How I Fit an Online MBA Into My Life: Two Military Success Stories

An MBA might be one of the most challenging experiences you ever put yourself through. To succeed, you have to be willing to go that extra mile, putting time and effort into what can only be described as a rigorous program. It means squeezing value out of every second of every day. There are no easy passes when it comes to an MBA — which is why they are held in such high esteem.

If you dismiss the opportunity to join an MBA program based on your perceived lack of available time, you might just be admitting that you haven’t got what it takes to complete the program. However, if you really want that MBA, perhaps you just have to adjust your mindset and start thinking…like a soldier.

The military mindset is a product of training, discipline and complete focus. It concentrates an individual’s efforts on completing specific tasks (often as part of a team) with the clear objective of getting the job done. When obstacles are put in your way, the military mindset helps you clear a path and achieve your goals — no matter how difficult.

In many ways, the military mindset is very similar to the attitude it takes to achieve an MBA. Studying for an MBA will take you out of your comfort zone, and push you to work harder, smarter and longer than you may have ever done before. It will also introduce you to challenges — and opportunities — that you might have previously thought impossible. Like a young soldier entering basic training, you will emerge from an MBA program as a different person.

With this in mind, we spoke with two MBA graduates with military backgrounds (a veteran and a marine on active service) and asked them how they used their military mindset to tackle the MBA challenge.

How I Fit an Online MBA into My Life: Grace Gonzalez’ Story

Grace Gonzalez is a military veteran with 16-years of service behind her, including a deployment to Iraq on active duty. She now works as a nurse leader at Mountain View Hospital in Las Vegas and recently completed an online Master’s of Business Administration program at National University.

Grace firmly believes that the military mindset helped her juggle her busy professional life and family commitments to find the time to commit to working on her MBA.

“In the military, there’s a lot of expectations, a lot of work hours, and not necessarily a good work/life balance,” says Grace. “The military is very task oriented, and so, if you say you are going to do something, you’re going to do it. Time management is of the essence. The discipline and the expectations of the military carry over to your education.”

But the military mindset can only take you so far. With just 24-hours in any given day, even the most focused of individuals will need the right tools and support to fit an MBA into an already packed schedule.

This is where the online MBA program at National University makes a huge difference for vets and active-duty servicemembers. The flexible nature of the online program, with its four-week class structure and rolling monthly enrolment schedule, enables students to join the program and commit to periods of study at times that suit their specific needs. The online delivery of the program also allows students to access the program anywhere. This is of particular benefit to members of the military and their families, who are often frequently, on the move.

Getting Started at National University

“The person that got me started at National University was my husband,” says Grace. “He has a Bachelor of Business from National University, and so he understood the best how I could fit studying with them around my schedule.”

At the time Grace worked as an Inpatient Director at a 50-bed surgical unit in Alaska. Between the school run, a 10-hour working day, and other family commitments, National University provided the flexibility to fit studying online around the rest of her life.

An Accelerated MBA Program

Grace found the best approach was to completely immerse herself in the program and work through it as quickly as possible.

“What I loved about it the most was having the accelerated program where you can complete your MBA in 14 to 15 months,” says Grace.

Grace also loved the structure of National University’s four-week classes.“You can just focus on one class at a time,” says Grace. “You have to do a lot of work, and it is not an easy program by any means, but it’s just nice to have that focus and know that when those 30 days are up, and all your work is done, it is complete.”

“It worked well for our family, and it worked well for my job,” explains Grace. “It’s nice because with the four-week class structure at National University, it’s pretty easy to block the time off that you need for the month ahead to complete the class.”

Grace also advocates using any spare time in your day wisely to work on your MBA. She would use lunch breaks and even short waits in the car, picking her children from school, to read course materials or comment on projects.

“The course is all online. If you have a smartphone or a tablet, you can work on your MBA anywhere,” says Grace.

Built for Success

“The structure of the program is what helps people become successful because it sets out the guidelines and tells the students exactly what it is they need to do,” says Grace. “There is no opportunity to procrastinate.”

Highlighting another advantage of following the accelerated program, Grace is also eager to talk about the social aspect of studying on the online MBA program

“One of the nice things about doing it this way was that many of the people who would be in one class would be in your next class. Even though you are not in a physical building, you still have that feeling of camaraderie and teamwork that is essential in any MBA program.”

Despite never attending an on-campus class, Grace made many lifelong friends during her time in the MBA program.

“We’d meet up and discuss projects on Skype or Google Hangouts,” says Grace. “There was so much collaboration on National University’s online learning platform, and you never know when these connections will come in handy. I’m a nurse with an MBA today — but who knows where that MBA will take me tomorrow.”

New Opportunities

Since completing her online MBA, Grace has enjoyed more challenging opportunities at work.

“The standard degree to get when you are a nurse is a Master of Science in Nursing, but to continue in leadership, anything above Director level, it’s going to require an MBA,” says Grace.

“The MBA has given me a lot of opportunities for growth with additional roles and responsibilities. I’ve become a mentor for things like productivity and time management, and am involved in some ‘bigger picture’ projects relating to the wider business and balancing budgets.”

Her MBA skills have enabled Grace to follow a similar career arc as she enjoyed in the military.

“Being in the leadership track in the military demonstrated to my mentors and supervisors in my civilian nursing career that I had leadership potential and was ambitious for advancement,” says Grace. “They really pushed me to study for an MBA to help me understand the business analytics side of the industry and to become a better leader with a more detailed understanding of the overall organization.”

Grace believes the skills she developed while studying for her online MBA have numerous practical uses in her everyday work.

“There’s a lot of organizational leadership classes which are key to any business,” says Grace. “How do you work with people? How do you work in teams? I use that every day.”

Serving Veterans’ Needs

National University’s commitment to serving military servicemembers makes the school a particularly popular choice for veterans returning to education following their military careers.

Founded by veterans in 1971, National University is well equipped to help veterans, some of who might be finding the transition from military life difficult, access higher and advanced education programs, and offer any additional support they might need.

National University’s Veteran Center should be the first stop for any veteran who needs information or has concerns about transitioning to a civilian career. The Veteran Center also provides an engaging social hub where veterans can make connections and build friendships that will see them through to graduation and beyond.

“You want to go to a school that is supportive of what you have done and can help you with some of the struggles that you may have gone through,” says Grace. “There’s no favoritism, but sometimes just acknowledging a person’s experience makes all the difference.”

But National University doesn’t just provide a welcoming and supportive educational environment for veterans. It also welcomes thousands of active-duty military personnel into its virtual classrooms and programs every year.

How I Fit an Online MBA into My Life: Henry Gonzalez’ Story

Henry Gonzalez (no relation to Grace), is 22-years into his military career with the US Marine Corps and plans to retire from military service in around two-years’ time. He has very little anxiety about his transition from military life, mainly thanks to the degrees he has earned from National University.

Henry achieved both his Bachelor of Finance and MBA degrees while on active duty, often studying while overseas. This has given him real insight into the many challenges and rewards of studying while serving in the military.

Always On the Move

Constantly being on the move is perhaps the biggest challenge facing military personnel when looking to return to the classroom. For Henry, this meant that National University, with its flexible online programs, was the only real choice.

“I move around a lot,” says Henry. “So it was very convenient for me to be able to stick with one program at one university, as opposed to starting somewhere and having to transfer somewhere else later.”

According to Henry, this level of flexibility doesn’t impact the high quality of the programs available at National University.

“The thing I liked about National University was the quality of the professors,” says Henry. “They really went out of their way to accommodate students on active military service.”

“They made themselves available whenever students needed their help. They all had ‘real world’ experience and took their time to help students work through their problems — as opposed to just telling them to read the book.”

In particular, Henry found the professors were very accommodating to service personnel on active duty overseas.

“They understood the additional pressures of working across international time zones and how issues like poor internet connectivity can add to the stress of studying,” says Henry. This was particularly appreciated by Henry during a period in his MBA program when he was stationed in Pakistan, where online connectivity “wasn’t always great.”

Getting Motivated

Military life, and in particular the process of constantly being on the move, meant that Henry had to take a more measured approach to study than Grace.

“You cannot study when you are moving,” says Henry.

Instead, he successfully committed to study for his online MBA over a period of between three and three-and-a-half years.

This meant that Henry didn’t have the same opportunity to develop the same kind of ongoing relationships that Grace nurtured while studying over a more concentrated period of time. Despite this, Henry was able to connect with some fellow service personnel who, sharing his experience of studying while on active military duty, formed a supportive group via email and online chat.

Henry was also able to enjoy a period of “traditional” classroom study on National University’s campus when he was temporarily stationed in California. This was an experience he thoroughly enjoyed, benefiting from a period of on-campus collaborative experience while working towards his MBA.

Henry has no doubts that his military experience prepared him well for his studies. “The process wasn’t easy, and it was even painful at times,” says Henry. “But I believe the discipline in military life can help you prepare for this. It definitely gave me more discipline to be able to buckle down and say to myself: ‘Look I’m not going to have much time for anything else but this is what I want, so I’m going to dedicate my time to it.’”

It was this attitude that allowed Henry to commit to what many “civilians” would consider a punishing schedule.

“In the military, there is no such thing as a nine-to-five job. So I was getting up and going to work at 4:30 am, finishing work at around 8:00 pm, getting home, having a shower and a bite to eat before jumping back on the computer and studying until 1:30 am.”

The routine would continue at the weekends where he would rise at 4.30 am and study until the early afternoon, before taking a break and spending some time with the family. “I didn’t sleep very much for a long period of time!” says Henry.

Henry’s sleep pattern was further disrupted with the birth of his daughter who arrived half-way-through his MBA. So what motivated Henry to commit so much effort towards his study? “I always had the ambition to have a master’s degree before I left the military,” says Henry.

“I speak with individuals all the time and tell them how important it is to get a good education. Yes, it is hard, and you might have to miss out on some things in life while you are studying, but the hardest part is getting started. Once you get started, it becomes your routine, and once it’s your routine, it becomes your life because that is what you are used to.”

The military has been very supportive of Henry’s educational aspirations and as a serving member of the military, he received financial support towards his tuition fees  — which are discounted at National University for active duty and veteran servicemembers and their families.

While Henry didn’t personally call on any additional support services from National University during his studies, he believes it is incredibly reassuring to servicemembers to know the help is there should they need it.

Life After an MBA

Since completing his online MBA, Henry has found he has a lot more time on his hands, which he enjoys spending with his daughter. He’s also working on a couple of business plans that he hopes to explore following his retirement from the military. Even in his spare time, Henry is a master of making every minute of every day count — he has started to learn to code, a process which he says is more difficult than he thought it would be, but one that he is thoroughly enjoying.

His military mindset might have helped Henry power his way through to MBA success but by combining the military mindset with the MBA mindset, there’s no knowing where his all-in attitude will take him.

Henry’s pretty relaxed about his future life following his retirement from the military.

“I’ve put the work in and prepared myself for the change,” says Henry. “Some of my friends are incredibly anxious about their transition from military to civilian life, but I feel pretty good about it. Maybe, as I get closer to retiring, I’ll feel a bit more nervous, but at this moment in time, I’m in a good place.”

In Good Company

You don’t have to be a veteran or active duty member of the military to enjoy the benefits of studying for an online MBA at National University. But if you are still struggling to find the time to commit to a program, learning how Grace and Henry used their military mindset to achieve their goals is certainly an inspiration.

To learn more about enrolling in National University’s online MBA (or on-campus) program please visit the program page on our website.