Q&A: Transitioning from military to grad school

  • January 23, 2017
  • By Guest Blogger
  • 4 minute read

Before becoming a full-time MBA student at Olin, Dan Nordin served as a Platoon Leader at Fort Carson, Colorado (including a deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan) and as the HHC commander for the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia—it’s fair to say he understands the transition from military life to graduate school.

Dan is also an ambassador for Service 2 School, a non-profit that provides free application counseling to military veterans. Here’s what he had to say about his involvement with Service 2 School, post-military life, and the unique challenges facing veterans applying to business school:

How and why did you become involved in Service 2 School?

Service 2 School was co-founded by one of my classmates at West Point. It is a non-profit organization that assists veterans through the application process, with the goal of helping them gain admission into the best universities possible and to help maximize education benefits. When I made the decision to transition from the Army and pursue an MBA, I signed up for their services. I was partnered up with an Ambassador, another one of my West Point classmates that was in his first year at the Tuck School of Business. He walked me through the application process, reviewed my resume, and provided valuable feedback on my essay responses. Since Service 2 School is a non-profit organization, you pay it forward by volunteering to be an Ambassador after you gain admission into a top program to assist other veterans through the application process.

What resources does Service 2 School provide?

The biggest resource Service 2 School provides is connecting you to other veterans who have already navigated through the application process, who can provide valuable feedback on your entire application, whether through resume and essay reviews, as well as interview prep. In addition, they provide free guidebooks on applying to schools as well as discounts on test prep material from companies such as Veritas for preparing for the GMAT.

What are unique challenges facing veterans applying to business schools?

I think the biggest challenge facing veterans are translating their military experience and relevant skill set to a non-military audience. Additionally, it is hard to balance the demanding lifestyle of the military while properly preparing for applying to business schools. Many of my friends were studying for the GMAT or conducting Skype interviews with schools while deployed to Afghanistan. Once the decision has been made to transition from the military to business school, it is important for veterans to remember to set a realistic timeline based on deployment schedules or intensive training calendars. Always set aside more time than you think you need to study for the GMAT—that allows you to get your target score before applications even open. That way, a busy veteran can focus on fine tuning their resume and really concentrate on writing the application essays.

What experiences should veterans highlight in their application materials to business schools?

I think the most unique skill set that many veterans bring to business school is their leadership experience.  The military is the only organization that I know of that can put someone pretty recently removed from college in charge of a large team of 20-50 people.

What has been your experience as a veteran returning to school?

I was very hesitant to leave the military—it’s really the only thing I have known for the last 12 years. Additionally, it would mean forgoing a paycheck while trying to support a wife and two kids. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the GI Bill and for Olin participating in the Yellow Ribbon program. The Olin community has been nothing but supportive. It has been a great experience, from hosting the veterans prior to school starting so veterans can get to know the other veterans to meeting faculty and providing us with the necessary resources to succeed in both the classroom and in searching for a job. Additionally, it has been great getting to know people from many different backgrounds and experiences.

What advice would you give veterans currently seeking an MBA program?

Make sure you develop a realistic timeline to start GMAT test prep in order to get a score that is good enough to get into your target schools. Target a program that will help you best obtain your post-MBA goals. After that, reach out to the veterans’ association at that target school to connect to other veterans who went through the same process a year ago. The associations can provide invaluable resources on the application process and insight into whether the program is a fit for you based on your aspirations.

Guest Blogger: Dan Nordin, MBA ’18

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