Numerous MBA programs offer significant financial aid packages for military veterans. Through the Yellow Ribbon Program, veterans are offered reduced or free tuition for out-of-state, private, and graduate schools.
To be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program, you must qualify for the maximum benefit under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is an educational benefit program for those who served active duty after 9/11.
Yellow Ribbon schools make additional funds available for MBA veteran applicants, with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) matching these funds. The Yellow Ribbon Program makes MBAs more accessible to veterans and provides them the skills they need to excel in the business world.
This guide will explain how admissions committees view veterans and the top veteran MBA programs. It will also explore the steps required to apply to MBA programs and demonstrate the value MBA programs provide for veterans. After reading this guide, you’ll be prepared to apply for the MBA veteran program that’s right for you!
How Do Admissions Committees View Veterans?
When it comes to MBA programs, admissions committees love to see veterans apply due to the unique work experiences that they bring to the table.
These work experiences are highly sought after due to the complex tasks veterans are asked to perform under enormous pressure; this allows them to develop the skills required to excel in high-stress situations and environments. Because of their unique work experience, admissions committees know that veteran students will further diversify the MBA program.
Tammy Samuels, executive director of career and leadership for MBA programs at the Kenan-Flagler School, said veterans go on to successful careers in various fields because they make versatile candidates.
“When you combine these top desired attributes with the military organizational structure of exposing their members to a variety of positions every few years, the demand for these students is unquestionable,” said Samuels.
Skills possessed by veterans, such as leadership, management, strategy, and operations skills, are highlighted and align well with MBA programs. Your ability to remain composed and calm under pressure is a quality exemplified in military service and business school. Although these work areas can appear quite different, you’ll find many transferable skills between the military and business worlds.
Military Friendly MBA Programs
Many top business schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, offering full or partial tuition coverage for veteran MBA students. It’s important to note that just because a school participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program and you’re eligible, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll receive these benefits.
It’s best to apply early to MBA programs because schools may have limited spots, and applicants get evaluated on a first-come, first-served basis. Some business schools may waive admissions fees or accept a significant number of veterans each year.
Additionally, some schools run clubs dedicated to ex-military members where you can network and mingle with other veteran MBA students. Here are some of the top business schools with military-friendly MBA programs (in no particular order):
1. University of Chicago - Booth School of Business
The University of Chicago (Booth) Business School recently ranked as the #3 best business school in the United States. Booth participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, offering $30,000 per year in scholarship support, which is matched by the VA. This means that eligible veteran MBA students can receive $60,000 annually in tuition support.
Booth has seen a nearly 300% increase in veteran MBA students since 2006 and states that, “military veterans and active service members bring valuable experiences, diverse perspectives, and maturity to Chicago Booth, making them a great asset to our community.”
The competition level at Booth can be pretty high, but there are online guides to help you maximize your chances of acceptance.
Along with the Yellow Ribbon Program, Booth also supports The Armed Forces Group at Chicago Booth, “a student-run organization open to both current and former members of U.S. and international armed services.” One of the main goals of this group is to support prospective military candidates with the Booth application process.
The Armed Forces Group also aspires to be a solid professional network for veteran students and alumni, by helping veteran MBA students and their families settle into the Chicago area through social activities.
2. Dartmouth College - Tuck School of Business
The Tuck School of Business was recently ranked 10th among the best business schools by U.S. News. Tuck participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program and offers a maximum of $22,000, which is matched by the VA. The school does not set a limit on the number of eligible veterans for this program at the maximum level of $22,000 and waives the admissions fees for MBA veteran applicants.
The school also has a club called The Tuck Veterans Club, where veteran MBA students can network and support each other. The club dedicates itself to providing “resources and support to veterans at Tuck and their families through integration, recruitment, and veterans’ networking initiatives.”
It also prides itself in raising awareness and creating discussion about military and veterans’ issues within the school.
3. Yale University - Yale School of Management
Yale School of Management (SOM) was recently ranked #9 among the top business schools. It was named by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) as a “military friendly school” because Yale SOM offers deferrals to military candidates currently deployed and waives the application fee for U.S. veterans.
Yale SOM offers an astounding 100% tuition and fees coverage through the Yellow Ribbon Program and the help of the VA. This complete coverage makes Yale SOM an attractive school for veterans to earn their MBA.
Yale SOM demonstrates its military-friendly school status through tremendous financial assistance and values “the leadership skills, maturity, and discipline that military veterans bring to graduate business education.”
Yale also boasts the Yale SOM Veterans Club, which is dedicated to empowering prospective military students, interacting with employers interested in recruiting club members, and assisting members in forming meaningful connections of current members and alumni.
4. University of Michigan - Ross School of Business (Michigan Ross)
The Ross School of Business (link how to get into Ross School of Business article) was recently ranked #13 among top business schools. Ross participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program and offers partial tuition coverage for MBA veteran students, with the benefit level varying.
The school also waives veterans’ application fees and does not cap the number of students eligible for the program. Ross School of Business had the largest cohort of veterans in North America in 2019; this may be because Ross offers students a course called Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP), which emphasizes teamwork and real-world business experience in numerous industries.
Ross School of Business also has a group called the Ross Armed Forces Association, which is dedicated to helping prospective military students “serve as a community within a community, hosting events, family dinners, and coordinating seminars with industry executives who are looking to hire Ross graduates.”
The University of Michigan has a strong history of serving students affiliated with the armed forces. Ross offers the Veterans and Military Services Program, which hosts welcome dinners and exciting programs for new students and veterans.
5. Duke University - Fuqua School of Business
The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University (link How to Get into Duke Fuqua) was recently ranked #12 among the nation’s top business schools and is a designated GMAC military-friendly school.
Duke Fuqua participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program and offers eligible veteran MBA students $18,000 annually, with the VA providing up to $18,000 in additional funding. Duke also does not limit the number of veterans that they will accept into the Yellow Ribbon Program annually.
Duke Fuqua’s recruitment efforts stand out as they host the annual Duke MBA Veterans Symposium. The Symposium is an event that “offers all prospective veteran students a unique opportunity to sample Duke in the company of other veterans — from peers considering business school to current MBA students and leading faculty and alumni.”
This event is co-hosted by the Duke Armed Forces Association (DAFA) student club, an organization committed to mentoring Duke MBA veterans to transition from the military to business. The club also acts to connect veterans to the local community and strengthen these bonds.
The Value of MBA Programs for Veterans
Transitioning from military to civilian life can be challenging for many veterans, and there are many pathways to choose from for your next steps. Deciding to get an MBA can be an excellent path for veterans looking to elevate their business understanding and pursue career advancement. Let’s take a look at the value of MBA programs for veterans:
1. Career Switching and Support
Although the military does not offer much in business training, the skill sets veterans honed while on active duty are similar to those needed to navigate the business world.
Those who served in active duty will possess the required skills in business such as leadership, critical thinking, teamwork, and problem-solving. These skills are transferable to many career paths, which an MBA can help veterans start down or advance in.
Christie St-John, Director of Admissions for the MBA program at Vanderbilt Business, said that “an MBA gives veterans skills that they can use in many different jobs, and their transition will [be] better, smoother, and financially enhanced with an MBA.”
Many veterans choose to work jobs in consulting, operations, corporate strategy, finance, and management.
Business schools care about the success of all their students, and veteran MBA students are no exception. Business schools offer career management services that can help military members cater to their business interests and experiences. These resources can also help students narrow their options, update their resumes, and prepare for job interviews.
2. Return on Investment and Higher Salaries
Like any MBA student, veteran graduates can expect to reap the monetary rewards with jobs offering higher salaries. Because veterans can apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program at many business schools, the possible return on investment increases tremendously.
Veteran graduates can expect to see an average salary of around $110,000 in their first year out of school, which doesn’t include signing bonuses. Along with higher wages, MBA graduates are often considered more frequently for career advancement opportunities because of their backgrounds and skills.
3. Larger Professional Networks
Pursuing an MBA can expand the professional network of veterans beyond military personnel and other previous work. Business schools allow students to connect with various professionals like professors, guest speakers, alumni, and other students. You’ll also learn how to navigate social interactions to better network with peers - a crucial skill in the world of business.
St-John explains that “They don’t have to network in the service. The next promotion is offered if you are qualified, so you don’t have to make sure you socialize with the head of the unit.”
These specific networking skills are pertinent to succeeding in the business world, and pursuing an MBA offers excellent opportunities for veteran MBA students to learn and excel.
4. Personal Connections
Some veterans can return from active duty feeling somewhat isolated as they acclimatize to civilian life. Perhaps the MBA you want to pursue is in a different country or state, and you’re concerned about having little or zero personal connections when you arrive.
As explored above, many business schools have clubs dedicated to veterans where you can connect with other military personnel. These clubs can help veterans become familiar with the school area, get advice on specific challenges in veteran recruiting, forge personal connections, and more.
How to Apply to MBA Programs for Veterans
Your MBA application will look pretty similar to any other applicant in terms of what you need to submit, but some of the content that you provide may undoubtedly be different.
First and foremost, you should look into the Post-9/11 GI Bill to see if you are eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program, especially if tuition costs are a barrier for you. From there, you can research schools and programs that interest you.
Secondly, you may want to research which schools have events, clubs, and other resources available for MBA veteran students. This research can ensure that you will attend an institution with your needs and best interests in mind. With that said, these are the general requirements you will need to fulfill to pursue an MBA, although requirements may vary depending on the school.
Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
You will need to provide academic transcripts to the admissions committee and complete a four-year bachelor’s degree or international equivalent. A low GPA from your undergrad isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker in your MBA application, but a higher GPA will bolster your application.
A recent study found that the average GPA among students at the top 20 business schools in the U.S. was just over 3.5.
You will be required to submit a one to two-page CV or resume detailing your work experience, extracurricular activities, and any other relevant information for the admissions committee.
However, writing a civilian resume can be challenging for military members because “military terminology can make it difficult to express job titles, skills and training in language a hiring manager or recruiter can understand.”
Instead of listing military jargon and acronyms that admissions committees may not understand, try to simply explain the actions you performed under your title. Do try to make sure your resume exemplifies your skills in leadership, teamwork, attention to detail, and working in stressful situations.
Valid GMAT, GRE General Test, or Executive Assessment (EA) Scores
You will need to have valid GMAT, GRE, or EA scores from within the last five years to submit to your institution. Which test scores are accepted vary by institution, but many schools will accept either GMAT or GRE scores.
Know that these tests can be pretty challenging, and there are many services available for help with GRE prep and GMAT prep, as well as online practice tests. While your military experience does work in your favor to offset a mediocre test score, you will have a much greater chance of acceptance with a great score.
You should prepare to write at least one essay as part of your application. Essay questions will vary greatly by school and even by year. Still, most business schools will have you write about yourself, your experiences, and why you specifically want to attend their business school. Don’t be afraid to get personal and demonstrate your character. Make sure you avoid being too generic!
This is another section of your application where it’s best not to use any military jargon because the admissions committee may not decipher what these acronyms or words mean.
An excellent tip to make sure your essay comes across as easily digestible and robust is to have your application reviewed by a service before submission. The chances are that if your proofreader doesn’t understand your essay, the admissions committee may not either.
If your application is well-received by the admissions committee, you will receive an invitation to interview virtually or on-campus. MBA interviews can be nerve-wracking but should go well if you’re prepared.
You should know your application front-to-back, and gain a general idea of what questions you may be asked. You need to be able to articulate your “why.” Practice answering this question, whether it be why you want to get an MBA, why you want to go to a specific business school, or why a particular program interests you.
Note that these are basic requirements and that every MBA program may have slightly different or extra requirements. You may need to provide an English language proficiency test, prepare video responses, or complete other assessments.
Remember to carefully read the MBA requirements before putting your application together. If you want more peace of mind, you can find a service to evaluate and polish your application from start to finish.
1. Besides the Yellow Ribbon Program, are there any other scholarships available to me?
This answer will be school-specific, but schools will often have other scholarships available to veteran MBA students. Make sure to check the pages about scholarships at the school of your interest, or you can see a complete list of other military award scholarships at top business schools here.
2. How long will it take me to get an MBA?
Traditional full-time MBA programs typically take two years to complete, with some accelerated programs taking as little as one year. If you decide to earn your MBA on a part-time basis, it can take between two and six years to complete your degree, depending on your schedule.
3. Can I complete an MBA online if that works better for me?
Many MBA programs are offered partially or entirely online. If you are a veteran balancing a career or a family, online MBA options can provide you with the flexibility you need.
4. How do I know if I’m eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program?
The Yellow Ribbon Program is “a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that can help students attend expensive private schools at little or no cost to themselves.”
To receive the Yellow Ribbon benefits, you must meet the following criteria:
- “Served an aggregate period of active duty of at least 36 months after Sep. 10, 2001 and received an honorable discharge;
- Were honorably discharged from active duty for a service connected disability and served 30 continuous days after Sep. 10, 2001;
- Are a dependent eligible for Transfer of Entitlement under the Post-9/11 GI Bill based on a veteran's service under the eligibility criteria listed above;
- Are using the Fry Scholarship.”
5. How will I know that a specific business school is right for me?
First and foremost, you should see which schools have special provisions for veterans, such as participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program, having clubs or events dedicated to veteran MBA students, and accept many veteran students yearly. After you’ve ascertained that a business school is military friendly, you can begin to assess the school’s culture and fit.
Does the school have any courses or clubs that you’re passionate about or that interest you? Do you feel that there are enough other servicemen and women in the program to have relatable peers?
To get a better idea, you should ideally try to visit the campus or visit one of the veteran dedicated clubs. These groups will help you gain a clearer picture of the school’s culture and if it aligns with your passions and career goals.
6. At top business schools, how many other veterans are typically accepted into MBA programs?
This number will be school-specific, but veteran MBA students are highly sought after by admissions committees: “you’re wanted, you’re needed, please apply.” Typically each cohort in MBA programs at top business schools is made up of 5-10% military members.
Admissions committees seek out veteran MBA students because of their unique skill sets. Keep in mind that many top business schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program that pays either partial or complete tuition.
Most schools will have this information readily available. As a veteran MBA student, you will hone your skills, strengthen your professional and personal network, and have many more jobs and opportunities available to you.
Preparing your MBA application can be a daunting task, but with the takeaways from this guide, you will be able to face the challenges and rise to the occasion. Remember to keep military jargon out of your entire application and instead focus on your job description and the actions you performed.
After graduation, you could see a great return on your investment with high-paying prestigious jobs. If you feel that an MBA is your next big goal, know that you have the tools and the know-how to succeed.