the combination of parenthood and being a woman that is limiting. This status quo needs to change, and it can’t change without women who go for the opportunities they deserve! Do your homework and make sure you set yourself up for success in an MBA, but don’t say no to yourself before you even start.
Second, Reach out to Parents at Darden (PoD)! PoD was created by student parents in the class of 2021 to help parents connect and to advocate for policies and programs that will make Darden a top-choice for parents. In the next year, PoD will continue to connect with prospective students, provide a supportive community for parents, and sponsor events that bring the joy and energy of children into the Darden Community. If you are interested in getting matched with a Darden parent buddy, fill out this form and you can also feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. We are here for you and would love to welcome you to Darden!
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