Military servicemembers and veterans returning from service possess a unique set of skills and experiences that make them highly recruitable into MBA programs. They also face a particular set of challenges as they adjust back to civilian life, or navigate graduate school as reservists.
If you’re a servicemember or veteran considering business school, read on for helpful tips on what to do before and during your application process, and what to do once you’ve received your acceptance letters.
Before You Apply
- Conduct an honest self-assessment about your future career goals and determine whether an MBA is necessary or advisable for your chosen career. You have many options post-military service. Check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s My Next Move For Veterans to explore careers. The Department of Veterans Affairs also offers career assessment tools at no cost.
- Determine your eligibility for the GI Bill, including tuition funding, housing, and book stipend. This will allow you to determine how much, if any, of your tuition you will need to cover on your own through your savings, loans, or scholarships and grants.
- Research schools to determine a great fit for you and your career goals. Interested in entrepreneurship? Does your MBA program have a startup accelerator or incubator where you can develop your ideas? Maybe you’re interested in finance or consulting. Make sure the firms you’re eyeing for employment recruit at your b-school.
- Once you’ve narrowed your initial school list, look closely at how each school supports veterans and servicemembers on campus. Are there dedicated programs for veterans? Just like an “all-natural” monicker on peanut butter can mean any number of things, beware of schools that bill themselves as “military/veteran friendly” without backing that up with veteran-specific programs, mental health and medical support, and even a veteran-specific space where you can seek support from other servicemembers.
- Visit schools when you can and speak to current students and alumni about their experience. Several b-schools offer military preview days weekends, including Duke (Fuqua) and Cornell (Johnson), where you can attend a class, mingle with fellow veterans, and meet professors and staff. More than that, especially if you’re committing to a full-time program, you’ll want to know where you’ll be spending the next few years of your life. Fitting in, especially after periods of service and deployment, is important to your academic success.
During the Application Process
- The business school application cycle can be lengthy and complicated. Managing deadlines, recommenders, essays, and taking the GMAT takes discipline and organizational skills. Lucky for you, these are skills military veterans have in spades! Find a method that works for you and stick with it. Determine when your application deadlines are and which round you’ll want to apply in, and work backwards to decide when to take the GMAT, when to study for the GMAT (hey, we have an app for that!), and when you’ll need to have your essays ready.
- Civilians have a very limited understanding of military roles and responsibilities. Use the Military Skills Translator to bring your military work history into more civilian-friendly terms. This will allow you to showcase what you’ve done and what you’ve learned. Don’t discount your military experience as “not real work experience.” Not only is your experience very real, what other jobs are performed with such high stakes?
- Don’t shy away from discussing your military experience in your application essays. Remember to answer the essay prompt, and frame your military service accordingly. Your decision to join the military was a life-altering choice, and it is a large part of who you will be for the rest of your life. It’s perfectly appropriate to discuss your experience and why it makes you a great b-school candidate.
Once You’re Accepted
- Congratulations! Now that you’re in, take the time to connect with military central point of contact if one is available at your school. They can help you chart all the resources available to you, from academic support to mental health counseling.
- Seek out your school’s Student Veterans of America chapter if one is available or create one if there isn’t. These organizations will provide you with peer-to-peer support, and ease your transition into academic life.
- Be awesome. You’ve given so much of yourself to others, now focus on excelling at the next stage of your life.
Are you a veteran or servicemember considering an MBA? Share your plans with us below!