Until business school, I’d never meaningfully recognized Veterans Day. Sure, I’ve been in a LOT of patriotic parades and halftime shows (recovering band geek), but I’d never really stopped on Veteran’s Day and fully contemplated my personal gratitude for military service members.
Then I joined the Full-time MBA program at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business.
One of my favorite things about Scheller is the program’s focus on veteran and active-duty students. From College leadership and faculty to staff and student peers, we have a shared culture of being deeply appreciative of their service while also recognizing their individual qualities and accomplishments.
Consider my buddy Dan Jester. Dan went to West Point and served as 1-16th Cavalry Squadron Operations Officer in the U.S. Army, but he is better known in the MBA program as a proud (and loud) Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket. He can be found leading early-morning group runs, dining at our on-site Waffle House, and teaching his baby daughter all the inappropriate words to the fight song.
Given the significant veteran population in our MBA community and the unique opportunities and challenges they face, I wanted to know what advice my veteran and active duty classmates have for others who are considering business school.
If you don’t read the rest of this, just know: you’re wanted, you’re needed, please apply.
Yes, you need to work on a solid application, but you should also spend the time and effort evaluating which schools can help with your envisioned pivot. Depending on your background and military transition plans, you may be starting from a specific list of schools that your branch approves for funding.
For first-year MBA candidate and U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Kelsey Lyford, this meant choosing schools in the pre-application phase. “I am staying in the Coast Guard, so I applied to their program to pursue graduate school. Then I checked the Coast Guard approved list for programs that offered both an MBA and an MS in civil engineering since I’ll be doing project management for improving infrastructure,” she told me.
What else was important to her? “I needed to see how different programs helped coach their active-duty students since I’m not following the traditional internship and full-time civilian role path,” she added.
Marcus Harmon, first-year MBA candidate and U.S. Army Sergeant, seconded the recommendation to explore veteran connections: “I emailed Veterans Clubs at each school I was interested in to see how responsive and helpful they were.” Not naming names, but he told me a certain Top 5 program didn’t reply at all. (He won’t brag on himself, but I will. He’s already a student leader in a few organizations, with multiple internship offers in hand. BIG mistake on that school’s part. HUGE.)
Through his pre-MBA conversations at Scheller, Marcus connected with multiple veteran students. “While it’s unique for veterans to pursue an MBA, it’s even rarer that enlisted soldiers choose this path. It was very reassuring to find guys who represent our ‘club-within-a-club,’ so I could see myself succeeding here too,” he noted.
With the compounded challenges of acclimating to new locations, workloads, and peers, all MBA students go through an adjustment period at the beginning of their program. For students separating from the military, that transition can be especially pronounced.
“I went from living in a hole for a week — literally — to trying to figure out if I could really keep up with my nuclear engineer teammate,” Marcus recalled. “Then I realized he was trying to keep up with me too! We all have imposter syndrome at first.”
Military or civilian, it always helps to remember that you’ve been admitted. Your school wants you there and believes you can succeed.
Kelsey noted another common MBA challenge: time management. She explained, “As busy as we were in Orientation and the first few weeks, I had so much more free time than I was used to,” Kelsey explains.
What do both Kelsey and Marcus recommend? Get used to keeping a calendar and planning ahead for group work time.
GETTING A JOB
Whether you’re staying in the military or a transitioning veteran, preparing for your post-MBA role is an essential part of the business school experience — just as it is for your civilian peers. When you visit campus for admission, be both an interviewee and an interviewer. Ask how the career team helped other students with your specific background. You might be accustomed to a system that promotes based on meritocracy and years of service more than the corporate world. Find out how they’ll coach you to instead win roles through networking, case interviews, and other new evaluations?
One current focus area for Marcus is interview storytelling. Rather than explaining the nitty-gritty of his role in his unit’s operation, his career coach helps him refine his examples: “I try to give a 30,000-foot view of a situation to help the interviewer connect their own business’s complexity with that of my military story.”
In addition to complex problem solving, Marcus also recommends that veterans emphasize industry-agnostic, essential skills like cross-cultural collaboration, time-sensitive decision-making, and influencing others.
For Kelsey, a post-MBA military career is already in hand, so she is concentrating on the academic side of career prep. “While I’m in my two years at Georgia Tech, I’m seeking out job-relevant projects that I can take with me later. I’ll be doing a few practicum classes to get hands-on experience in other industries, and I hope to participate in Engineering Without Borders soon,” she tells me.
It is standout classmates like Dan, Kelsey, and Marcus who enrich the MBA experience for everyone. While it’s inspiring to be surrounded by those who have given so much to our country, it’s even more rewarding to observe the impact of their individual personalities, work ethic, and ambitions. I am proud to sit next to them in class and am grateful for their service. Happy Veterans Day!
Jasmine Howard, a Tennessee native and marketing strategist, is a second-year MBA candidate at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. Each month, she offers advice, pro tips, and life hacks for the emerging challenges of today’s evolving MBA world.
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