Transitioning To a Top Tier MBA: A Wharton Admit’s Guide to Veteran MBA Applications Part 4

Today we host the last and final post of a 4 part series on a transition from the military to a top tier MBA. The author of this piece is a former Army Officer who spent 6 months applying to and receiving acceptance from some of the best business schools in the country. The author was accepted to 6 of 7 of the schools he applied to, including the Wharton and Booth Schools of business. His application guide serves as insight for those looking to pursue a similar path. Each post will feature the portions highlighted in bold from the list below. I hope you enjoy this valuable MBA application insight as the application season progresses! Today’s post will focus on the interview, paying for school, and what schools to apply to. The topic discussion list has been shortened to focus on the interview!

Miss part 1? Click  here! Miss part 2? Click here! Miss part 3? Click here!

  1. Introduction
  2. Rankings
  3. IPB— The Battlefield and The Players
  4. The Veteran Applicant
  5. Priorities of Work and Timeline
  7. Letters of Recommendation
  8. Resumé
  9. Essays
  10. The Interview
  11. Paying for School
  12. What schools should I apply to?

The Interview

A humble and weary traveler, you have arrived at the final trial. The promised land is on the other side, and the only thing that stands in your way is the admissions interviewer. You have come this far no need to lessen the pace, press-on.

Generally, veterans interview well but struggle the most with omitting military jargon from their answers without diluting the story. Find a few people to practice your answers with so that they can identify any terminology that would be difficult for your interviewer to interpret while maintaining the integrity of your story. 

Who is the interviewer?

Most likely, a 2nd-year student… however it could also be an alumnus or a member of the admissions committee. All interviewers receive some form of formal training before conducting interviews. Your interviewer will most likely be stone-faced — do not let it throw you off.

It would be best if you prepared separate questions for each type of interviewer—you wouldn’t ask a 10-year alum and a current student the same questions. 

Prepare! Prepare! Prepare! Be sure to put in time to ensure your interview goes well.

What is the interview like?

On-campus interviews are done in many different formats from a super weekend to a pre-scheduled 1:1 interview independent of any marketing or ”get to know us” events. You will wait in the lobby wearing formal business attire (dress sharp) and your interviewer will come and grab you from the waiting room. The walk to the interview room is your opportunity to warm up and chat with your interviewer so don’t waste it in silence. The interviewer will introduce themselves, then allow you to introduce yourself. Hint: this is when the interview begins. 

Questions you will get:

  1. Tell me about yourself or walk me through your resume?
  2. Why do you want an MBA?
  3. Why our school?
  4. 3+ Tell me about a time when… (Behavioral Questions)
  5. What questions do you have for me?

How do you prepare?

Question 1: Prepare a 60-90 second dialogue that is a high-level overview of your career thus far. 

  • Do not sound like a robot through over memorizing
  • Focus on significant inflection points in your life
  • Do not stop at what you did, tell them why you did it
  • Do not go over two minutes
  • Feel free to touch on anything personal that might help you connect with your interviewer—maybe hobbies.

Questions 2 and 3: These are sometimes asked separately but often combined into one question.

The why you want an MBA should be easy because you have already written an essay about it. Do not change your story in the interview; keep it the same.

Why our school… This question is the most crucial part of the entire interview. You must prove to the interviewer—who is taking notes to report to the admissions committee—that if extended an offer, you would attend their school over any other school. Therefore, you must mention in your answer what this specific program offers that no other school does, as it applies to your post-MBA goal. Answering this question correctly requires you to do your research and know the school inside and out. 

Behavior questions:

Your approach to behavior questions should be extremely structured. Start by thinking of your five best stories and write down a quick summary of each. Next, look up the top 10 behavioral questions asked at your targeted program. Interview debriefs on GMAT Club are an excellent resource. Think about how you can mold your story to answer each question. Finally, use the STAR interview method to structure your narrative. 

Rambling or stream of conscious responses will get you cut.  

Paying for School

You’ve made it, now you have to pay for school.

GI Bill will give you up to $24,500 for tuition + $1,000 for books + BAH.

Under the Yellow Ribbon program, the VA will match any university contribution. Let us use Columbia as an example: The give each Yellow Ribbon eligible veteran $15,000 per year which is matched by the VA for a total of $30,000 pear year in Yellow Ribbon benefits. 

Be sure to look into programs such as the Yellow Ribbon Program and vocational Rehab when considering costs!

Finally, the GI and Yellow Ribbon funding is not mutually exclusive. You get both $24,500 + $30,000 for a total of $54,500/yr. + E5 with dependents BAH. This amount may seem like a lot, but it is slightly more than half the money that Booth or Yale provides to veterans. So do your research on each program. Tuition at Columbia is ~ $82,000; therefore, you are walking away with a minimum debt of 60K. Remember, this 60K is significantly less than most of your classmates who are walking away with up to $300,000. Be respectful of this fact. 

Yale, Ross, Darden, Booth are all fully covered by GI 9/11 + Yellow Ribbon. 

If you qualify for Vocational Rehabilitation, it can cover the full cost of any program; however, it is hugely dependent on your counselor—which is assigned based on your residence. Wharton students seem to have success with this program. I am uncertain about other schools. 

Real Cost

The real cost of an MBA is much higher than the sticker price. If you live with roommates, only do the school-sponsored travel, and are very conscientious of your spending, it will cost you ~115K/yr. This cost incudes all tuition, fees, health insurance, and living expenses. Living alone and enjoying the full experience will cost closer to 150K+/yr. This amount will vary slightly by school and is based on annual tuition and fees of 80K/yr. 

What School Should I apply to? 

The answer to this question is ultimately up to you. Consider your GMAT/GRE scores and take a look at what you think is feasible, but don’t be afraid to go for a “reach” school as well. While the rankings are great, you should also consider programs and locations. McCombs, for example, is a great option if you want to live in Texas. Reddit’s R/MBA does profile reviews as well that may help you as well. At the end of the day, this decision should not be taken lightly as applying to schools takes time, effort, and eventually costs money.

Best of luck to all of the round 1 applicants out there! 

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