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Enlisted Military Vet/Lower than avg GPA & GMAT Score/R4 app/T15 Admit

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Joined: 13 Aug 2018
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Enlisted Military Vet/Lower than avg GPA & GMAT Score/R4 app/T15 Admit  [#permalink]

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New post Updated on: 18 Jul 2019, 20:47
Hi there,

I originally commented on a reddit post (r/MBA) to help another fellow veteran so I decided to copy and paste and share my experience/story here.

I read several comments in the reddit post (link above) and noticed people mentioned that it is rare to see enlisted military go to top MBA school. I have to agree but it is definitely not impossible.

In fact, I was an enlisted military (Navy Electrician's mate) on a 2 year contract after 911. Funny that at first when I enlisted, I wanted a 4 year contract like everyone else but the 2 years contract actually worked out better for me. After the Navy, I used my post 911 GI Bill (60% benefits) and attended a state university in Long Island, NY and studied Electrical Engineering. I landed a summer internship at a Nuclear Power Plant in my junior year and after graduation I worked about 6 years in the Nuclear Energy industry as an engineer. I took the GMAT several times and my highest GMAT score isn't stellar (630: Quant 42, verbal 36). My quant, verbal and IR sections all had its up and downs in a wide range (Quant: 42-47, verbal 26-36, IR-4-8) and its unfortunate that I never scored my highest score on both sections on the same test and I definitely still feel that I can achieve a better score. Of course, I understand that there is definitely some luck and randomness involved in the test due to guessing and the research questions but due to the timing of my last test I decided to apply with my best score of 630. My undergrad GPA isn't crazy high (GPA 3.16, started out good, then it dipped in my 2nd and 3rd year but I got it back up my senior year) but I was working on an engineering degree and the few courses that hurt my GPA the most was some of my core engineering courses in my 2nd and 3rd year. I did explain why on the optional essay (I didn't make any excuses, I just said I wasn't studying hard enough and therefore struggled and I also mentioned why I think I have no problem taking on the graduate level course work and how I achieved excellent grades on a number of my advanced calculus classes)

Considering my age (29 approaching 30) at the time of my application, my years of work experience after college (6 years) and the trend of the nuclear industry in recent years, I decided to apply to some Top 15 MBA programs sooner rather than later. In fact, due to the timing of when I got my best GMAT score (mid March), I only can meet the deadline for round 4 at most full time Top MBA schools. After considering "fit", financial factors between full and part time program, the time and effort it takes to put together a quality application vs increasing my chance with multiple applications, I applied to only one T15 full time program and only one T15 part time program. Due to the final notification date , I decided to wait on the results before putting together more application packages for top part time programs. First, the application process is very time consuming and it does take a lot time to do research on the schools, their program, wait on recommendations, write essays, and to put together the best application package possible. Second, at the time i wasn't sure which program was best for me (full time vs part time). I was still making great income as an engineer working in the nuclear industry (despite the struggles of the industry lately) and therefore the financial benefits of the part time program seemed attractive since I do not have to take any students loans to attend the MBA program part time. However, the full time program can offer such great networking opportunities, a summer internship opportunity which can help you transition to another role or industry and I often dream about the possibility to go back to college once again and learn from the diversed student body at a top MBA program.

I did not have high expectation of getting into a full time T15 program because of of my overly represented demographics (Asian: I was born and lived in China for 10 years, move and lived in Canada for 7 years, then the rest in United States), lower than average GPA (3.16), and not great GMAT score (630) but I did spend a lot of time to research learn about the school's culture, putting together the essays to show how I demonstrate the school's culture and values through my personal values and stories, reach out to current veteran students at the school and prepare for the interview. When I did get an invite for the interview, I was very excited. The veteran students I reached out to all gave me great advice for the interview. Of course, I prepared very hard and I believe I did very well on the interview.

In the end, I was accepted into both the full time T15 program and T15 part time program (no interview required) I applied to. Later when I reached out to the president of the veteran's club at my school, i was told that at least one other enlisted navy military member who applied and interviewed in round 4 also got accepted. My school has a small but close knit student body (approximately 300 incoming two year full time students) and I believe only a handful are military veterans since the veteran club seems to have about 15-20 members which include both first and second year students. Not a great number of veteran students but it shows that it is definitely possible to get into a Top MBA program with enlisted military background and below average GPA and test scores.

Some of the advice I got from the veteran students and some are my own.

1. Most veteran students at the school comes from a military officer background but you can talk about what makes you unique and how you can share your experience, add value and contribute to the school's community and classroom. A top MBA school has a diversed student body with people of various background, so if you come from a unique field it definitely helps. I think my unique industry experience (nuclear energy) definitely helped.

2. Understand the school's core culture and why do you fit into this culture based on your personal stories or work experiences etc.

3. Do research on the school's program and really understand why do you want a MBA, why now, what do you want to do in 5 years, 10 years and how a MBA can help you achieve your goals. In your essay, you can bring up a program specialization and how it can help you achieve your future career goals. Do research on the professors and learn about what research or projects they are working on and why it interest you (good talk point for interview) etc. Research and talk about the clubs you want to join. Reach out to current students of similar background can definitely help here. You can often find their contact information on the school's website especially if you are a veteran and if they also have a veteran's club.

4. Nail the interview is key if you do get an interview invite. Good online to read and hear what the school's admissions committee has said in the past regarding interviews, who they are looking for or any other advice on the application process if you are still in that stage. Often a member of the admissions committee will not only talk about what they like to see but also give examples of students who didn't do well on an interview (eg. looking up the school's website while doing a skype interview) and those who did well (unique application videos, essays or powerpoint slides etc).

5. For round 4 applicants, one key advice I got from a current veteran student is to mention why you applied in Round 4 and you need really emphasis on why their school is your number one choice. For me, I applied in round 4 because i needed time to improve my GMAT score. My last and best GMAT score was obtain in mid March and therefore I was only able to meet the deadline for Round 4. The reason you want to mention that during the interview during round 4 is because sometimes a student might have applied to other schools in the earlier rounds (1-3) and maybe you have been wait-listed on some of the schools. If the school you are interviewing in round 4 is not your top choice and you happens to get of the wait list from a higher ranked school or your more preferred school from an earlier round (1-3), chances of you accepting an offer from your round 4 school is slim. Of course, that is often not the case for everyone but if you don't mentioned it to the school you applied to in round 4 then the admissions committee will often form their own opinion and sometimes it can negatively impact your chance of acceptance. For me, i did mentioned that the school is my number one choice. Funny that, at the time, the school was also my only choice for full time MBA. If i didn't get into the program, I will go for part time MBA program due to the financial flexibility (no student loans).

6. Just be yourself, be honest and don't be nervous. The admissions committee interview thousands of candidates, read thousands of application packages and can tell if you are lying, not being yourself or overly trying to impress them. Be passionate about the program, the opportunity and always have backup plans if you don't get accepted into your first choice or any MBA program at all. For example, if I don't get into any of the programs (full or part time) i will consider a different masters program in management or work on other certifications that will allow me to break into the field I want to get into (eg. Project management, data analysis etc)

7. Regarding recommendation letters. Find someone who knows you personally (personal values, work ethic, integrity, motivation etc), work with you on a regular basis, and develop that deep bond and build that great relationship from day 1 especially if you are not looking to start your MBA anytime soon. Understand the coworker/leader/mentor/ who will likely help you to write your recommendation letter and try to know as much about him or her as he or she knows about you. For example, I worked with my recommender for 4 years and I really developed a strong bond and knows him on a personal level: what he likes, dislikes, his work habits, character, family, hobbies, strength, weakness etc.

8. Last advice. Most companies do value military experience however some companies and top MBA schools do not consider enlisted experience to be professional experience. Most only consider post undergrad experience to be professional experience. I think this rule might be more relaxed at lesser ranked business schools. If you are looking at top business schools then I highly recommend you to get at least 2-4 years professional post undergrad degree work experience under your belt before applying to the top MBA program.

Good luck enlisted veterans and others who can learn a thing or two from my post. Work hard and follow your passion!

Edit: spelling

Originally posted by Leon2212 on 18 Jul 2019, 20:27.
Last edited by Leon2212 on 18 Jul 2019, 20:47, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Enlisted Military Vet/Lower than avg GPA & GMAT Score/R4 app/T15 Admit  [#permalink]

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New post 18 Jul 2019, 20:38
Congratulations !! Leon2212 .... what an amazing story !! :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup: Thanks a bunch for sharing :) :)
Please let me know if I am going in wrong direction.
Thanks in appreciation.
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Re: Enlisted Military Vet/Lower than avg GPA & GMAT Score/R4 app/T15 Admit   [#permalink] 18 Jul 2019, 20:38
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