In Part 1 of this military series, we discussed possible misconceptions that recent veterans might possess regarding their suitability for college-level learning, and their attraction as applicants. Having worked closely with veterans to prepare them for the transition into higher education, I know that it can sometimes seem challenging to figure out how best to present one’s military experiences in a thoughtful and congruous way with one’s future academic pursuits. Hopefully I’ve dispelled some of your fears about college admittance, and in this second piece, I want to go further: I want to show you how, as a veteran, your military background can greatly enhance your application to graduate school, too. To do this, let’s think about two possible (and FICTIONAL) scenarios: Kelly, the MBA applicant, and Kelly, the Humanities MA/PhD applicant.
2 ways to present your military experience successfully in your grad school application
Scenario #1: Kelly the MBA applicant
Kelly was in the Navy for a number of years as one of very few women. She rose from the lowest level of enlisted personnel to the higher ranks due to her ability to learn the ropes quickly and because of her passion to help her country and make the Navy as successful as it could be. When Kelly left the military, she went to college and majored in biology, due to the interest she had developed in nautical life forms.
However, she now wants an MBA so that she can work as a financial consultant to the military, helping it to reimagine less expensive means of purchasing naval equipment. How does Kelly compellingly present herself to an MBA program after studying biology and serving in the military?
Highlighting what’s unique
Kelly needs to think about the ways in which she is an unusual, unique applicant, and then leverage these aspects specifically for an MBA degree. What sticks out? Kelly was a woman in the Navy, which is unusual; she impressively rose the ranks, which was also unusual; she studied biology as a continuation of her naval career, and she wants an MBA to return to the Navy in a new expert capacity.
Kelly needs to make sure her turn to biology, in particular, does not seem arbitrary or like an irrelevant enterprise. How did studying biology shape her decision to do naval consulting? Is it because of biology, or in spite of it, that she wants to receive an MBA? Perhaps studying biology was an effort to move away from the Navy and focus on underwater life forms, yet through this process, she realized how much she missed her relationship with the Navy, and wanted to have an impact on its development and progress. She needs to frame this accordingly. Alternatively, perhaps Kelly went into biology specifically because she wanted to work for the Navy in naval navigation and environmental sensitivity to underwater life. If so, perhaps her MBA is a means for her to leverage her environmental concerns and knowledge while also advancing her interests in financial consulting and naval efficiency.
Connecting the past with the future
Additionally, her post-MBA goals look like they’ve probably been influenced by what she saw in the Navy, both its financial successes and failures. Kelly can use her past experience to prove she has an intimate knowledge of the spending habits of the Navy, and that she is an independent thinker who is confident enough to try and help change inefficiencies within the existing structure. All of this can then become a cohesive narrative in which her time in the Navy suddenly looks like the perfect preparation when combined with an MBA for realizing Kelly’s future career goals.
Scenario #2: Kelly the MA/PhD applicant
This Kelly is similar to the Kelly we’ve just met, with the same backstory of her time in the Navy, and her study of biology. However, due to her interests in biology, not in the humanities, it was only as a course requirement that Kelly decided to take an English class towards the end of her time in college about travel and exploration in nineteenth-century literature. There, she read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and she became very interested in depictions of sea travel in literature. She ended up taking a few more English classes because of this, but as she discovered this interest late into her college career, Kelly picked up a minor in English but remained a biology major. Now she wants to get an MA in English literature. How can she justify that she is qualified?
Convincing the adcom of your interests and passions
Here, this same Kelly can leverage her naval experiences, along with her college courses of study, for this alternative path. One of the things applicants are always surprised to learn is that honesty can truly be the best policy on an application. How convincing would Kelly be if she said her college passion was literature, yet she majored in biology? Why not tell the truer and more intriguing tale of discovering a love of literature late into college, of the reasons why she became so passionate about it (by reading something related to nautical life, hence connected to her time in the Navy), and of how she worked hard for an English minor to make the most out of a challenging situation late into college? This is a much more interesting and one-of-a-kind story than the person who always knew what to study, where all interests interrelated in some obvious way.
The importance of showing how being a veteran is an advantage
Being a veteran can be a strange anomaly on one’s record, or an amazing boon to it. The difference between these two is how you, the applicant, want to frame your military experience: either as informing your future decisions and passions, or as a strange aberration with no connection, no inspiration, and no skills gained! The choice is up to you.
I look forward to working with you via Accepted to show that your military experience was an amazing boon. Success is possible! Check out our Graduate School Admissions Consulting & Editing Services for more information on how we can help you GET ACCEPTED.
By Rachel Slutsky, a former Accepted admissions consultant who has as served as a writing tutor, consultant, and adjunct professor teaching writing. Rachel has assisted applicants in applying to an array of MBA and graduate programs. She earned her masters from the University of Chicago and is currently pursuing her PhD at Harvard University. Want an expert to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• Get Your Game On: Preparing for Your Grad School Application, a free guide
• Journey to Duke Fuqua: Marine-Turned-MBA, Entrepreneur, and Dad
• From the Military to Haas MBA, a podcast episode