Applicants with a military background bring unique and practical leadership experiences to an MBA program. At Chicago Booth, we have quite a few classmates with extensive military experiences.
What motivated you to pursue an MBA?
FRANK: While I had fun during my Army time, I wanted to shift to a career in the private sector. An MBA provides the perfect opportunity to transition to the business world. A large percentage of people who go through business school are career switchers, and the career services office has the whole process down to a T. There are inexhaustible opportunities to learn about new industries, companies, functions, and to prepare students for the application and interview process.
JEAN: I realized that I needed to learn a lot of the business fundamentals that I did not have exposure to. I had a lot of operational experience before business school from my experience in the Army and at GE. However, I wanted to expand my business knowledge foundation and explore more opportunities that could put me on fast-track to senior management.
How did you prepare for the admissions process?
GMAT - I used the Official Guide for GMAT, The Princeton Review, and the Kaplan guide. I found the Princeton Review the most helpful as far as test-taking strategies, and Kaplan had the hardest questions. The Official Guide had actual previous tests, so I found it to be the best assessment tool. I studied an hour every other night after I was finished with work. Since I was deployed to Iraq at the time, I never had a 3 hour block of free time for the practice tests. So I took the practice tests in 30-45 minute blocks and then put it on pause for the next day (which I would not recommend). I took the test during my two week R&R in Europe, which is also something I would not recommend. Luckily I did well, but this strategy leaves no time for a re-test.
ESSAYS - I highly recommend the book How to Get Into the Top MBA Programs. A friend at another top business school recommended it, and it proved invaluable. This book helped me frame my experiences to best answer the essay questions. I also had friends in grad school (both business and law) critique my essays.
SCHOOL RESEARCH - I emailed alums and current students through the Armed Forces Group. I also spent time reading MBA journals on the Business Week website, and looking through student comments on Vault.com.
I had to do a lot of soul-searching to find out the true reasons why I wanted to go to school. This was extremely beneficial in crafting my essay themes and ‘why business school’ questions. I realized how passionate I was to go to a great program and become a part of a solid alumni community.
GMAT - I think the most important thing is to do full-length practice tests. I wish I had done more of these, because it was a little difficult to sit through the entire exam on GMAT day. I wish I had done more full-length practice exams to simulate the actual test taking experience.
ESSAYS - I found it difficult to find examples from applications with similar experiences to mine. This was mainly because I had military experience in addition to business experience. Instead of looking at other example essays, I thought of my strengths and weaknesses and how a business school experience would give me the tools to have a successful career. Veterans have extraordinary leadership experiences that should definitely be highlighted in essays.
What were the top 1 or 2 factors that helped you decide on the choice of school?
FRANK: What impressed me most about Chicago was how polished everything was, from the smooth application process and proactive admissions reps, to how welcome everyone made me feel as an admitted student. Chicago Booth students and administration go that extra mile, and were the biggest factors in choosing this school.
JEAN: Career Services was a huge factor for me, because I wanted to have an extremely solid support staff who had built long-lasting relationships with outstanding companies. The alumni community also played a large role because I wanted to be part of a community which had strong ties to the school and was still a part of the overall community once school got officially over.
How has your school experience been so far?
FRANK: The social atmosphere has been great and there is a real sense of community at the school. I love how many students live within a few blocks downtown, so there is always someone to work out with, study with, or go out with for some drinks. School has just been a lot of fun!
JEAN: It’s been amazing to be surrounded by a group of peers that’s so diverse in their experiences, knowledge, and backgrounds. It’s also very humbling to experience my business school career with such a phenomenal group of people. Much like the military, there is a certain sense of camaraderie with your classmates and it’s been an awesome experience to be a part of.
What has surprised you the most about B-school till now?
FRANK: I’m surprised at how much I learn outside of the class, just from talking with other students. I have learned so much about business functions, industries, and companies that I had no idea even existed.
JEAN: The amount of time I actually spend with “school.” Before I came to school, I almost had a sense of relief once I got into school because I thought that it would be less stressful than the work grind. However, I soon realized that times flies and that I had to prioritize my academic, career, and social interests. Business school is all about juggling your priorities and I never thought I would be this busy!
What kind of activities are you involved in outside of classes?
FRANK: I am most actively involved in the Armed Forces Group, which is a networking group that also helps military applicants navigate the admissions process, and Give Something Back where I am a tutor for children at Ray Elementary School at Hyde Park. I am also a member of the MCG, CMSG, and DSAC groups.
JEAN: I am a Class Agent, an elected Alumni Relations representative of my cohort. It’s been a great experience to get involved in alumni events, especially since I have a strong interest in building a strong alumni community. I am also involved with the Armed Forces Group, DSAC, Management Consulting Group, and CWiB.
How was the transition from work back to school?
FRANK: I found the process to be very smooth. Grade non-disclosure certainly helps keep the stress off of things, and if you can apply that military work ethic to academics, you’ll be just fine.
JEAN: I think I’m still transitioning....there’s something new every day! Just be prepared for things to start running at 100 mph once you hit ground at school. The best thing I ever did was to ensure that I was moved in and settled before school and orientation ever began. There is definitely little time to unpack things and explore your neighborhood once school starts!
Any advice that you might have for applicants with a military background?
- Contact the Armed Forces Group and talk to other MBA veterans – their experiences and advice are invaluable.
- Be aware of positive and negative military stereotypes. Certain stereotypes will work to our favor: leadership, work ethic. Others will not: uptight, not creative, relies too much on rank.
- Be aware of these and actively work to combat these with prepared stories about how you needed to come up with a creative solution or how you got a senior officer (someone who you didn’t have any rank authority over) to do what you needed. Finally, even if you’re deployed during the application window, you should still apply.
- Each school definitely has its own vibe and feel.
- Get a good sense of what this is like and see if you can see yourself as being a part of that community for the rest of your career.
- Reach out to current students and alumni...you’d be surprised how open people are to speaking about their experiences and helping out!
- As a veteran, use your leadership and team building experiences to your advantage. You’ve been in stressful situations where you’ve had to deliver results with very little resources...be sure to highlight your strengths!