From Naval Academy To War To Elite MBA Programs

Harvard Business School MBA student Matt Beaudette (L), and Wharton MBA student Ben Allen

MBA students Matt Beaudette (L), and Ben Allen, before their B-school transition


For the next seven years, Beaudette, Smith, and Allen stayed in touch by email and phone, and met often – on returns from deployments, for Navy football games, at friends’ weddings. While in the Navy, and independent of each other, they had decided to pursue graduate education. Smith was considering law school; Beaudette and Allen were set on business school. Once they started discussing graduate programs with each other, says Allen, Smith “came over to the MBA.”

“I wanted to look at things with an open mind and learn from classmates who are from a variety of different backgrounds and have a variety of experiences and skill sets,” Smith says.

All aboard with their shared target, the three worked together through the application process. “We were sort of approaching it as a team from the beginning,” Beaudette says. “They were my support system way back in the day and every bit as much today, and last year when we were applying. We were talking routinely about school visits, studying for the exam, and essays. We were on the phone every week for a year, probably.”

Studying for the GMAT while working full time was “challenging,” Beaudette says.

“The GMAT is really tough and everyone knows it.”

Veterans groups at business schools also helped the men navigate the application process. “All three of us reached out to the veterans clubs at all the schools we applied to,” Beaudette says. “We have rave reviews about how helpful they were.” Veterans events at Wharton and HBS were also valuable, Allen says. “They kind of lift up the curtain and they show you how the process works.”


Allen applied to a spectrum of schools across the top 20. “I was realistic and always have a Plan B,” Allen says, adding that he chose Wharton because of his experience with its veterans club, the campus tour, student life, the city of Philadelphia, and the school’s recruiting. “I just felt they were so invested in me as a prospective student, it kind of all clicked.”

Last year, the number of veterans and active service members taking the GMAT jumped 22%. Veterans have been pouring into U.S. MBA programs as the scaling back of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has led to military downsizing. The U.S. Army plans to cut 40,000 troops over the next two years, while the U.S. Marine Corps is expected to lose several thousand. Marginal increases are expected by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy.

Many veterans who have left the armed services in recent years have wartime experience, seen as a strong asset by MBA admissions officers and school administrations who place a high value on skills such as leadership, teamwork, and rapid decision-making that are inculcated in troops at war, officers in particular.


“All three of us have led very diverse teams in very uncertain, dynamic situations,” Allen says. “Veterans bring a lot of tested leadership experience into the classroom. Developing our leadership skills is a lifetime endeavor – and each of our schools has dedicated curricula focused on leadership development. I look forward to growing as a leader and a follower at Wharton.”

Leadership in the armed forces, Smith says, operates contrary to some people’s impressions. “Sometimes people have this misconception that leading in the military is like boot camp, that you just tell people what to do and things get done. There were very few situations in which you’re yelling at someone to get something done. For the most part it is that collaborative type of leadership where it’s more important to inspire your teammates and lead collaboratively when possible in order to maintain that community that you’ve worked so hard to build.

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