Heard in the Suite: The Path to Harvard Business School

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Muffie Benson-Perella (muffie AT dealbreaker.com) is an Associate in the Investment Banking Division of a "Bulge Bracket" bank. She holds a B.A. in French and Art from Vassar College and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Her regular column "Heard in the Suite" is a probing (and, ahem, fictional) weekly look into the secret lives and behind the velvet curtains of the investment banking world.
My father was beside himself when he heard I had applied to business school.
Being fairly good at predicting the sorts of things that would cause an outburst from my father by that time, I had wisely gone through the process without a peep to either of my parents, even as they pestered me about what I was going to do with my life. This was unusual, as neither of them really aspired to anything like a career of substance for me.
I suppose if I had asked, my father would have grudgingly written a fat check to start an art gallery or a boutique for me and cajoled his, admittedly substantial, social circle to buy things they did not want or need in order to give me "a start." In this case, "a start" was code for "find a husband to support you so we don’t have to."


This too was unusual, the aversion to supporting me, because my parents had quite carefully picked for me the most useless of educational paths that almost guaranteed they would be forced to support me until I was married. I had been boxed into attending Vassar by clever sabotage on my mother's part. She had failed to sign the application checks that had gone to Stanford, Brown and Berkeley and then quietly intercepted and disposed of the many letters of protest and warning that followed. I often wonder about the act of making the checks out but not signing them. Why bother? I never saw the applications after I handed the envelope to my mother. I never would have known if they had gone out empty. Or not gone out at all.
I had desperately wanted to go to California, imagining that the sunshine and tanned bodies would somehow restore something I had lost long ago but could not identify. It was not to be. I found out about the unpaid application fees only after I had accepted my offer at Vassar, my last choice. I suppose it is telling that I just shrugged off the incident. My parents had always interfered. Why should this surprise me?
Since they were paying for it, and the mere utterance of the words "financial aid" filled me with a lingering horror, I obediently majored in French and, after embarking on Vassar's study abroad program in Siena, Italy (my parents made it clear I was not welcome at home over the summer and a job was out of the question), I added a second major in Art. Consequently, as graduation approached I was uniquely unqualified to be anything like a productive member of society.
I kept my mouth shut during the long one-sided family dinner conversations that contemplated my fate. I would be lying if I said it was easy, but that's only because I like to talk. A lot of the discussion revolved around me taking a position at one or another of the many foundations my father donated vast sums to. This comforted my mother, who had met my father through a chairty event for just such a foundation and was now effectively a well kept woman.
I neglected to tell them I had already sent out applications to three business schools. Cindy and Betsy had convinced me to apply with them. It was hard to argue with their logic and though I hated math, Cindy pointed out that this was applied math, not math math. And Harvard didn't really emphasize the math part at all in any event. The whole thing would be like 2 more years of college. One look at the brochure after that and Harvard was definitely my first choice!
I failed to catch one of the letters from HBS that ended up at home. I could have sworn I put my school address down for the mailing address but Cindy was talking to me the whole time I was doing the application so I don't remember.
I was home the weekend it happened and I heard my father in the study yelling after my mother had brought him the letter and he only stopped when she coyly reminded him that husbands-to-be are plentiful-- in the right MBA programs. I had broken up with Phillip a month earlier since I found out that he had been sleeping with Erika the entire time we dated, and my father had only just gotten over that. He and Phillip's dad knew each other from work. Phillip was in law school. After my mother reminded him of that, my father was on the phone to the Harvard Board of Trustees daily for a week. I guess he has a friend on that board. I was accepted in the first round! I'm not even sure if I remembered to send in my last essay! Cindy and Betsy went to Stanford though.

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