I've got a gap between leaving the military and applying to business school... how should I spend it?
Sometimes people must get out of the military earlier than they expected, and sometimes people just didn't plan for b-school far enough in advance. Either way, you may find yourself in a situation where you are getting out of the military a while prior to applying to b-school and you need to figure out how to best spend that time; mostly so that you can help and not hurt your future applications.
- Is it something you would tell your grandchildren about?
- Is it something random people meeting you would say "tell me more about this!"
- Is it something you can probably not do at any other point in your life?
- Is it something that your future b-school classmates would find interesting?
- Volunteer and go work in a non-Western country. Go teach English in China, or work in a jungle preservation project in Latin America, support construction of new sanitation solutions in Africa, etc. Why? Business schools like people who stretch themselves, like to contribute to the world, are internationally engaged (just being to Iraq and Afghanistan does not count), and are able to work in diverse environments.
- Write a book. Get published by a well known publisher and this would certainly help showcase new skills sets. Obviously this won't be an option for most people, but some of you are naturally gifted authors.
- Just travel. Spend 6 months backpacking through 50 countries. Why? Same as above... it increases your international awareness, social skills, and worldly awareness. It says that you prefer to visit 50 countries during your 6 months off than to spend it within 50 miles of the home you grew up in, and the former tend to be the types of people who go to top business schools, not the latter.
- Start a business. If you have an idea, pursue it. If you are successful, great! If not, it's an even better angle as to how you discovered you need to go to business school. Just a warning: don't start a "boring" business - this is in line with why you don't want to work for a "normal" company. In other words, don't start a new lawn cutting service in your town, or open a local bike shop. Your business should be innovative and at least target a global reach with significant impact; whether or not you get there is less important. You want the business to reflect your overarching and big picture thinking.
- Enter an athletic competition. If you are a fitness nut, then this could work. This would need to a pretty high profile event, a US Championships level event. You could take 10 months to train for this event, and it would need to be something that people have heard of. Obviously actually achieving good results will be important too. You don't have to win, but if this is your main dream and you spend 10 months training for an event and then not even qualify, then it doesn't bode well for one's ability to anticipate outcomes. In other words, you need to be in it to win it (or at least come close). It would need to be something the school want want to boast about in their marketing material ("...we even have a student who recently won XYZ...").
- Become an actor. Move to LA and land appearances in some TV shows or movies. Sound difficult? It is. Don't do it if you think you will have nothing to show for it. You don't want to sound like an out of work waiter in LA. That would be a big step back. However, if it's always been your dream, you might as well do what you love.
- They show ambition.
- They demonstrate a campaign plan to achieve something meaningful.
- They produce something that few people will ever attempt, but probably wish they could.
- They reveal an inner passion of yours (volunteering, traveling, writing, athletics, acting, etc.), and your follow through on those.