After 15 months in Baghdad with the First Infantry Division, I was looking forward to being a student again
Originally Posted on Monday, December 7, 2009 | by Andy Rinehart
Reposted from BusinessWeek
Leaving the Army was a difficult decision. I had already invested eight years of my life in my military career, considering the time spent as an ROTC cadet at Wake Forest University and an active duty tour that took me everywhere from Kansas to Iraq. However, during my deployment I realized that my professional and personal goals weren't compatible with a lifetime spent in the armed forces. With this in mind, I began the bittersweet process of getting out—and at the same time I had to ask myself the next logical question: Now what?
First, a little more about me: I majored in computer science at Wake Forest, and after being commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army, I served as a scout platoon leader and troop executive officer. I deployed to Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with the First Infantry Division from February 2007 through April 2008. I left active duty in May 2009. On the personal side, I'm an exercise addict and an avid reader.
I always knew I wanted to return to school as a graduate student, and after a bit of research, I found that an MBA was a no-brainer for me. The best business schools will tell you that an MBA is a degree that combines the science of management with the art of leadership, which is a formula that complements my professional experience and provides me with significant room to develop skills that I had never needed before.What's this accounting thing, anyhow? Besides, after 15 months in Baghdad, I was looking forward to being a student again. The BusinessWeek.com Forum and the Clear Admit Web site were a big help in this stage because they helped me understand the business school environment and where I fit in. I learned that I'm considered a non-traditional applicant by merit of my work experience, and I also fall under the category of a career changer.
All that was left was to figure out was where to go to school and how to get there. The "how" was the easy part: take the GMAT and apply to the programs I liked most. I've always been a good standardized test-taker, and with the help of a few GMAT preparation books, I scored a 750. A score like that was cause for celebration, but I knew that the remainder of the MBA application loomed. I spent the entire month of September filling out work histories, revising the résumé, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life (yes, the infamous "long-term/short-term goals" essays. That was the most challenging part of the entire process because I really haven't the slightest idea what I want to do professionally in the future. Fortunately, an MBA introduces you to a wide variety of industries and functions, via the curriculum and through the combined experiences of your student peers. I'm certain that by the time I graduate, I'll have a much better grasp on what interests me and where I see myself. Clicking the submit button on the final MBA application was a liberating experience, both mentally and financially. My bank account was lightened considerably.
SMALL CLASS SIZE WAS KEY
I interviewed throughout the winter, and that was by far the best part of the process. I traveled from one side of the country to the other, speaking with current MBA students, admissions officers, and alumni. My favorite part of that period was meeting all the other prospective students—finally, a chance to commiserate in person with other folks who understand exactly how exquisite a torture being a business school applicant can be. I was impressed by the caliber of my fellow aspirants, and the prospect of working alongside such bright, motivated people was exciting. As the weather grew warmer and spring crept in, I had only one hurdle left: where to go?
I knew what I was looking for in an MBA program: a challenging curriculum, small class size, and a strong reputation among potential employers. The availability of financial aid was also a significant factor in my decision, as was location. After living in Kansas for four years, I knew I didn't want to be anywhere near the Midwest. Taking all these factors into account, one school consistently rose to the top of my list: the Schools of Business at Wake Forest University. Out of all the schools on my list, Wake Forest was the only place where I not only felt accepted—I felt wanted. E-mails and phone calls from students, faculty, staff, and alumni all urging me to attend and offering advice and mentorship were almost overwhelming, and certainly welcomed. I even had the opportunity to speak with the dean of the Wake Forest business schools, Steve Reinemund, before I officially became a student. Moments like that demonstrated the advantage of attending a smaller MBA program such as Wake Forest, and this level of personal attention really sealed the deal for me.
Having finally put the "getting in" of business school behind me, I can now focus on taking full advantage of everything Wake Forest has to offer. For me an MBA program is a means to an end—namely, finding a new, rewarding career path. While I don't know the first thing about holding a real job (seriously, I got to drive tanks and jump out of planes in the Army—how can you call that work?), I do know there are a few industries out there that seem interesting to me at the moment, such as health care and management consulting. Wake Forest offers program concentrations in both of those fields, so I'll try to take electives in each during my first year. The aforementioned dean, Reinemund, recently joined the faculty after serving as CEO of Pepsico; John Allison, former CEO of BB&T, also signed on with Wake Forest this summer. The chance to learn from these two seasoned business leaders is absolutely thrilling.
I'm eager to get started. Compared with the majority of my classmates, I'll be starting on the tail end of the proverbial power curve because I've never had any business education, formal or otherwise. However, I'm not at all intimidated; rather, I see the next two years as an exciting mental challenge. For now, I'll get back to the financial-accounting summer coursework my soon-to-be professor thoughtfully assigned. So it begins.
Andy Rinehart is enrolled in the full-time MBA program at the Wake Forest Schools of Business. Hoping to become a JD/MBA candidate, which means four years of school, Rinehart is expected to graduate in 2013. Before pursuing an MBA, Rinehart served his country by leading more than 50 Army combat missions in Baghdad and taking part in noncombat activities including local economic assessments and fuel ration distributions. Earning his undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Wake Forest in 2005, Rinehart began his eight-year military service in the university's ROTC program.