Four Tips to Transition from Military to MBA

Oct 8, 2014
Tags: Business School, Military, Veterans

Submitted by Evelyn Zhang, 2016 MBA Candidate at NYU Stern School of Business, US Army Veteran

Military veterans pursuing their MBAs may sometimes feel overwhelmed with their transition. Coming from a non-traditional background and trying to find their place among all-star applicants who have been consultants and bankers may seem daunting. Veterans, however, should realize that they have just as much to offer! Here are some application tips, a few from my own personal experience, that veterans can follow.

  1. Rediscover yourself. Military veterans are used to having their career paths planned for them. Big Army clearly lays out schools and certifications soldiers need to make the next rank. However, applying for an MBA program requires veterans to ask themselves the uncomfortable questions on exactly who they are, what they’re passionate about, and why they need an MBA to accomplish their goals. Contrary to what some veterans think, there is no cookie cutter veteran profile (re: worked with village elders in Afghanistan so now you believe you’re the #1 draft pick for Consultant Company X) or an approved list of schools to which every veteran must apply. Once you figure out what inspires you, then and only then, should you research what schools are a good fit for those goals.

  2. Utilize your networks. Networking may be the buzzword when you’re in business school, but what most veterans don’t realize is that there is a strong network to be tapped into during the admissions process. Every major business school has some shade of a Veterans Club. Email them to connect with current veteran students. Also reach out to other veterans within your personal network that have either already applied or are currently applying as well. The MBA path is not common in the military profession, so it has the potential to be a lonely journey. It’s priceless to find someone who can speak your lingo, understand your questions and concerns, and go out of their way to help a fellow veteran.

  3. Translate yourself. One of the most prevalent struggles for military veterans is translating their unique military experiences into terms that the admissions committee can understand. Acronyms and military jargon won’t cut it on résumés and essays. It’s your job to express your accomplishments with vocabulary that both civilians and military can understand. Have non-military friends look over your résumé and essay to see if they have confusion when reading your application. This will give you the objective perspective you need.

  4. Look the part. When it comes to the MBA interview, most veterans are not easily intimidated by the concept of speaking under pressure, however, some may be uncomfortable at the idea of interviewing in something other than a camouflage patterned uniform. For men, when looking for a suit and dress shirt, take some time to explore what is the right fit for you. A great fit not only helps you look great, but also feel confident. When looking for colors, stick with a more traditional color like grey or navy. In terms of picking a tie, consider two things - color and width. Make sure your tie is darker than your shirt. Patterns on a tie help separate it from the suit, especially when the tie has contrasting colors (i.e. dark blue tie with a lighter color pattern). Women have a little more flexibility when it comes to dressing business professional. Women may choose between pairing a blazer with a dress, matching skirt, or matching pants. Make sure to apply natural-looking makeup and keep accessories simple. BLUF (sorry, I had to for those military veterans out there): the interview outfit is your chance to be creative and give admissions a peek into your personality. If still confused about interview attire, remember, there’s always Pinterest!