The Military Appeal: MBA Programs Love Veterans, And The Feeling Is Mutual

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Betsy Massar, founder of MBA consultancy Master Admissions, has worked for years with veterans as they navigate their post-service careers and look to business school to find direction or add skills. She recently asked veterans fo both the Army and Air Force, both of whom are in the application process, about their experiences dealing with B-schools. Both told her that they had a sense that B-schools are now more welcoming that ever to those with a military background.

The reasons are obvious, Massar says.

“Admissions love the leadership element and they love the fact that military types have very diverse experiences from that of your normal banker or consultant,” she says. “I’m not seeing as many with front-line experience. I had people who were in combat a few years back, but not so much anymore, as there are fewer troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s getting easier for veterans to get into top programs, she adds.

“One candidate told me that competition as a military applicant has gotten a lot fiercer, and anecdotally, I think it is has become harder for the military candidate with terrific leadership but so-so grades or scores. Indeed, they are competing against each other,” Massar says. “I also think that military members who have mastered languages or other skills that make them more employable are always going to be in demand.”

‘NEARLY EVERY VET I’VE TALKED TO HAS GOTTEN ADMITTED TO A PROGRAM WHERE THEY SEEM HAPPY’

One veteran explained the lay of the land to Massar, which she conveyed to P&Q:

“The fact is that some military jobs provide a unique opportunity to test and grow leadership skills that ‘normal’ jobs just don’t offer fresh out of college,” he says. “Not every military job is created equal however, but if a veteran knows to sell themselves I can see it being very challenging for an adcom to admit the best military candidates, so I do think there is a bit of a black box when it comes to military guys and gals. We never really know who is going to get admitted.”

The veteran says the bigger welcome mat for veterans may be a case of schools trying to achieve greater diversity. But competition has become fiercer.

“I think overall, B-schools are becoming more welcoming to military applicants; whether this is a case of a school trying to hit diversity marks or previous veterans have been good additions to the class, I’m sure the right answer is somewhere in the middle. Nearly every veteran I’ve talked to has gotten admitted to a program where they seem happy. I think the competition amongst veteran top-MBA hopefuls has increased dramatically in the past few years and would be interested to see if there has been a rising number of military applicants year over year. The advice of ‘Apply anyway even though you don’t have a 700+ GMAT’ seems like wishful thinking these days and I don’t consider a veteran competitive unless they have cracked 700, that’s always my first question when younger guys in the military ask me for guidance on the admissions process: focus on the hard numbers you can control first.”

Another veteran says:

“It’s an interesting question and similar to one I posed to my Haas interviewer (‘02 grad and recently retired senior coast guard officer). During his time there, military students comprised six to nine of the 250 class size. These days, it’s around 30-40 of 290. Definitely an upward trend over time.

“However, if the question is how much disproportional weight do schools give military applicants and whether there is an upward trend in the past 3-5 years, I don’t have any concrete data. Anecdotally, every veterans club member or recent graduate always says, ‘Yeah, they love military on campus’ or, ‘veterans are always strong candidates.’ It’s hard to discern details about veterans admissions from these platitudes.”

‘AN MBA IS A PHENOMENAL WAY TO’ FOR VETERANS GET INTO BUSINESS

Business schools have always found military veterans to be attractive candidates. But it works both ways. B-school has always been appealing to veterans, who find their skill set well-suited to the rigorous leadership challenges of MBA programs.

Jack DeBell, UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA Class of 2020, thrived during his MBA and used it as a springboard to a new career. After interning with waste management corporation Republic Services in 2019, he accepted a role in their General Manager Acceleration Program after graduation, and will spend much of the next two years in the program in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I was looking to make a pivot,” DeBell says. “An MBA opened the doors to industries and roles that I never would have had access to in my past. It provided me with a fantastic place to build a foundation of business skills and figure out how to combine that foundation with my military experience and leadership.”

“For veterans looking to get into business, an MBA is such a phenomenal, phenomenal way to do it. If you can do it as a full-time program, the recruitment opportunities are incredible, and it really outfits you with a toolkit that complements our experience from the military very, very well.

“Community, a new home, and opportunity — in looking for an MBA program, there were three elements I was looking to find. I wanted a community that was one I would want to be a part of forever and that would provide me with friends/connections that would last a lifetime. In a similar sense, I was looking for a new place to call home for the next two years. It was important for me to be excited about life outside of the classroom and be in a place that was going to provide an excellent all-around experience.

“UNC was going to provide me with the stepping stones to my future. It was most important to me to find a place that offered the best opportunity upon graduation and the best option for my future employment. UNC met my criteria and so much more.”


Poets&Quants has written about military veterans for many years. We’ve interviewed countless veterans and featured their own writing about their application, admission, and MBA and post-MBA experiences almost since our founding 10 years ago. See some our stories here:

10 MILITARY VETERANS TO WATCH FROM THE CLASS OF 2020 

MBA FIELD NOTES: MILITARY TO MBA 

TIPS FOR MILITARY APPLICANTS TO MBA PROGRAMS 

SHEDDING THE VETERAN STEREOTYPE AND THRIVING IN B-SCHOOL 

AN ARMY MAJOR REFLECTS ON HER WHARTON JOURNEY 

SPEAKING OF STERN: THE MILITARY VETERANS AMONG US 

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