This is the final post of a five post series on popular transition paths for separating junior military officers (JMOs). Click here for the first post, here for the second post, here for the third post, and here for the fourth post.
One of the top things that most JMOs are most proud of is their leadership experience, especially in combat. It is truly an honor to be entrusted with the lives of the sons and daughters of Americans. Whatever your reasons are for separating or transitioning, you need to evaluate what your top assets are, and more often than not, leadership boils up to the top of the list. I’m sure most of you have seen a version of this graph before, this one is from the Military to Business Blog:
This specifically focuses on a MBA trajectory but it is relevant for most other career paths. My personal opinion on this matter is that regardless if you received a MBA from a top school or not, your true leadership experience won’t be utilized until later on in your career. Having a top MBA opens the door to prestigious jobs such as investment banking and management consulting but I wouldn’t consider those to be positions requiring a lot of leadership. True leadership is being in charge of business units, whether they be in operations, investment banking, marketing, or something else. And to get to those leadership positions, I believe you need to acquire some technical skills or knowledge. This is why pursuing a graduate degree is a great transition option for JMOs. There will always been the exception to the rule, but generally speaking, no matter how good you are or what school you go to, you are not coming out of a graduate degree or the military leading a significant business unit, because you don’t have the industry knowledge.
I’m not saying you actually learn everything you need to know from a graduate program, I think you can only learn the framework. That is, what should you be learning or thinking about when you are actually on the job. Ultimately, the number one reason I think JMOs should go to graduate school is for the access to a great network. While the unemployment rate seems high, many top-tier jobs remain unfilled due to lack of skilled applicants. For the top-tier “general-player” positions, there are more qualified applicants than positions, so getting an interview is often more about networks and networking ability than anything else. The name of the game is getting a foot in the door.
Historically speaking, there seems to be an abundance of JMOs pursuing degrees in business or policy. There is a whole debate about MBA rankings, whether they matter or not, and my personal conclusion is that I wouldn’t mind going to any of the so-called top 16 schools, which is grouped into tiers by this MBA Apply post:
“Top Three: HBS, Stanford, Wharton (some say Wharton is just a rung below HBS and Stanford but above Kellogg, MIT, Chicago, Columbia or Tuck, which I won’t dispute – opinions vary).
Elite Eight: Top 3 plus Kellogg, MIT, Chicago, Columbia and Tuck. Some say Tuck is just a rung below; again opinions vary.
Sweet Sixteen: Elite 8, plus Michigan, Duke, Darden, NYU, Berkeley, UCLA, Cornell, Yale (some will say that Cornell and Yale are just a rung below, but again opinions vary).
Rest of the Best: These are the top regional schools including (in no particular order) UT-Austin, Georgetown, USC, UNC, Emory, Babson, Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame, Maryland, Carnegie Mellon.
Big Two International: It’s basically INSEAD and London Business School (LBS), and then everyone else. The caliber of the student body and reputation of both these schools are comparable to the US Elite Eight.
There is no material difference in reputation between schools within the same tier. In other words, don’t ask whether Columbia has a better reputation than Chicago or Kellogg, because other than the alums and students, no one cares!”
I seriously considered going to an international school until I calculated the costs involved. I went to an INSEAD information session and they didn’t even know about the GI Bill or Yellow Ribbon Program. I am married with a child so the costs balloon out of control if I need to start shipping things overseas. Furthermore, a friend of mine is currently attending IESE Business School in Barcelona, and he has found it difficult to find summer internships being an American in Europe in conjunction with the current European debt crisis. I traveled to London for a consulting project and I loved the city. However, it is just way too expensive, especially if you need to covert dollars into pounds sterling. So unless you are single, have no furniture, and are just adventurous, I wouldn’t consider going to an international program. If you are a top 25% JMO, you should be able to get a decent GMAT 680-730 and that should be competitive at the top 16 schools, and you should probably have higher GMAT going into the top-3.
In terms of the public policy schools, I am certainly no expert. I do know that Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS) has a joint degree program with five business schools besides Harvard Business School:
Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth
Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
MIT Sloan School of Management
Stanford Graduate School of Business
The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania
I will touch upon my HKS visit in a future politics post, and touch upon my one-year of an online graduate degree popular with JMOs from many countries – MA in War in the Modern World from King’s College London.