As I prepared to separate from the United States Navy, many people warned me about the challenges I would soon face. My transition from the Navy to HBS has certainly had its trials, but I would like to focus on the opportunities that arose from this transition. Now, of course, each person’s experience is unique, but here are some insights from my own transition, which I admit is very much still in progress! 

The transition does not happen immediately

After making the decision to apply to business school, I had 10 months between separating from the Navy and showing up at HBS. During that time I had the opportunity to pursue a childhood dream of working as a ski instructor in Vail, Colorado - as well as participate in veteran specific pre-MBA programs in both investment banking and technology. 

These opportunities gave me a chance to experience life outside of the military, in addition to giving me insight into industries that I may be interested in post-HBS. Most importantly, they afforded me the opportunity to reflect. I spent a significant amount of time during those 10 months examining what is important to me as a person and what it is I hoped to get out of my two years at HBS. 

Not everyone has the luxury of a break between their military service and HBS, but take whatever time you do have, whether it is 2 weeks or 2 years, and allow for self-reflection before the excitement (and chaos) of RC year begins.  

The case method opened my eyes 

When I first showed up at HBS, I didn’t fully appreciate how my military service had impacted nearly every aspect of my life. The way in which I approach group projects, the point of view I argue in class, and the punctuality I demonstrate on a daily basis are in large part a result of my time in the Navy. In the military, members generally join at a young age, go through a common indoctrination and then mature within that organization. 

At HBS, on the other hand, a section of 94 individuals with a vast diversity of experiences, each indoctrinated in a unique business culture are brought together to examine a complex business problem. The diversity of thought within our Aldrich 108 classroom fostered the most intellectually stimulating environment I have ever been a part of. As the year progressed I found myself gradually examining cases through different lenses and, to me, this widened perspective is certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of RC year. 

I am not an HBS admissions mistake

Even though there are many technical business concepts that my classmates know more about than I do, I am still able to offer a unique perspective based on my experiences as a Naval Officer. Managing a large number of people in a high stakes environment forced me to be comfortable with analyzing information, deciding on a way forward, and implementing a course of action. The opportunity to gain these soft skills at a relatively young age is prevalent among people with a military background, but an anomaly in many other industries.

The value add of my experiences to the HBS classroom is something I doubted at the outset of RC year, but as time progressed I began to recognize how lessons I learned from my own experiences could prove incredibly insightful during case discussions. Showcasing the skills I do have, while continuing to develop those skills I lack, allowed me to truly contribute to and benefit from the section experience.         

My transition certainly didn’t end when RC year began. The moment I acknowledged that the transition would take a while, a lot of pressure was lifted. There is no timetable and there are no right steps; it is a process. As I look back on RC year, I am amazed at how much I have learned about both the world of business and myself, while at the same time I look forward to continuing my transition during EC year and beyond.