The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article entitled “MBAs Attract Current and Former Soldiers.” Like many such articles I’ve read in my decade of MBA admissions consulting, it promotes the benefits of business schools to former military personnel and vice versa, so no surprises there. However, I did find the reaction posted by readers interesting.
The comments centered on what happens to former military personnel after they receive their MBA and enter the business world (which was not a focus of the article). Most said the article painted too rosy a picture for veterans about the benefits of business school: one “did not see [his] military experience as either helpful or harmful,” another pointed out that a military background proves no guarantee of leadership ability in the corporate world, and a third stated that “in most first jobs post MBA, you start as a lowly associate, not leading hundreds, or even a couple.” Others took issue with the values of corporate America, wondering why it “has a hard time understanding how to use ex-military people” and “can’t figure out a way to tap our strength of making decisions in uncertainty.”
I want to make two quick points in response. First—and more to the theme of the article—military experience does help candidates get into business school. Military personnel hold positions of high responsibility and leadership earlier than most people, and they develop a strong sense of discipline and teamwork as well, giving them traits sought by all business schools. Military service is definitely a plus for MBA applicants; no doubt it played a role in my own acceptance to MIT Sloan.
But that “plus” does not mean that veterans are going to receive any special treatment once they reach business school or the corporate world after. That’s my second point. Business school students—whether they fought an enemy to win for their country, or fought a technology competitor to win a larger market share, or fought a government to win justice for its impoverished, or fought a rival investment firm to win a client’s business—all come from unique backgrounds and all bring their own strengths to bear on their new environment. Every one of them, placed in business school and then in the corporate world after, must adapt and overcome; they must prove themselves once again; there is no entitlement. Military experience will give some advantages in making this adjustment, but that experience is no guarantee.