/ / / Executive Decisions

Executive Decisions

Veterans Taking Executive MBA Programs
By Michael Desiderio

More people are applying for Executive MBA (EMBA) programs to increase their skills, enhance career development and gain new perspectives on the business enterprise, but what does this mean for veterans?

EMBA programs provide enriched networking opportunities, international studies and a flexible schedule with classes held on weekends and evenings. In fact, military experience can be a plus when pursuing an EMBA degree because active personnel and veterans are trained to spearhead projects, lead groups and manage people. EMBA programs are looking for prospective students with those leadership traits. Veterans and those still in active duty can transfer their knowledge and skills learned in training and combat to the business environment.

When considering career advancement, about taking that next step towards enhancing skillsets, education and expertise, people are invariably faced with many options. Often, an individual has a sense of which path to pursue, but are unclear about which offering or solution will best help in achieving the desired goals. One offering to explore and consider, is an EMBA program, which is essentially a master’s degree in business. EMBA programs come with the rigor one would expect of any master’s degree program, but the primary difference from the traditional full time MBA is the audience it is intended to serve.

EMBA programs were designed as a way for experienced leaders to earn a master’s degree in business administration while working, in a format that minimizes disruption to their work. EMBA programs emphasize projects, case studies and initiatives that allow students to apply what they learn directly to their organization or business – connecting knowledge to results. This leads to a rise in business acumen, which in turns leads to a confidence boost – critical when individuals are looking to move their career forward. The experience of completing an EMBA program changes the leader’s view of the business enterprise. Time and again, alumni confide that after completing an EMBA program they have a much more strategic view of the business they were running or aspiring to run. Similarly, the same holds true for a career change or shift. That confidence, given birth from a place of increased competence, becomes even more important.

In addition to the executive, business owner or emerging entrepreneur, is an EMBA program a viable or useful option for veterans or current military personnel? Of course! For anyone wanting to increase business acumen in a substantive and impactful way, EMBA programs are profession agnostic. The particular career path someone has been on, the type of job or role they currently have will indeed impact the options available to them in the open market, but from an EMBA standpoint what’s needed is ambition, goals and the correct participant profile.

The typical EMBA student is an average of 38 years old, with 14 years of work experience and nearly nine years of management experience. If a student fits this profile to some degree, then the most important characteristic of a good candidate for an EMBA program is someone who is wanting to invest time and energy in their professional development in a rigorous and high quality way.

What is critically important for military personnel (current and former) to recognize is military experience can actually be a plus when pursuing an EMBA program. Why? Running projects, leading groups and managing people are traits of military veterans and those still active in the military. Veterans may think, “Well, I never ran a business enterprise so how can I even fit with a group of people who have extensive business experience?” Frankly, veterans and those still in active duty are undervaluing the transfer of their knowledge and skills to the business environment. EMBA programs are looking for those with leadership traits, and it’s understandable why those who are serving, or have served, understand leadership and exhibit it in a profound way. Military experience is generally a positive attribute when thinking about entering an EMBA program.

When asked for advice for those in the military, again veteran or active duty, on things to think about when applying for an EMBA program, one thing is clear, language becomes very important. It’s critical to think about using language to help translate the learning and transformative experience into terms that are understandable by the non-military person who may be on the admissions team. Admissions teams are looking to bring in high quality people from diverse experiences, but it’s important that the applicant make their experience relatable to the business community. It’s also critical to embrace the idea that EMBA programs, by their rigorous nature, are not easy. No master’s degree should be easy, and that holds true for anyone taking a master’s program. Relative to the amazing work, under conditions that the vast majority of business leaders never experience, pursuing an EMBA program will be challenging, but not insurmountable. In most cases the anxiety on the front end turns to passion and excitement on the backend!

Many factors should be considered when deciding to enroll and pursue an EMBA degree. Active duty personnel may find a program that offers a hybrid experience (i.e. a mix of face-to-face and distance learning) more conducive to their military responsibilities. The key is to understand all current commitments and seek out a program that has a format and schedule that allows for the full experience without negatively impacting existing military responsibilities.

Veterans may have more time flexibility and thus may want to choose a program based on geography or some other factor not constrained by schedules being tied to the rigor of the military. What’s key in either case is to review several programs to weigh options and determine if the offering aligns with the overall needs and goals.  

Additionally, there are specific programs that are veteran-friendly. According to the Veterans Affairs, “Degree-granting institutions of higher learning participating in the Post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program agree to make additional funds available for your education program without an additional charge to your GI Bill entitlement.” Clearly this is something to be viewed as veteran-friendly. The availability of the Yellow Ribbon and Post-9/11 funds means that any EMBA program is veteran friendly. The majority of EMBA programs offer some form of coaching for all students, which can be useful as individuals think about career transitions. This is another benefit to veterans. Overall, the most important identifying characteristic of an EMBA program that is the right match, is the one that aligns with one’s specific constraints and needs.

EMBA programs are an excellent option for anyone, military or otherwise, looking to take that next bold step forward.

Michael Desiderio joined the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC) as the first full-time executive director in 2007. He oversees council programs, services and council collaborations with related educational associations and organizations throughout the world.


He has been in the industry in various positions that range from engineering through executive management and prior to joining EMBAC he served as director of strategic partnerships for the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. He also founded Enigma Professional Services, a firm that offered business consulting and speaking services. Desiderio received his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and his Executive MBA degree in 2001 from the W. P. Cary School at Arizona State University.

Additional Info

  • Issue: 11
  • Volume: 10
back to top