Military to MBA Degree? Forward…. March!

Why military applicants love b-schools
Individuals who are within a year of completing their military service, especially if they are officers, have lots of exciting career options to consider in the private sector. Major corporations are eager to recruit them to management training programs where armed services vets can be molded into business professionals in various divisions across the company.

However, jumping into a first job after leaving the military can be a dead end. Many astute individuals realize that there is long-term benefit to pursuing a top MBA educations rather than immediately entering the corporate world.

Business schools offer a tremendous value proposition for former military men and women. Specifically, an MBA program instills knowledge of core disciplines such as accounting, finance, marketing, operations, technology and strategy. In addition, attending b-school provides immediate “membership” in a network of peers who, rather than joining the armed services, have several years of practical business experience to share with their military classmates. And finally, there’s the opportunity for veterans to add a prestigious brand to their resume that “certifies” them in the eyes of future employers.

Why b-schools love military applicants
Even though they lack “business” experience, military applicants typically offer a robust combination of skills, traits and values that resonate with MBA admissions committees and bring great substance to the campus culture. To generalize, these individuals typically have a level of maturity and self-discipline that many civilians lack. Former soldiers, sailors and airmen also have observed top-down leadership and high-trust teamwork that prove valuable, especially under high-pressure conditions. And finally, given the broad diversity of the military and the intensity of overseas deployments, such individuals bring a “worldly” prospect that far exceeds that of most civilian students.

Why some military applicants don’t get into b-schools
So, even though MBA programs and military applicants seem to be a great match, there are some factors that preclude such individuals from getting accepted for admission. For instance, depending on role and responsibilities, some aspects of the armed services (e.g., infantry, artillery, etc.) just don’t have a business equivalent that business schools can understand. This is compounded when the application submitted by the military applicant is filled with jargon. In addition, some individuals must rely solely on their superior officers for recommendations, sometime resulting in even more jargon that confuses the adcoms and doesn’t speak to admissions criteria. Finally, some military applicants have little or no experience with writing essays or being interviewed. Their succinct, “matter of fact” content can be a turnoff that is impossible to overcome.

What military applicants can do to maximize their chances for MBA admission
In addition to the standard research and outreach that The MBA Exchange advises every b-school applicant to do, those from the military can take some additional steps. Look for websites and contact info from the military club on campus so you can network with current students familiar with your background. Pay particular attention to special events and conferences intended for military applicants, such as “Military Visit Day” at Dartmouth Tuck, where prospective applicants get to meet vets who are current students, interact with admissions staff, and observe actual MBA classes. Serious applicants should consider engaging the services of a professional admission consultant who had a military background (we have 8 on our team!) before applying business school. But most important of all is to start planning well in advance by requesting a free, expert evaluation of your MBA candidacy in order to identify key strengths and vulnerabilities.

The path from a military background to an MBA degree can be tougher than for more traditional, civilian applicants. However, the impact of this coveted education on your present and future will be amazing. You’ve served your country and fellow citizens with dedication and diligence – now it’s time to serve your own future with the same kind of grit, energy and determination.

Forward, march!