Dear Ebony T,

I want to apply to graduate school but my significant other is upset because I’m not interested in any schools near our current city (and they may not be able to follow me). I’m not sure what to do. Do you think we could make a long distance relationship work? Should I delay graduate school until we can make a coordinated move? Any help would be great!”

Sleepless in Seattle University


Dear Sleepless in Seattle University,

You’ll be glad to hear that you’re far from the first (or the last) person to struggle with your conundrum. Whether or not long distance could work for your relationship isn’t something I can guess without knowing you, your partner, or your relationship, but it’s absolutely doable! If you’re planning on a master’s or another degree of 1 or 2 years, distance is definitely an easier pill to swallow, especially if you’re on the same coast, or in a city with a lot of commuter flights to where you’re coming from. The trickier distance to navigate is the PhD of 5+ years or med school of infinity+ years. A lot of people (especially in PhD programs that attract students with more work / life experience) come into programs with partners who live somewhere else, or moved for the express purpose of being with their partner. Both can be tricky, but neither is a relationship death sentence. In a PhD, coursework is oftentimes heavy in the first one or two years, leaving the last years for research which can sometimes be done remotely (especially dissertation work if it’s an independent project), which allows some flexibility. Depending on the program, it could be possible to leave after 2 or so years and come to campus intermittently. If you’re talking about med school, you’ll likely be tethered to campus for at least four years, and while the match process could land you in your original city, it’s not a given, so your partner would have to warm up to the prospect of moving at some point.

In terms of making a coordinated move, it depends again on your relationship but also how long we’re talking. 1 year? 2 years? 5 years? 10 years? I wouldn’t recommend waiting too long, especially if school is something you’re passionate about or need to continue your career.  But if your partner is willing to drop everything and move with you in a reasonable amount of time (or, could transfer to an office in a city you are interested in after they get an upcoming promotion) that compromise could work.

Ultimately, I say see if staying on the same coast, or applying to school in a nearby city that is affordable to get to is an attractive compromise for your partner. If you’re meant to be together, distance will still be hard, but it will be navigable. If you do end up applying this year while your partner is still on the fence about the move or you moving away, keep your partner in the know about where you’re thinking of applying and why the programs are of interest to you. Have the conversations about what the next couple years could look like early. Definitely don’t wait until acceptances roll out to start the conversation; that time is stressful enough as it is!

Ebony T.

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