Although some armed forces veterans might not immediately see the correlation between their skills and experiences from the military and those needed to lead a Fortune 500 company, the truth is that business schools admire the leadership skills, grit and mental agility these applicants typically possess.
Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria once wrote an editorial in the Washington Post about how MBA programs should target more veterans, saying, “Business school can be a pathway for integrating our service members back into civilian life, and for finding new ways to engage their intellect, integrity and leadership at home.”
If you are planning a transition from active military service to business school, begin your research by finding out how each of the programs measures up in the following three areas.
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1. Explore culture and fit: Every applicant should consider whether the business schools that interest them are good fits as far as class size, teaching method, location and general culture are concerned. A good fit is even more important for veterans, however, since their background is quite different from the majority of candidates. The adjustment from active service to a classroom can be challenging, and having strong outlets of support from the school makes a world of difference.
Once on campus, find out how many students are in the MBA program. Veterans at top-tier business schools typically make up about 5 percent of each incoming class, and too few fellow service men and women may leave students wishing for more peers they can relate to.
Find out what kinds of special programs for veterans exist, and whether the business school has student clubs or organizations created specifically for veterans. Also, look into what kind of personalized academic and career support is available to veterans to help translate their military skills into civilian life.
Reach out to current students for their honest feedback about daily life in the program with details that go beyond what you discover on the school website or by chatting with admissions officers.
2. Consider recruiting efforts: Another telltale sign of a highly military-friendly school is whether it hosts MBA admissions events exclusively to recruit veterans. Examples include the Veteran Prospective Student Day at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School; the Veteran’s Ambassadors event at MIT Sloan School of Management; and Military Visit Day at Tuck School of Business. Coming up next week on November 13th, Columbia Business School will host its own Spotlight on: Military in Business Association.
Even if the school you’re thinking about doesn’t host an admissions event specifically for military applicants, you can still get a fair assessment of how eager the program is to recruit veterans by looking at whether it provides support services starting during the application phase – not only once you’re admitted. Also, find out if the school offers deferment flexibility to candidates whose needs may change at the last minute if still on active duty.
3. Look into financial aid: The high cost of business school often deters veteran applicants. Many already have families of their own, and the concern over lost wages while they study cannot be overstated.
However, there are so many financial incentives specifically designed for this group that one’s actual out-of-pocket expense goes down dramatically once you factor in Veterans Affairs benefits, dedicated veterans scholarships, waived application fees and the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Under this program, the federal government matches, dollar for dollar, any financial aid that participating schools commit, essentially providing eligible student veterans with free or reduced-cost tuition. It’s designed to make out-of-state public colleges, private institutions and graduate programs more affordable for veterans.
Schools offer varying levels of support under the Yellow Ribbon Program, so visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website to learn whether the business school has limits on the number of recipients eligible annually – some are unlimited – and to see the exact dollar amount of the maximum school contribution per student, per year.
Stanford Graduate School of Business, for example, has no limits on the number of eligible veterans and contributes $16,500 per student, per year. The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University caps the number at 40 participants and offers $18,000 annually. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, meanwhile, accepts 50 students under the Yellow Ribbon Program and contributes up to $15,000 a year.
“The Yellow Ribbon Program is the best indicator of how much a school truly supports veterans and when you apply it really should be part of your research,” wrote Dave Dauphinais, a Navy veteran who served in special operations for 10 years and is currently enrolled in the joint MBA and MPA program between Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, on Tuck’s website.
“The program is voluntary for schools in the amount of money offered by the school and in the number of veterans they will support so it serves as a telling indicator,” he wrote.