Applying to HBS from Afghanistan


cristin browne and other soldiers
I remember very clearly the first time I set foot on the Harvard Business School campus. I had recently returned home from my second nine-month deployment to Afghanistan and was contemplating what was next for my career. After eight years as an army helicopter pilot, I was at a crossroads and considering for the first time what life could look like outside of military service. I was encouraged by a mentor to explore business school as a way to apply my leadership experience to “civilian life.” I applied to HBS the day before I left Afghanistan, but with such an unconventional background, I did not think I had any real shot of getting in.

Discovering my unique perspective

cristin browne flying a helicopter
Despite all the uncertainty in my mind, I decided to sign up for a campus tour and class visit before interview results were released. I thought I would stay in the background and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the case method classroom and walk around an iconic campus. I was shocked and surprised by the personalized attention I received and how interested people were in my military background. I found the students, faculty, and administration extremely excited about the perspective that I would bring to the case method classroom. There was so much passion and diversity with people from every walk of life working on every problem I could imagine. I remember leaving that day thinking: I don’t know how I’m going to do it … but I want to be a part of THAT!

What brought me here and where I am going

cristin browne posing with others
cristin brown and colleague posing infront of a helicopter
The military is a great equalizer and a true meritocracy: it is a place where you can start with nothing and achieve the highest levels of command as long as you work hard and refuse to quit.

As I now reflect on that day over two years ago, it still amazes me that I am at Harvard Business School. It is sometimes easy to get wrapped up in the day to day, so it is important never to take it for granted. Especially this time of year, I try to reflect not only on the opportunities in front of me but also what brought me here. When I decided to leave active duty, I left the only career I had ever known and a community that I loved and respected.

I am proud to be a veteran at Harvard because I hope to embody the fact that members of the military come from all walks of life and have a broad spectrum of experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs. I hope to highlight what veterans both in and out of uniform do for their communities, their campuses, and their countries. Most of all, I want to encourage people who have never spoken to a veteran on campus not only to thank them for their service but also to ask them why they served. Their answers may surprise you.