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Careers

From the Marines to New Rigors in Business School

U.S. Marine Captain Sarah Stokes joined the ranks of budding entrepreneurs at Harvard Business School after her tour of duty ended.

I worked for a software company for a year after college graduation, but I knew I wanted something more out of my career. I considered teaching or joining the Peace Corps, but I had family that had been in the Marines and it seemed like the best fit for me. I joined in 2001.

I met my husband, Kealoha, in the Marines, and we were married a year later. Each of us was deployed to Iraq twice. I was working in a combat service-support unit, and he was in one of the infantry units I was supporting. As our three-and-a-half-year commitment neared an end, we decided we wanted to see more of each other and do other things.

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I wanted to return to the business world. One of my platoon commanders had gone to Harvard Business School, and although applying to a master's program had never occurred to me -- let alone applying to one at Harvard -- it sounded like a good way to make the transition. I was accepted and started classes last September. I wouldn't be here if not for the leadership training I got in the Corps -- it was definitely worth it.

Harvard isn't cheap. Total costs are about $76,000 a year for the two-year program. Tuition is $38,000, and the rest goes for fees and living expenses. The GI Bill covers $10,600 per academic year, and I have fellowship money from an alumnus who wanted to support a Marine. Student loans help cover the remaining $50,000, including living expenses, and Kealoha is substitute teaching for now.

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I'm interested in working as an entrepreneur in emerging markets -- perhaps in Iraq, Afghanistan or Eastern Europe. I see a lot of opportunities in places that need help in many industries. I want to work with my husband, and because we don't have kids yet or big responsibilities, it would be a good time for us to live abroad.

We want to find jobs we enjoy. Life is so precious and time is so short -- starting salary isn't what I'm trying to maximize. Once I'm out of school, if paying back the loans is all we have to worry about, we'll be pretty well off.

-- As told to Jessica Anderson