Veterans Pour Into MBA Programs As Military Downsizes

Jennifer Tietz, Tuck MBA and U.S. Navy reserves Lt.-Commander

Jennifer Tietz, Tuck MBA candidate and U.S. Navy Reserve Lt.-Commander

Training hundreds of people to run nuclear propulsion plants on an aircraft carrier. Operating a guided-missile frigate. Managing incident response in a war zone prison holding some 20,000 inmates.

This was not your typical MBA applicant’s resume. But unusual leadership experiences such as these of Jennifer Tietz fill the backgrounds of many military veterans, making them very attractive to business schools, amid a large exodus of service members from the armed forces.

Numbers of veterans and serving military members taking the GMAT have jumped 22% this year so far over last year, when 4,525 took the test, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT. Although GMAC had not aggressively tracked veterans’ test-taking in previous years, growth in that number had until last year been limited to less than 5%, says Joanna Graham, GMAC’s director of field marketing for the Americas.

Tietz came as an MBA candidate to Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business after 12 years of active service in the U.S. Navy; she remains a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve. Among her military postings were the frigate USS Vandegrift, where she was an operations officer; the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, where she was a reactor training assistant in the Arabian Gulf supporting troops in Afghanistan; and in 2007 at Camp Bucca, the largest U.S. detention facility in Iraq, where she was a battle captain.


At Camp Bucca, where enemy mortars fell often and prisoners from different sects and militant affiliations frequently fought and sometimes rioted, Tietz directed initial-reaction forces and learned a valuable lesson that she’s carried with her into business school: “If I’m not getting shot at, it’s probably not a crisis.”

Over the past four years, Tuck has seen a 36% increase in applications from military people. “The military is drawing down its forces and so more veterans are transitioning out,” says Kristin Roth, associate director of admissions at Tuck. “Veterans are highly sought after by MBA programs in general because they add so much to the MBA class.

“They bring a maturity and breadth of perspective to the classroom, they have strong leadership, discipline, and time management skills, and they work well under pressure.”

The Pentagon is planning to cut military troop numbers by more than 35,000 next year, and former U.S. Army general David Petraeus predicted in a 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed that a million service members will exit the armed forces in the following five years.

The number of events top schools hold for veterans and service members testifies to the appetite for this sector of the potential-student market. Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management this month held its “Military Preview Days.” Earlier this fall, Duke University Fuqua School of Business presented its “Symposium for Military Applicants;” MIT Sloan School of Management offered a webinar for veterans and service members, featuring veterans and active duty personnel studying at Sloan; and the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business’s Darden Military Association held an open house and barbecue, hosted by veterans in the Darden MBA program.


Enticements for veterans and serving military personnel at other schools include an application fee waiver at Yale University School of Management, and in-state tuition for out-of-state veterans and military personnel at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business teams military applicants with first-year-student mentors who guide them through the application process, and the school’s Armed Forces Group suggests to prospective applicants that they hurry up and apply: “If you are considering working for a year or two post military, make sure you are really adding value to your resume and not unnecessarily delaying school,” a website notice says.

As with all the top B-schools, at Tuck, large numbers of students come from backgrounds in consulting and finance. While Tietz has a bachelor’s degree in math from the U.S. Naval Academy and a master’s in engineering management from Old Dominion University, she was “pretty slow building models in Excel” and calls her initial efforts with PowerPoint “horrifying.” However, Tietz had, over her 12-year military career, developed considerable expertise in “the human element,” she says.

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