AAR: Winning Admission to Wharton as a Couple

Veteran Ambassador and recent Wharton admit Amy Daschle took a different route to business school than most – she moved into the corporate world and then jointly applied to Wharton with her husband, Mike.  She highlights the importance of explaining why you need an MBA and discusses what it was like applying to b school as a couple.

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The other day I told my husband, “now is the best time ever to be a veteran.”  There is an incredible focus on providing incentives for companies to hire veterans and widespread support for transitioning veterans to pursue advanced schooling.  I believe this is the case because of the amazing example veterans who have joined the private sector before us have set by bravely pursuing challenging career opportunities.  They have proven that their unique skills in the military do in fact help a company’s bottom line.  Their successes and ability to flex, adapt, and perform is why NOW is the greatest time ever to be a veteran.  Thanks to them I am writing this blog as my husband and I (both U.S. Army vets) prepare to join the Wharton MBA Class of 2014.

I chose a slightly different path than many veterans (like my husband) who transition out of service and begin an MBA program.  I went through a recruiting firm nearly 18 months ago and I took a role in Sales and Marketing at PepsiCo.  During this time I also chose to serve in the Army Reserve and took command of a drill sergeant training unit.  When I decided to apply to business school, I had two very different experiences in two very different industries to discuss.  This point of view was of course very different from my husband who is transitioning out of the Army after nearly eight years.  He, like most military applicants, views business school as the opportunity to build fundamental business skills and transition to a different industry. As I applied to business school, the challenge for me was tying together my military and civilian experiences and explaining why I needed an MBA.  After all, I already had a managerial role in a corporation so why would I need to spend $100K+ on tuition (plus lost income for two years) to get another managerial role two years later?

For those in my position, I believe it is critical to explain why an MBA will help propel your career forward and it is also important to explain what you will bring to the classroom having had both military and corporate experiences.  I focused on explaining to the admissions committee how I had found ways to apply the leadership skills I developed overseas to my role in the corporate world.  I did this through my essays and interview, by providing vignettes of leadership concepts I honed in the military and portrayed how I had to flex and adapt so that I could leverage these skills in a corporate setting. I believe that focusing on tangible scenarios where my overseas experiences helped guide me through challenging corporate situations helped shape my application’s focus.

The other important element to highlight for veterans coming from a corporate role is to share how you still lack fundamental business skills such as accounting, strategy, marketing, etc. While the past 18 months at PepsiCo have taught me a lot, I still do not have nearly as much exposure to the business world and different industries which I feel is necessary to propel my career forward.  It is like jumping into the military without having had any formal military training through an ROTC, OCS, or Academy type of program or graduating from high school and going straight to Iraq having never gone to any sort of military school for new recruits. While taking steps like starting a business reading list and taking classes certainly helped me in my role, I explained in my application how it still was not enough for me to grow and perform at the level I wanted.

As for applying as a couple, I asked a few Wharton admissions reps how “couples” applying to the same program are treated.  Many business schools have a block you can check off if you have a significant other also applying, but I was told quite frankly that both applicants must get into the program on their own merit.  I know of another dual military couple who both got into top business schools, but I think the same goes for them and any others applying as a couple: make your application stand out in your own unique way.  The application process is grueling but taking the time to know yourself, know what you want to do, and find ways to market yourself will go a long way.  The key is having the courage to apply and put yourself out there.  The worst thing that can happen is that they say “no” and you will learn a lot about yourself through the process.  Best of luck!

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