Preparing for ORSA-MAC or Graduate School

Transition to FA49

Before you transition to your first assignment as an ORSA, we will first determine what training venue best fits your career timeline. Our two primary training and education options are the ORSA Military Applications Course (ORSA-MAC) or fully funded graduate school through the Advanced Civil Schooling (ACS) program.


We wrote in a previous post about the type of mathematical thinking we develop as ORSAs, but now you need to know a few more specifics about the fundamental mathematics we apply to problems as ORSAs. These documents will provide you some insight. Think of these techniques as basic building blocks.

The first document is the called the “ORSA Book,” and it is a summary of the more traditional types of problems ORSAs solve in their various assignments. The second document contained in the link is the student standards for ORSA-MAC. The takeaway from the student standards document is that two of the most critical foundational skills are probability and calculus.

In fact, during a recent conversation with the current ORSA-MAC faculty, they repeatedly stated that probability is one of the most frequent reasons for not completing the first phase of ORSA-MAC with a close following of not understanding calculus. This issue of a lack of sufficient probability and calculus skills tended to be the same issue as well for officers having difficulty in graduate school as well.

Along those lines, below are recommendations we give to new officers when refreshing their math skills. Please use your available time now to focus your efforts on probability and calculus. Knowing how to build probability models is essential to analytics, and unfortunately, most of us didn’t receive exposure to this type of mathematics during our high school or even undergraduate education. You will also need a foundation of calculus to succeed in learning how to apply operations research techniques to military problems.

Math Resources

  1. A good resource, especially for probability, is a company called Brilliant (annual subscription about $84). You can work from straightforward problems to some advanced concepts.

  2. Another relatively inexpensive source for self-study is the Art of Problem Solving. At their bookstore, you can purchase their books on Algebra, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, and the books for Counting and Probability (Total cost should be ~ $300). You will have the opportunity to work through hundreds of problems with their books and learn how to approach mathematical problems with a focus on the concepts and not just rigor. These authors of the books have won top mathematics competitions, and they are coaches to some of the world’s most talented mathematicians. They also have an online repository of thousands of problems that you can work through for free. The application is called Alcumus.

  3. You can also supplement what you learn by working on problems for free at the Khan Academy. We recommend to complete the videos and exercises relating to AP Calculus AB. MIT also has material for probability and calculus for free through edX.

  4. If you need to complete probability, calculus (I-III), or statistics as a pre-requisite for graduate school for college credit, you can either take the courses at a local college or online through either American Military University or the University of Maryland University College (Calculus and Statistics only). There are other colleges of course, but these two have a long-standing relationship with the military and offer courses at the tuition assistance (TA) cap. Here is a link for using TA for pre-requisite courses. Here are some additional self-help tips.

We hope after reveiwing and using some of the above resources, you will be able to prepare yourself for the challenges ahead with ORSA-MAC or graduate school. If you still have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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