An article on the Poets & Quants website asks, “Do Veterans Need Unique Admit Advice?” A veteran who was interviewed for the article thinks that they do: he “believes that the soldiers and officers who want to pursue an MBA have unique concerns and issues” when they apply to top business schools, and he’s founded a company to advise them.
Is he right?
Let’s look at those “unique concerns and issues” more closely.
According to the article, one unique concern for military personnel who want to pursue an MBA is that they “are so accustomed to speaking and writing in military terms that B-school essay writing is a major challenge.” But that’s true for applicants from any industry where the jargon is heavy: technology, for example. As a long-time admissions consultant with both a military background and a technology background, I’ve actually found veterans to be stronger writers than technologists.
Another unique concern: “the meaning of ‘leadership’ and ‘teamwork’ in the military can be quite different than in the corporate world.” But that’s true of other fields as well: the meaning of “leadership” and “teamwork” can also be quite different to a tech lead, or a community leader, or a family member within a sizable family business, or someone working in a very non-Western business culture.
Another concern: “many junior officers already have families to support and are hesitant to walk from a steady paycheck to go to business school.” But that’s true of civilian applicants as well. My first-semester team of seven at Sloan included three students with families, all non-military, and that situation was hardly unique.
And finally, pieces of advice are offered in the article: “junior officers can gain invaluable insight and help from the powerful veteran network.” Yes—just as people in other fields can gain much from their own networks. More advice: junior officers should “consider their options at least a year before the end of their service commitment.” Yes—just as people in other fields should consider their own options well before applying. And more advice for military personnel interested in an MBA: “they should take time to find out about the culture of each school.” Yes—just as every applicant should.
Veterans, as a subgroup, have different experiences from many. Engineers, community workers, entrepreneurs, and other subgroups also have different experiences from many. Should each have its own separate consulting firm addressing its own subgroup’s “unique concerns and issues?” No—because when it comes to applying to business school, the challenges faced by applicants of one subgroup are not really all that different from those faced by applicants of another. The admissions requirements are the same for all. And to an admissions committee, an applicant is not a subgroup: an applicant is an individual.
Your uniqueness lies not in your subgroup, but in you. Your job is to portray that uniqueness, not the distinctiveness of your group as opposed to other groups. Your consultant’s job is to guide and critique you as you convey your individuality.
By R. Todd King, an MIT Sloan MBA. He has advised successful MBA applicants to top schools since 2001. Previously he served in the U.S. military and then worked in technology and media/entertainment. He has lived for extended periods in China.