Do you need an MBA to get a job after military transition, or is it an epic waste of time and money? As Military.com’s Transition Master Coach, I see so many veterans like you get conflicting advice about whether you need an MBA (Master of Business Administration) in order to leave the military and transition into your next job. We’re here to help.
Everyone else wants to help you, too, so when you ask peers, work friends and mentors about the MBA, they often scoff and say something like, “You? You don’t need that.”
Often that statement is true. Your civilian friends know you don’t need that added credential to get hired at their company. And if your friend thinks you are the next entrepreneurial Bezos/Buffet/Zuckerberg billionaire, they think you can just hire a passel of MBAs when you need them rather than earning the degree yourself.
Yet some of the time when people say you won’t need an MBA it is because they think it is a vote of confidence in you as a person, and they don’t want you to worry too much about your transition, which is nice. But how much do these people really know about your work experience, your target industry or location and your true ambitions?
An MBA is no golden ticket. Most veterans do not need an MBA to get a job. But there are some veterans who really do benefit from an MBA. If that’s you, how you get it, where you get and why you get it matters a lot.
5 Kinds of Veterans Who Benefit from a MBA
The truth is that there are five kinds of veterans who really would benefit from getting an MBA. Check out our list and see if your career ambitions fall into one of these categories.
1. You want to solve the problems of Big Business
After transition, many veterans are interested in switching industries completely. They want to solve business problems, not military problems. Yet all their experience and their prior education has nothing to do with business.
That’s where an MBA can help you pivot from one industry to another -- especially if you are a junior officer or young or mid-career enlisted with a new four-year degree. In order to get accepted into a top program, you are going to need to be able to spell out in your personal statement what you hope to accomplish in business.
Related: The 6 Best Distance-Learning MBA Programs For Veterans
Don’t be daunted. The biggest business schools genuinely want veterans. You can expect that five to ten percent of every cohort is made up of veterans. These schools also have veteran programs and veteran alumni associations that can help you with your application. These applications are tricky, so definitely get in contact with these veteran programs for the best targeted advice for that institution.
2. You are hunting for a bigger paycheck
It has been in the news that many elite master’s degree programs can financially cripple a worker for life. Just having a Master’s degree isn’t enough. Your paycheck is dependent on your type of degree, your industry, your role, and your location.
The MBA is linked to an uptick in income. At $115,000, the median salary of MBA graduates is 77% more than those with a bachelor’s degree, according to the 2020 Corporate Recruiters Survey from the Graduate Management Admissions Council.
When it comes to income potential, the reputation of your institution also matters. Among the full-time MBA programs that reported salary data to U.S. News and World Report, the overall average base salary plus bonus paid to 2020 graduates was $101,034. Yet at the top 10 MBA programs, the overall average base salary and signing bonus was $172,265.
Do your research on the average income for your type of degree and the placement rate of your institution before you invest your own resources into a program.
3. You are chasing wealth industries
Certain industries like management consulting and investment banking are notorious for courting graduates of the top full-time MBA programs. On average, MBA grads who enter the consulting industry command the highest base salaries, and those who work in government tend to be paid the lowest base salaries. No surprise there.
It can be a surprise for many young veterans especially that the school itself factors so highly when you are ranked against the competition. Understand that these employers are using the rigor of the school’s admission policy, the nature of the program and the quality of past graduates as a sorting tool.
If you really want to play the management consulting or investment banking game, you need to find out their rules and then play by them. The rules for senior military may play out a little differently. Veterans in this field are a wealth of information. Connect with American Corporate Partners and find out how they can link you with someone in your target field.
4. You are aiming at a new location
For some veterans, location is far more important than the size of their paycheck. A full-time or part-time MBA can be helpful here, too, since most veterans find their next job through their connections and their network.
If you want to move to a new location but have no local connections there, an MBA from a top-rated regional school can be a big help. And if you are from the area but your connections are pretty old, a new degree can help with that, too.
Not only will you make local connections and gain local knowledge about employers through classmates and class projects, but the reputation of your institution is well-known in the area. It is a marker for your quality. It is also a signal that you intend to stay in the local area. If you want to live in Texas, for example, show them you belong.
5. You are sending a signal
For more senior military or mid-career military with a degree, getting an executive MBA from a top rated online program also sends a signal. You may not “need” this degree. Yet it sends the signal that you acknowledge your extensive military experience did not give you a lot of experience with profit and loss.
It also sends the signal that you are not old yet. You are not done. You fully intend to keep learning throughout the next decade.
The MBA is no golden ticket. Instead, think of it as a toll bridge to get you where you want to go next. Look long and hard at the other side before you use your G.I.Bill and your own money to pay for this option. Talk to veterans who have done what you want to do. Clarify what you really want. And then move forward to your next career.
Learn More About the Veteran Employment Project
To get more tips on how to make a successful military transition, sign up for one of our FREE Military Transition Master Classes today. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com’s Transition Master Coach. She is a Certified Professional Career Coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.