Transitioning from the Armed Forces? MBA Advice from a Kellogg Veteran

advice for military applicants

Guest post by  Joe Marshall, Admissions Lead for Kellogg Veterans at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

Transitioning out of the military can be a scary process.  Not only are you giving up the camaraderie and sense of mission that comes from service, but you’re also not sure what’s out there in corporate America and where you best fit.

For many veterans, going to business school is a fantastic opportunity to close skill gaps in functional business knowledge that enable you to better leverage leadership and other qualities honed in service.

However, the decision to apply for an MBA comes with its own set of unknowns. What should I put in my resume?  What schools should I apply to?  How do I knock off the rust from five years spent doing ruck marches instead of math to study for the GMAT?

Luckily, just like in the military, there is a lineage of veterans who have made a similar transition and are happy to assist you not only in getting accepted to an MBA program, but also in finding the right fit for you and your goals.

Here are five lessons I learned from my MBA applications.

Start GMAT Prep Early

For some the GMAT is a one-and-done deal, for others it requires perseverance and multiple attempts to hit that target score. The test covers math and verbal concepts that most veteran applicants have not dealt with in years.

The earlier in the process that you start studying for this test, the greater the likelihood that this part of the application will be in the rear-view mirror as you prepare your resume and essays for submission.

The test is valid for five years, so there is almost no applicant looking at business schools for whom it is “too early” to start studying for the GMAT. If you are still studying for that last retake of the GMAT as application deadlines approach, your essays and other materials will likely suffer as a result.

Reach Out to Veteran Communities at Target Schools

One of the best lessons a young service member can learn is to not unnecessarily recreate the wheel. The same lesson applies to business school applications.  There are veteran communities at every school who were in your shoes just a few years prior.

Find these veteran association websites and connect with their admissions reps.  These clubs, like the Kellogg Veterans Association, for which I serve as Admissions Lead, are happy to help because somebody did the exact same thing for them when they were applying. Do not hesitate to reach out, and more importantly, be prepared to give back in the same way once you hit campus.

Translate Your Resume

An important role these veteran clubs will play is to help translate your resume to properly convey your accomplishments to a wider audience. A common misconception is that your military experience does not give you marketable skills to a civilian employer.

This is certainly not the case, but the problem often lies in how these skills are presented to civilian employers. Work with those who transitioned before you to remove jargon and convey your accomplishments and skills in a manner that will properly demonstrate the value you will bring to that organization.

Tailor Your Essays to the School

For many veterans, it will make sense to work with an admissions consultant to package your story in the most effective way possible.  Each school will have a particular prompt that requires a unique answer that incorporates the school’s culture and distinctive traits.

Work with current students at that school to gain an understanding for what makes that school special and why you would be a great fit.

No matter the approach, starting early in your research pays dividends in the days before the deadline. Admissions reps for clubs will be inundated with essays and calls in the days before the deadline, but have much more time to work on a personal basis in the weeks leading up to it.  Proactive applicants are able to refine and hone their message, leading to more effective essays.

Visit Target Schools

I would strongly discourage anybody from attending a school they did not visit first. You want to get a feel for the community, surrounding area, and whether this is someplace that you would enjoy spending the next two years of your life.

If your travel schedule permits, preview days at schools provide a great opportunity to get a feel for that school long before you even click submit on the application.  Many schools host a military or veteran preview day to showcase the school and answer specific questions and concerns that veterans often have.

Now, Come Check Out Kellogg!

Kellogg is hosting an upcoming Military Preview Day on March 16th at its brand new building, the Global Hub. This event will include a mock class taught by a renowned faculty member, an alumni panel, current-students panel, and presentations from our admissions, career management, and financial-aid departments. 

The event will conclude with a dinner in downtown Evanston with current veteran students. Those in need of lodging can stay with a current student as part of our Sofas for Soldiers program.  Sign up here . Looking forward to seeing many of you in Evanston!

With deadlines around the corner, you may be interested in the world-famous SBC Flight Test. Once a full set of application materials for your initial school have been drafted, but not finalized, the application will be sent to a former admissions committee member for a one-time review, adcomm style. You’ll have the benefit of a true admissions committee review while still having the ability to tinker and change.  You will receive written feedback within two business days after submitting.

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