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Military to MBA: How to Pursue GMAT Preparation and Applications While in the Military

By Ajay Amar, Ph.D., Nov 11 2016 06:02PM

Happy Veterans Day! My military students sometimes joke that my GMAT course may be tough, but hey, it’s no Ranger School. Having taken on extremely challenging training and circumstances, it’s no surprise that military students and veterans bring dedication and resolve to the not-always-easy pursuit of a high GMAT score. As a teacher, I am proud to serve those who serve our country.

For this Veterans Day, we asked two of our former GMAT students from the U.S. Army – Nicole, a former current operations officer and project manager now studying at Yale School of Management, and Steve, a captain and former company commander who is currently pursuing his MBA at Emory University's Goizueta Business School – to share their advice on pursuing admission to top MBA programs while in the military. Whether you’re in the military or not, I think that their perspectives are of value to all of us.

"Protect your study time as much as possible."

Nicole says, "I brought breakfast and lunch from home, shut the door to my office, and used those two hours to study.” During the two weeks leading up to the GMAT, Nicole used the hours used for physical training to train for the exam instead. “I had two and a half hours of uninterrupted time (where I wasn’t distracted by my family or co-workers) to study before work.”

Reserving that time to study, distraction-free, and having the discipline to stick to it, is one of the most important things that you can do for yourself. “When I deployed, I would set aside time every day to study a particular area I was weak in and make sure I finished it before the day was over,” Steve recalls. “Usually my time for this, down range, was from 9 o'clock p.m. to midnight.”

Nicole was completely open with her rater [the officer responsible for evaluating her performance], sharing her goals and plan of action, and was fortunate enough to receive complete support. “A good leader will set you up for future success,” she notes.

"Find 2-3 others to study with who are equally motivated and willing to set forth the time."

Steve recommends, "Working in small groups not only allowed me to stay focused and accomplish more, but it also was an opportunity to discover different ways to approach problems that I might not have been able to figure out on my own.” Our former student Victor, a former battalion commander who is now at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, told us last year that working with a study group helped keep him accountable. “Those text messages at 5-6 p.m. from others who want to study act like Jiminy Cricket.”

“Not only was this one of the best ways to learn, but I was also able to build lifetime friendships from this,” Steve says. “I received interview help from my peers and also discussed with them which MBA programs they were looking at and why. One year later, when all of us received our MBA acceptance letters, it was an exciting time for us to celebrate.”

Austin GMAT Review classes meet regularly once or twice a week, and oftentimes, my students meet to study on the days that classes aren’t in session. This gives them a support system and helps keep them on track when the going gets tough.

"If I had to do it all over again, what would I have done differently? ... Start earlier!"

“I decided to apply for business school in May, and started studying for the GMAT in June, taking the GMAT twice in July and August, and applying first round to four schools with due dates from September 9 to October 1.” Nicole says. “It was a very busy four months, and I feel like I didn’t perform as well as I could have on the GMAT because of the rush.” However, through a great deal of planning and discipline, Nicole successfully did it all on an extremely tight schedule.

Having started GMAT prep on his own, Steve regrets not starting GMAT classes earlier. “The truth is that I could have discovered more of my weaknesses had I sought assistance from Dr. Amar earlier," he says. He also suggests getting the GMAT out of the way as early as you can.

It’s easy to underestimate the time that you will spend researching and applying to business schools after taking the GMAT.

Before you start business school applications, you should identify what you want from your MBA. Then you will need to work to find the business school that best meets your requirements.

Nicole recommends attending school information sessions, if at all possible. “For those of you who are stationed at Fort Hood, it is so easy to attend information sessions because you are close to Austin, Dallas, and Houston, which are all hubs for business schools to visit,” she says.

Nicole was transitioning out of the military, and part of her focus was discovering what lay ahead in civilian life. “I reached out to a lot of friends who are currently in business school, and to each school’s various clubs in order to talk to current students – veterans, women in business, and non-profit MBA candidates. It was great to hear about their experiences.”

Steve, who will return to the Army after completing his MBA, was unexpectedly deployed overseas while he was in the midst of the application process. He emailed and set up Skype calls with current MBA students and school representatives. He also sought expert advice, including help from Austin GMAT Review. After gathering intelligence on many schools, he felt that “the MBA programs I have applied to really valued the leadership that military officers had and what they could contribute to the classroom.”

“I highly recommend conducting your interview on campus and attending veteran recruiting events, if possible.”

Nicole was invited to interview at several schools, and although the schools offered her off-campus interview options, she traveled to interview on campus for all. “Yale fit my three requirements – top school for non-profit MBAs, small class size, and a Top 10 business school. Also, it felt right. From information sessions to the Veterans Preview Weekend to my interview, I felt like the Yale community is somewhere I would thrive. I didn’t have that same feeling towards the other schools I applied for so it made my decision fairly simple. “

Back in the U.S. again, Steve also traveled to interview at several schools, and in Emory’s business school he found what he sought: “a rigorous academic and leadership program that was known worldwide, a tight-knit community with a diverse group of students that would enhance classroom experience, and breadth of network and brand name that would allow easy transition from the Army once I left.”

“Emory invited me to interview, and once I visited the campus and spoke with current students, I knew that Emory was the right fit for me,” Steve recalls. “Emory met every goal of mine for a MBA program – and it didn’t hurt that my family was also looking forward to living in the Atlanta area. I knew Emory was a place that I could get involved and really maximize my time during my MBA.”

On this Veterans Day, I urge each of you to consider the meaning of service to country. Pursuing our dreams and preserving our rights and freedom is not always an easy path, but if we look to the example set by our military service members and veterans, we should all be inspired to strive to do our utmost.

Read more military to MBA advice in Dual Mission: Destroy the GMAT and Find Military-Friendly MBA Programs. Then check out Military GMAT Prep: How To Vanquish the GMAT when You're on Active Duty.

Austin GMAT Review is the premier GMAT preparation company in Central Texas, offering structured GMAT courses to professionals preparing to enter full-time MBA or executive MBA programs. Austin GMAT Review caters to busy professionals who don't have the time to sort through masses of generic study materials. Meeting with an experienced professor face-to-face in limited-size GMAT classes, students receive the personalized coaching that they need and strategies to excel on the GMAT. Austin GMAT offers excellent GMAT prep for military personnel, as well as flexible scheduling and a military discount.

As a current member of the military, you may also be eligible to be reimbursed for the GMAT fee through DANTES (Defence Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support). Find more information on Military.com Education.

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