Military to MBA: Advice for Making the Soldier to Student Transition

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Pursuing a graduate business degree after military service is a great option for veterans who are interested in higher earning potential and advanced positions in the business world. In addition to those benefits, an MBA opens the door for work in nearly any industry and fills in business expertise gaps that are common among veterans.

However, along with these benefits come several challenges. A lack of business experience can leave veterans with little background knowledge of finance, entrepreneurship and marketing. Culture shock may also be a problem, as can an intense focus on social and networking activities.

The good news is that veterans who recognize and prepare for these challenges will have an easier time overcoming them. Keep reading for advice on how former military members can master the transition to business school (B-school) life.

Seek Out Other Veterans

It's no secret that graduate school ​admission officers are interested in veterans​, who often have high levels of discipline, drive and leadership skills. Top MBA programs even host dedicated visitation days and events exclusively for prospective veteran applicants.

No matter the program you choose, you'll likely find a group of former military students or alumni with whom you can connect. Whether you're still deciding on a program or you've already started school, it's helpful to reach out to other military members and learn about their experiences, challenges and impressions of the program.

Their responses may lead you to a school that's a better fit for veterans. If you're already enrolled, other students' advice may prepare you for upcoming challenges and present helpful resources and solutions.

Learn the B-School Language

Your classmates may be coming from professional backgrounds that made them specialists in economics, finance or other business topics. Many military veterans, however, haven't been exposed in as great of detail to those subject areas.

To avoid falling behind, try to study up on any unfamiliar business topics well before classes start. Make your way through recommended reading lists or simply conduct independent background research to prepare you for these courses. Staying current on popular business news also allows you to begin immersing yourself in contemporary business vernacular.

If classes are already underway and you're currently dealing with a knowledge gap, don't be shy about seeking out additional resources such as office hours and study groups.

Hone Your Time Management Skills

Adjusting from the highly regimented environment of the military to an academic setting with large stretches of unscheduled time can be challenging. Former military members who don't master the self-direction necessary for success can get off to a bumpy academic start. Hone in on the skills you have already developed to be disciplined and regimented about your studies and preparing for class.

Check in with your academic adviser or veterans organizations for strategies to help you adjust. If pre-term summer classes or orientation options are available, take advantage of these offerings and use them to adapt to the new schedule and structure.

Get Involved

With all the responsibilities of starting a B-school program, it's easy to push extracurricular activities to the bottom of your list of priorities. However, these activities are some of the most powerful tools at an MBA student's disposal. They facilitate meaningful connections with fellow students, faculty and alumni who could help you land great positions after graduation.

Social activities can also offer a much-needed respite to the stressful schedule of a grad student. Even if you're in an ​online MBA program​, you should still seek out these opportunities by pursuing global residency options, reaching out to other students in your area and staying connected with classmates through social media.

Entering an MBA program can be difficult for students of all backgrounds, but former military members face a unique set of challenges. Use these strategies to prepare yourself for the transition so you can get the most from your graduate program and reap the benefits after graduation and beyond.

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