It was still dark outside when the alarm began to chime at 5:45 a.m. I had already been awake for at least half an hour, anticipating the day. I brewed a cup of coffee and opened the large window in my room to the JB Duke Hotel parking lot below. I dressed in my new outfit, grabbed my bag, and hurriedly walked downstairs to the dining area, where 170 of my fellow students ate their breakfast, briefly socializing with one another.
I was too nervous to eat, so I helped myself to a second cup of coffee and moved straight to the large auditorium, where we would receive our first introduction to the program and the months of work ahead of us. As the seats began to fill, the once quiet theatre began to buzz with discussions of industry and finance from seasoned experts in their field. I looked to my left and noticed an oversized monitor hanging on the wall displaying the words Duke University Fuqua School of Business in big, white bold letters. As I looked around the room again, one thing crossed my mind: “I’m not supposed to be here.”
I wish I could say that this was the last time that thought crossed my mind. It would be ideal to continue this story with a quote from Churchill or Roosevelt describing how my inadequacy was short-lived and how I rose to the occasion as a shining star amongst my peers. Well…yes and no.
The truth is that there will be instances where veterans are indeed the imposter in the room. Regardless of the hours you may have spent on PowerPoint building a concept of operations or the thousand mouse clicks you took to create a one-sheet chalk load, the majority of veterans are ill-equipped to understand the steps needed to run a regression analysis or the complexities of conducting an economic value added assessment. The reality is assignments that take some of us hours or days to complete, our peers can complete in minutes. That’s okay—this is what you paid for.
The good news is that there are two critical, but encouraging factors that veterans should consider when applying to Fuqua:
- Most veterans are familiar with volunteering for selection courses. Whether it was boot camp, flight school, or a special operations assessment course, we have all experienced situations where we might not be the most adept at the material we were expected to master. This unease is a good thing. It keeps you modest and reminds you to work harder. But you must believe in the process. Regardless of your internal feelings, someone may have seen potential in you that you couldn’t see for yourself. The admissions process for a top-tier MBA program is the same. Put your faith in the process because it has faith in you.
- Fuqua prides itself on the one thing that active duty and veterans tend to excel at: working in small teams. Leadership, resiliency, and strong work ethic are buzzwords thrown around repeatedly in today’s workplace environment. However, it must be balanced just how important these attributes are when combined with the competencies of others. You might need to learn how to solve a complex problem in operations management, but you probably know how to ensure the assignment is organized and submitted on time. Be humble enough to ask for help when needed and confident enough to take the lead when others won’t. Your teammates will thank you for it!
The truth is that every student, regardless of their military background, feels like an imposter when they begin at Fuqua. This trial is by design, and thousands of students have experienced it before you. The trick is not to shy away from the struggles you will have along the way and take comfort in knowing that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.