The Veteran's Guide to Getting an MBA

The comprehensive guide to business school for veterans, including application tips, financing options, the best MBA programs for vets, and more.

Posted January 10, 2024

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MBAs have long been a great way for military veterans to pivot to a high-powered career in business as a civilian. Fortunately, there are several programs available that provide veterans with access to financial aid and other support. This article will cover an overview of veterans’ financing options, as well as general tips for applying. Then, several of our veteran MBA coaches will provide their best advice for fellow veterans going through the admissions process.

Financing an MBA

Post-9/11 GI Bill

There are two main programs available to veterans that help with the cost of an MBA. The first is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, an educational benefit for people who served on active duty for at least 90 aggregate days after September 10, 2001. This bill provides tuition money, a monthly housing stipend, and a books and supplies allowance.

The percentage of costs that are covered depends on the amount of aggregate time that the individuals served on active duty. Those who served for at least 36 months–or at least 30 days before being discharged for a service-connected disability–will receive 100% of the maximum benefit payable.

To apply, applicants should complete Form 22-1990 on the Veterans Affairs (VA) website. After a review, the VA will provide an eligibility certificate that will contain information on the level of benefits and the period of eligibility.

The Yellow Ribbon Program

The Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP) is available to those who are eligible for the maximum benefit under the Post-9/11 GI Bill and helps with tuition and other fees that the latter doesn’t cover. The principal caveat is that the school must be a higher-education institution, offer the program, and not have filled all of the spots. The amount of funding the students receive depends on the level and type of their schooling (undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral; college or professional).

Other Scholarships

In addition to these federal education benefits, many other organizations independently offer scholarships to support veterans as they pursue degrees. Here are several of the most prominent ones.

Military MBA

  • Award Amount: Four $5,000 awards
  • Applications Due: Throughout the year, the next one is June 30, 2022
  • See more here

Daughters of the American Revolution: The Mary Elizabeth Lockwood Beneventi MBA Scholarship

  • Award Amount: $2,000
  • Applications Due: February 2023
  • Eligibility: Must have a minimum GPA of 3.25
  • See more here

Foster G. McGaw Graduate Student Scholarship

  • Award Amount: $5,000 (to 15 people)
  • Applications Due: March 31, 2023
  • Eligibility: Must be in the last year of study, expect to graduate between September 1, 2023, and August 31, 2024, and be pursuing an MBA in Healthcare Management
  • See more here

Government Finance Officers Association: Minorities in Government Finance Scholarship

  • Award Amount: $10,000
  • Applications Due: Fall 2022
  • Eligibility: Studying business administration full-time with a focus on government or non-profit management
  • See more here

AMVETS National Security Foundation Scholarship

  • Award Amount: $1,000 (renewable for up to three years)
  • Applications Due: Approximately April 30, 2023
  • Eligibility: Must be enrolled full-time in an undergraduate or graduate program, have exhausted all GI Bill/YRP funds, and demonstrate financial need
  • See more here

In addition, the following schools offer scholarships specifically to veterans that are outside the scope of the RYP and GI Bill:

  • New York University Stern: Fertitta Veterans Program
  • Vanderbilt University: Bass Military Scholars
  • University of Chicago Booth School of Business
  • University of Virginia Darden School of Business
  • Boston University School of Management
  • Cornell University Johnson School of Management
  • London Business School
  • Hult International Business School
  • University of Pittsburgh: Katz Military Scholarship
  • Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School
  • Ohio State University Fisher College of Business
  • The University of Nebraska at Omaha

Application Tips

If you’re getting ready for business school as a veteran, your application probably looks different than most other applicants. Use your unique and valuable experiences to showcase that you are a competitive candidate. Although you may technically have less “business experience” than the average person applying, the high-pressure environment in which veterans work, as well as the skills required to be successful (e.g., teamwork, action bias, time management, resilience, leadership) are, for the most part, immediately transferable to an MBA. The extremely notable experience you have as a veteran allows you to offer unique perspectives in your class cohorts and discussions. That’s not to say you have guaranteed admission (no one does!), but you’re also not at a disadvantage. With that being said, here are some additional tips for making your application shine as a veteran.

1. Do well on standardized tests

Standardized tests are something you can control more than other areas of your application, and thus are a good opportunity in which to shine. In addition, there may be other veterans applying who also have good GPAs and GMAT/GRE scores and are applying for the same scholarships, so a strong score will allow you to stand out. Lastly, doing well on the GMAT/GRE, especially if your GPA isn’t as high as you would want it, shows the AdCom that you’ll be able to academically survive in the program.

Under the GI Bill, veterans are reimbursed for the cost of the GRE/GMAT. The VA will reimburse the individual for registration fees, specialized test fees, and administrative test fees. It will not, however, normally reimburse practice tests, fees for faster score results, or other optional fees.

If you would strongly prefer to not take either test, there are a number of business school programs that waive the GMAT requirement for veterans. These include:

  • Purdue
  • University of Miami
  • Syracuse University
  • Western Michigan
  • Ohio State University
  • University of Arizona
  • Xavier
  • North Carolina State University

2. Show impact

It doesn’t matter what position you held during your time in the service as much as showing how you made an impact. Regardless of the scope of your responsibility, prove to the AdCom that you actively took control of your environment and made it better. One thing that will help with this is using action verbs like “executed,” “implemented,” and “achieved.”

3. Avoid too much military jargon

You want the admissions officers to understand your essay, anecdotes, and impact. For this reason, you want to rephrase anything that isn’t commonly understood by the civilian population. For example, if you write that you received “Bravo Zulu,” went to “OCS,” or served in the “sandbox,” the point won’t be conveyed properly. Instead, say you received accolades, completed rigorous academic training, or spent time in the Middle East.

4. Capitalize on veteran networks

Networking is incredibly important, for both business school as well as jobs. As a veteran, you can make the most of this by joining MBA and general veteran groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other platforms. Reach out to other veterans that have gone to business school and talk to them about their experiences. Find someone who would be willing to mentor you to help you find graduate programs you like, work through the application, and succeed in classes and beyond.

5. Understand your “why”

This tip is applicable to both business school as well as any post-service career. One of the most common MBA interview questions is “Why do you want to get your MBA at _____?” or “What about your military career makes you want to go to business school/tech/consulting?” Being able to articulate your answer to these in a clear, coherent, and moving manner will heavily affect the strength of your application and interviews.

Advice from a Veteran MBA

One of our coaches, Jacob A., went to Harvard Business School for his MBA after serving in the US Army for seven years. Here is his advice for veterans applying to business school:

“First, spend more time preparing for standardized tests than you think is necessary. Most vets have spent the last 3-8 years outside of any kind of academic atmosphere, and it will take time to relearn the material and get into a studying mindset. I’ve met quite a few vets who were not able to get into their dream school because they couldn’t get a high enough score. To prevent this, start studying early, don’t get discouraged, and find help.

Second, one of the biggest handicaps that many vets have is a lack of business experience. The MBA classes do not start at zero, they start at four. Once you’ve been accepted into a program, I highly recommend taking some basic classes to prepare yourself for this. Also, try and get proficient in Excel. It is used in almost every class and many of your classmates will already know it.

Third, the business school experience is what you make of it. If you’re only there to get your dream job, then you can pass your classes, graduate, and do so. However, if you take the time to interact and build relationships with your peers–especially the other veterans–you’ll be able to cultivate a really good network. The vets I knew at HBS went to every industry possible. Business school is unique in that it really allows you to explore every facet of business. Take advantage of this and make the most of your time in b-school.

Finally, there are a lot of resources available out there for veterans hoping to get an MBA and it’s important to capitalize on them. Service 2 School is a free platform that will connect you with a vet who has already gotten their MBA for mentorship, application help, or anything else. Some test prep services also offer discounted help for the GMAT/GRE. You can also work with me, or another coach on Leland, for personalized tutoring and application help.”

If you’d like to work with him on any part of your application, book a free intro call on his profile to get started.

The Best Business Schools for Veterans

Below is a list of some of the best business schools that are currently participating in the YRP and offer other support and resources for veterans. It is based on the percent of total tuition paid by the veteran student, so while some of the schools are nationally ranked higher than others, they might not provide as good of financial aid or transitional support.

Dartmouth Tuck School of Business

  • Participates in the YRP with no quota on the number of students allowed to enroll
  • The $250 application fee is waived for all past and present US military personnel
  • The Tuck Veterans Club is active on campus and helps with integration, recruitment, and networking initiatives

University of Chicago Booth School of Business

  • 5.9% of the Class of 2023 are veterans
  • The Booth YRP covers all expenses that are not already covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill with no quota for the number of students allowed in the program
  • There are groups/organizations designed to support military students including the Armed Forces Group
  • Interested students will need to submit a Yellow Ribbon Application Form, Certificate of Eligibility, Veterans Certification Request Form, and DD 214

University of Michigan Ross School of Business

  • 3% of the Class of 2023 are veterans
  • There are two students organizations on-campus: the Armed Forces Association and the U-M Veterans and Military Services Program
  • U-M offers lots of scholarships outside of the GI Bill, view the full list here
  • While the school does not offer the YRP, it is not necessary because the school’s Choice Act Policy means all veterans are eligible for in-state tuition

Cornell University Johnson School of Business

  • 9% of the Class of 2023 are veterans
  • Offers a unique Immersion Program that supports veterans as they re-enter academics and search/apply for jobs
  • The Cornell Association of Veterans is available to give prospective students tours of the campus and provide advice on the Johnson application
  • It participates in the YRP and has several other veteran financial aid opportunities available like the Peter and Stephanie Nolan Scholarship, the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program, and the Johnson Veterans Scholarship

Duke Fuqua School of Business

  • The Duke Armed Forces Association assists with interviews, mentors current students, and implements other initiatives
  • There are admissions representatives who help veterans apply to Fuqua
  • Fuqua participates in the YRP and contributes up to $18,000 each VA academic year, matching the VA’s own $18,000 in additional funding

Harvard Business School

  • 5% of the Class of 2023 are veterans
  • Has several student clubs including the Armed Forces Alumni Association which helps student-veterans with job applications, professional development, networking, and support
  • The $250 application fee is waived for all military applicants
  • Participates in YRP and contributes $20,000 per annum to each eligible veteran, which is matched by the VA for $40,000 in total funding

Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business

  • The Tepper Veterans Association helps veterans transition into academic life, network, and thrive at CMU and hosts events
  • Tepper is partnered with Military MBA, an education network for veterans getting an MBA
  • Participant of the YRP, contributing 50% of the difference between GI Bill benefits and allowable costs up to $15,000/year to 30 students

University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business

  • Those planning to apply can contact the Wharton Veterans Club to receive advice and guidance on the admissions process and more (see the contact info here)
  • It participates in the YRP and grants up to $20,000 with the award given matched by the VA
  • The application fee is waived for military applicants

University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business

  • 5% of the Class of 2023 are veterans
  • The Haas Veterans Club offers career guidance, peer support, and military to MBA transition guidance
  • Haas, as a Californian public school, offers expanded 9/11 benefits including funding for 100% tuition (except non-resident tuition), a monthly housing allowance, and an annual book stipend of up to $1,000
  • It also participates in the YRP program and has other scholarships available to military applicants and their families

Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

  • 2% of the Class of 2023 are veterans
  • The Kellogg Veterans Association helps prospective students with their applications, provides recruiting and networking support, and connects veterans with the extensive Kellogg KVA community
  • Participates in the YRP and will contribute up to $20,000, to be matched by the VA, with no quota on the number of students allowed to enroll; also waives the application fee
  • Offers essay advice and resume tips specific to specific military positions (see here)

Where Can I Start?

Applying for an MBA can be a daunting experience. Thankfully, Leland is here to help at every step of the process. Here are some other articles you may find helpful.

If you prefer personalized, one-on-one guidance for any part of the MBA application–including researching schools, standardized test prep, essays, resumes, interviews, and more–work with one of our vetted, world-class coaches. Below are several of our top coach recommendations but you can browse all of them here.

Coach Recommendations

Here are a few of our highest-rated MBA admissions coaches.

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