Friday, March 25, 2011

What was getting out of the Army worth?

For the past 9 months I've been telling myself that I should do a financial analysis of my decision to leave the active duty Army to enter a full-time MBA program. This afternoon I finally sat down and finished it. The number was fairly astonishing. Leaving the Army for a career in the private sector is worth a minimum of several million dollars over the rest of my life. While I won't share the specifics or the excel model, it was a good exercise to at least do.

For those who are interested, I basically assumed that I would enjoy a fairly typical military career. Promotions would happen on schedule and I would retire after 25 years of service. After retiring I would begin a second career before retiring completely at age 60.

To estimate the civilian option I used my current job offer and some widely published statistics on post-MBA pay (see here). The chart presented is probably not a good representation of actual salaries, as MBA graduates tend to become quickly segregated into income brackets which vary considerably. The sample size and methodology that Bloomberg Businessweek used is dubious at best, but represents a good starting point.

I did this exercise for a couple reasons:
1. Many people see to make education choices with little analytical thought. While I'll perhaps write more on this later, I fundamentally believe that too many young people attend college/university and receive no financial benefit.
2. When I was resigning from the Army, my supervisors asserted (falsely) that it was a mistake financially. I believed then that this was a fallacious argument supported by some extremely naive assumptions around the value of a military pension. Unfortunately it's difficult to understand what your opportunity cost is when you haven't received a civilian job offer.

All that being said, money isn't everything. I know a great many peers who are still serving on active duty who would not leave their profession for any amount of money. There's certainly something to be said for being part of a profession with a noble calling.

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