Read Part 1 of Military Transition and the JD/MBA

How to Think About the JD/MBA 

The military is an extremely hierarchical environment where professional credibility is literally worn on a person’s chest and sleeves.  That makes well-respected education and professional degrees attractive to military members who seek credentials as they enter civilian life.  The JD/MBA is a strong credential, but I urge veterans not to think of it as a tab or badge to be added to a long list of professional and personal accomplishments in the way a military bio typically reads.    

Moreover, combining two degrees that are popular in the private sector combines a significant list of career options that the typical transitioning veteran seeks to preserve through the transition process pending a final decision about what path to take.  Although both degrees open doors for veterans seeking to create the largest number of opportunities possible, many transitioning veterans may not need those options, especially if they can quickly climb the learning curve about opportunities outside of the military before they transition. 

As you think about the JD/MBA program, consider the tradeoffs inherent in pursuit of it.  The Harvard JD/MBA is a life-changing experience.  It is rewarding, rich in experiences, and associated with near-limitless opportunity.  At the same time, it is four years of hard work—and if you pursue internships in challenging industries with high expectations and long hours, you will not get much of a break in the summers.  Many military members view full-time advanced degrees and fellowships as a break from the grind of deployments and time away from the family.  The JD/MBA program is not this type of degree; it will challenge you, and if you are doing it right, it will push you beyond your limits in terms of intellectual challenge, diligence, and time management.  But you emerge from the experience a better student, attorney, businessperson, leader, manager, and even a better person. 

Second, the program may not be cost-effective.  The bad news is that four years of school at Harvard is not cheap.  The great news is that both HBS and HLS are exceptional at supporting veterans through the financial aid process.  Many veterans qualify for educational assistance programs through the VA.  HLS and HBS match Forever/Post-9/11 GI Bill funds, offer numerous grants to veterans, and facilitate externally-funded fellowships like the Black Family Fellowship, Timothy Day Fellowship, and others.  Individual financial circumstances dictate much of the extent of this tradeoff, but you should also consider the opportunity cost of four years of school.  If the job you have your sights set on is readily accessible already or with one of the degrees (instead of both), consider the income and savings losses associated with being in school. 

Third, understand that trying to do two degrees concurrently (or even three for those of us serving as reserve and guard members who are engaged in a military-affiliated ILE/IDE advanced degree by correspondence) is not easy.  It consumes time and energy that the typical student at either HLS or HBS can invest in social life, building relationships, extracurricular activities, or family.  Additionally, in the third and fourth years of the program, JD/MBA students must split already limited free time between social lives at both schools.  Your obligations and requirements at one school may prevent you from fully immersing yourself in the other.  Even if you consider yourself antisocial, know that the HBS section experience is an important part of the MBA program and relationships are often built socially.  Having made good friends and dedicated significant effort to my sections at both HLS and HBS, I found this tradeoff to be the most difficult of the JD/MBA experience. 

What’s the right time to matriculate?  Am I too old? 

I don’t think anyone is ever too old to attend HLS or HBS, but veterans should consider where they are in their lives and careers and be realistic about expectations.  Military veterans are typically older than the average student at both HLS and HBS.  If you’re like me and you’ve spent some additional time in the military beyond your initial service requirement or enlistment, you’re going to be even older than the average veteran.  That lends some advantages.  As someone with above average life and career experience—and hopefully someone who has reflected on why you’re pursuing the JD/MBA and what exactly you seek to get out of it—you have a distinct advantage over some of your peers: you know exactly what you want to accomplish in graduate school and can tailor your JD/MBA degree accordingly.  I can’t overstate the significance of this advantage; Harvard is an incredible place with an endless number of classes and opportunities, and it is easy to get consumed into many classes and activities that require the most valuable resource you have: time.  Knowing what you want out of the experience allows you to optimize your schedule for low-risk/high-reward classes, extracurricular and other activities to maximize your return on investment. 

However, based on your experiences in the military and in life, you may feel that a chasm exists between you and other students psychologically.  You may not feel like you have a lot in common with others.  But that’s likely not true, and where it is true, realize that it’s the point.  Each class is assembled by admissions to represent a wide range of extraordinary experiences, and you have as much to learn from others as you have to share. 

If you have a family, make sure you think through what school with your family will look like.  Plan for any limitations on your ability to move away from Boston for summer internships and consider your job search and networking efforts accordingly.  Overall, HLS and HBS are very supportive of students with families, and partners and families are an active part of the Harvard community.  

You should also recognize that as someone switching careers, you are likely going to start at or near the entry-level in a new career field, so deferring that start by four years to do a JD/MBA may not make sense if you can start now.  Additionally, you may not be as attractive to some employers, which will require you to work hard to get competitive jobs at firms with skeptical recruiters; the JD/MBA may help, but it does not resolve this problem.  Make sure you are up for these challenges as a mid-career professional when you decide to pursue the JD/MBA.