MBA Tips For Veterans From Veterans

14 tips from veterans on how their military training prepared them for an advanced degree.

Veteran Tips MBA

Getting an advanced degree (i.e. M.S or MBA) can be an overwhelming decision for anybody, especially veterans. As a veteran, researching universities, applying for admissions, finding funding, and negotiating benefits are all steps in the process.

We asked a panel of Saint Mary’s Veteran MBA students to share how their military background prepared them to get through the rigors of an advanced degree and tips they have for fellow veterans who are starting the journey. Their best answers are below.

1. Keep Pushing

"I think the most important thing for a veteran in this regard is perseverance. Often, especially if you just separated from the service and are working full time and only taking a class a semester, the process can seem unending, and the goal seems so far off.   It’s completely worth it, though, knowing when all is said and done you got a great degree. Keep pushing and you’ll get there!"

~ Adria H. Trgovcich, Legal Technician at the United States Attorney's Office, PMBA

2. Military and Business World Parallels

"In order to be a helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard, I had to be selected and trained first as an officer; in other words, a manager.  Officers are expected during the course of their careers to advance themselves professionally in a variety of fields, ranging from planning/logistics (operations), budgets/procurement (FP&A, accounting), administrative support (HR). The list goes on.  There are many similarities between the business environment and the military, and I was given the opportunity to explore and develop within several different skill-sets, which enabled me to gravitate toward what felt most natural; in my case, finance."

~ Michael Cole Norris, REACH Air Medical Services, Lead Pilot, M.S. in Finance

3. Continually Learning

"The Army gave me mentors and role models. The ones I most admired had advanced degrees. It's easy to find mentors in the army if you look and I was fortunate to have frontline leaders that were highly effective at running large-scale operations as they seemingly always had a plan and all the answers. The trait I noticed in the most successful army leaders, aside from grit and discipline, was the desire to continually learn. That is the recipe for success I've seen work in civilian world as well as in Army."

~ Daniel Finlayson, Amazon, Operations Area Manager, Executive MBA

4. Dress for Success

"The military taught me the importance of punctuality, proper uniform or attire, and not being afraid to take a risk. You will need to apply all three when pursuing a master’s degree."

~ Zach Torre, Associate Security Engineer, M.S. in Business Analytics

5. Be Resilient

"First, I learned to be self-resilient. I never gave up, especially when work or life was difficult. I am a totally disabled veteran and often experienced challenges to maintaining the level of academic performance the both myself and the College demanded of me. My unwillingness to give up became part of the determination I developed through training and experience."

~ Kristopher Rogneby, Audit Assistant at Deloitte US, M.S. in Accounting

6. Learn to work with a Team

"Another useful trait was both the ability to work within a team environment and on my leadership qualities. I always fostered a team environment when either working on a group project or during study group meetings. I encouraged everyone to have a voice during brainstorming sessions and during the research and presentation phase of our work. If a fellow student was having difficulty I would give the encouragement and help to find the resources they may have needed to overcome any issues they may have been experiencing. Another trait I developed during my service was to be organized and hardworking. I dedicated myself to learning different concepts and cultural norms of a college campus and to respect my fellow students (even when I found it difficult)."

~ Kristopher Rogneby, Audit Assistant at Deloitte US, M.S. in Accounting

7. Do Your Research

"Determine the benefits you qualify for. Locate your local Veteran Support Officer (VSO) Find out who the military liaison is at your college. Work hard. The military was physically rigorous; a masters is mentally rigorous."

~ Zach Torre, Associate Security Engineer, M.S. in Business Analytics

8. Be Patient with Younger Generations

"Be patient with the younger students both in and out of class. Be patient with professors, they may have a different world view than the veteran and a different understanding of cultural and social issues. It's O.K. to disagree with them, but be respectful in any response."

~ Kristopher Rogneby, Audit Assistant at Deloitte US, M.S. in Accounting

9. Plan ahead

"Draw on your determination and esprit decor. Be proud of who you are and where you are going. Backward plan your path to the degree and you careen post-graduation. Always know where you are going and how you will get there."

~ Kristopher Rogneby, Audit Assistant at Deloitte US, M.S. in Accounting

10. Keep Focused

"College is definitely a difficult challenge, keep your eyes on your goals and maintain confidence in yourself. If you find yourself overwhelmed, just take it one day, one assignment, one lecture at a time.

Also, take the time to enjoy your college experience St Mary’s has so much to offer so take advantage of all the activities that are there for students."

~ Kristopher Rogneby, Audit Assistant at Deloitte US, M.S. in Accounting

11. Think Outside Your Current Role and Industry

"I would recommend thinking beyond the scope of one's primary job description or MOS.  Recall a time in which you were assigned a new task or collateral skill, and you found the work compelling and rewarding.  Think about how that skill might translate to a particular role in a field of business. You may be surprised just how well your work as a military leader can apply in the private sector." 

~Michael Cole Norris, REACH Air Medical Services, Lead Pilot, M.S. in Finance

12. Network

"Make sure you connect and network with other veterans both at school and in the business world.  They can provide valuable guidance and mentorship when it comes to translating your experience from technical military jargon into a relevant and legible resume."

~Michael Cole Norris, REACH Air Medical Services, Lead Pilot, M.S. in Finance

13. Trust the Process

"Don't fall into the trap of assuming that civilian hiring managers don't understand or value veteran's backgrounds and experience.  Countless firms are actively seeking candidates with military experience and are enabling specific programs geared toward veterans. Right now, there is an abundance of opportunities; the best will go to the candidates with the appropriate drive and mindset."

~Michael Cole Norris, REACH Air Medical Services, Lead Pilot, M.S. in Finance

14. Just Do It.

"Just do it. I get that there's a ton of questions like, 'Can I afford it? Will it pay off? What should my advanced degree be in?'

Find a way to get it done. The payoff has the potential to be big and it is important to separate yourself from your pack of peers in today's world."

~ Daniel Finlayson, Amazon, Operations Area Manager, Executive MBA

Saint Mary’s Veteran’s Council is an invitation-only community for executives who served in the military. Contact us if you are interested in joining.