Yes, you can be a single mom and get an MBA.
As an entrepreneur with eight years of full-time work experience and three startups under my belt, earning an MBA seemed like the next natural step in my career progression. But as a newly single mother to my son, Shafiq, age 7, and my daughter, Nyah, age 3, finding the resources and encouragement to pursue the degree felt virtually impossible.
It was a hectic time. I was running my own consulting firm while adjusting to unexpected challenges in my personal life. I was raising my daughter alone and supporting my son from afar. Shafiq lives with my relatives in Uganda. My ex-husband and I adopted him when we were living there, managing a youth development nonprofit we co-founded. Unfortunately, Shafiq was unable to come to live in the U.S. with me.
Unsure if I could realistically pursue an MBA given all the financial, academic and personal demands involved, I enrolled in Forté Foundation’s MBALaunch for Women program to learn more about the MBA experience and application process. It helped me understand just how significantly an MBA could catalyze my career trajectory. Despite all the obstacles, I set a goal of gaining admission to a top 20 program.
My MBA application journey was an uphill slog. It was difficult to study for the dreaded GMAT outside of work hours, since that’s my designated mommy time. I made sacrifices, spending less time with Nyah and incurring additional childcare costs. I missed more than a few bedtime stories thanks to my one-on-one tutoring sessions and supplemental classes.
During the school research phase, I scoured the internet for information that was relevant to me as a future “MBA mom.” What I found was sparse, outdated or inapplicable to me as a single mother. I was dismayed to see elite MBA programs framing “MBA students with families” almost exclusively as male students married to stay-at-home moms. I had to dig deep to find basic details about daycare and pre-school options and financial aid for students with dependents. I also came across very few images or stories of MBA moms. This was incredibly frustrating—and made me doubt whether my goal was attainable. I considered giving up every three to four days, like clockwork.
My turning point came when Forté’s MBALaunch coaching connected me with Erin Nilon, a mom of two toddlers, who earned her MBA at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Erin’s youngest was only a few months old when she started her MBA program. Her success gave me a much-needed confidence boost and proved that it could be done.
Shortly thereafter, I had an “aha moment” that inspired me to launch a blog where women with kids—or who may want kids—can easily find role models and resources they can use to pursue their MBA. All it took was a simple text from a male peer, saying that he admired my perseverance in managing my application efforts while running a business and being a single mom. His encouragement prompted me to reflect on how difficult it had been to navigate the pre-MBA terrain as a mother. My entrepreneurial wheels started spinning.
Launched last month on my daughter’s birthday, my MBA Mama blog features videos, images and information ambitious women can use to advance their MBA pursuits, careers and family planning. Erin Nilon is featured as the first MBA Mama of the Month.
My wish for other women this Mother’s Day—and beyond—is the knowledge that an MBA, career advancement and children are not mutually exclusive. Turn to the resources and role models around you for help, then pay it forward when you succeed. I begin my MBA candidacy at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business this fall with a full-tuition fellowship. If I can achieve my goals, you can too.
Divinity Matovu is the Founder and CEO of MBAMama.com.