Seeing the MBA Degree More Clearly for Military Students

DirtyWindshield(seeclearly)I just returned from the annual MBA conference, hosted by GMAC, which was attended by nearly 800 MBA schools worldwide. As the main industry event, outcomes of this conference determine future directions and developments for all things MBA. Here’s my take on what to expect with a clear eye toward what it means for all of you military applicants.

#1 – The MBA is moving toward a more simplified testing and admissions process. It will not become any easier to get in an MBA program nor take the GMAT entrance exam. However, look for administration of both steps to streamline. As the process becomes more supportive it will seem less intimidating. It follows that more testing tools and diagnostics will become available in an effort to prepare candidates for MBA education. Several top MBA schools mentioned how this will take the form of fewer essay questions on applications from prospective military students. The questions that remain will focus on the best fit of an applicant with an MBA school. Takeaway: This is a net positive for all military applicants.

#2 – There is more emphasis to have alumni interview, and screen, prospective MBA applicants. This move is out of necessity by MBA schools, but it is also aligned with trends toward transparency and trust in customer reviews, feedback and evaluations. Takeaway: Because MBA schools have leaned upon military alumni to evaluate their own for years, I see this direction as beneficial for military applicants. Plus, it presents a legitimate opportunity to reverse interview and ask alums candid questions about the strengths and vulnerabilities of each school prior to enrollment. Overall, it is a sign of confidence in the more progressive MBA programs.

#3 – The MBA is becoming more diverse both in the U.S. and globally. Sangeet Chowfla, President & CEO of GMAC, made a comment about blacks and hispanics becoming pluralities of the future in United States. GMAC also acquired the NMAT exam which is focused on India and Africa. Takeaway: This development is net positive for a couple of reasons: A) The military is the most diverse employer in the world.; B) Military veterans are well-prepared to lead and manage in international business environments. I covered this topic in a blog post 3 years ago and it remains equally true today. Military MBAs can lead in diverse climates and they are well-prepared to become global managers. If the MBA continues to diversify and move global it will only help military applicants.

#4 – MBA credentials are becoming more attractive outside of traditional employment fields. Key hiring trends for an MBA degree are no longer exclusively to get a leg up in investment banking and management consulting fields. MBA credentials are growing toward entrepreneurial business and social leadership. According to GMAC, entrepreneurial business interest is up by 9%. Some prominent MBA schools also mentioned a broadening of MBA degrees toward helping business leaders in areas of social impact and health care. Takeaway: Net neutral. Given the military is all about national service and veterans are inclined toward working with purpose, mission and team this trend is a net positive for military applicants. However, from an industry standpoint, this pivot will not be a simple, ordinary, product-line extension. The MBA needs to adapt, evolve and be more responsive to the needs of all business managers today. It cannot simply operate status quo and reposition itself to new fields of economy and business endeavor. And, during periods of transition, the MBA definitely cannot afford to lose demand from traditional employers who place value upon obtaining the degree.

# 5 – The MBA is moving toward a younger age demographic and recruitment efforts will target more undergrads earlier in their careers. GMAC has publicized that they currently have 5 pilots in place which are focused at an undergraduate level. Takeaway: Net negative. While junior military officers (JMOs) –  including service academy graduates and ROTCs – learn leadership a young, formative age and they are prepared for graduate studies in business; the vast majority of civilian MBAs are neither as mature nor aware about the direction of their future careers. Just because this is a common recruitment practice for medical and law schools it doesn’t mean the MBA world should react and do the same thing. If the work experience standard drops for MBA, there must be corresponding progress made in curriculum preparedness at the undergrad level and work experience in areas such as internships. Currently, I don’t see this happening anywhere in college life for civilian students. Until it does, the industry should uphold the standard of a 2-5 years work experience in business and industry prior to obtaining an MBA degree.

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