Veterans Day: More MBAs With Military Backgrounds Find Their Place At Stanford GSB

Austin Welch, MBA ’22, was a pilot and aviation officer in the U.S. Army before enrolling at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Courtesy

Austin Welch always knew he wanted to join the military, and he always knew he wanted to fly. But when he looked at the different service academies, he saw statues of airplanes outside the Air Force academy, statues of ships outside the Navy’s, and statues of leaders at West Point. “One of my favorite pieces about the Army is that as an Aviation Officer, I wasn’t a pilot who happened to be a leader, but a leader who happened to be a pilot,” he tells Poets&Quants.

If not for an injury, Welch would have stayed in the Army uniform longer than 5 ½ years. Instead, he faced an unexpected transition from military service to civilian life and didn’t know quite where he might fit in. He decided to apply for an MBA because he thought a business education would best remove the blinders to becoming an effective leader in the next chapter of his life. While he eventually pictured himself in business school, he didn’t necessarily picture himself at any school in particular. He applied to Stanford Graduate School of Business as a matter of geography.


Austin Welch

“The real answer is my fiancée lives in L.A. and she told me, after six years of a long distance relationship, that I will go to school in California,” says Welch, MBA ‘22.

After nearly five years hovering around 3% veteran representation in its incoming MBA cohorts, Stanford GSB hit 5% representation this year, putting it roughly on par with other top B-Schools in the United States. It comes after outreach efforts to help veterans like Welch imagine themselves at Stanford while making concerted efforts to remove the financial barriers for veteran candidates.

Now, as vice-president of the Stanford GSB Veterans Club, Welch connects with prospective veteran MBAs to show them the support, community and other resources available to them at GSB. One year in, he’s certain Stanford was the right school. 

“’Why Stanford?’ has become a much more complex question for me over the last year. I think one of the things that is most beautiful about this place is that it really prides itself in emotional intelligence and emotional leadership,” he says. “I thought I was a pretty good leader before, but I realized that leadership outside of the uniform has so many nuances and complexities that I couldn’t even begin to appreciate. It just validates the path that I have chosen.”


Developing the veteran pipeline is part of GSB’s holistic review admission process and attracting diverse experience and background to each cohort, says Wil Torres, director of outreach for MBA admissions at GSB. While admission practice has not changed, the school has been intentional in helping prospective students, including veterans, see themselves at Stanford.

Wil Torres, Stanford GSB

“We think about diversity as broadly defined, so as part of my core responsibilities, it’s been really exciting to watch the pipeline grow and to engage with veterans to get to where we are today and to continue to build on that in the future,” Torres tells Poets&Quants. 

Between 2017 and 2021, the percentage of veterans of incoming MBA cohorts at GSB hovered around 3%, dipping to 2% in 2020. The number rose to 4% for the incoming class of 2022 and, this year, broke 5% for 2023.

There’s nothing magical about that 5% threshold. It isn’t an industry benchmark for top-ranked business schools or even a stated goal at Stanford GSB. The percentage of military veterans is, however, at least a measure of how well a B-school is reaching out and developing its pipeline of military talent. If diversity of thought and background bring forth diversity in solutions and approaches to business problems, as many B-schools say that it does, then veteran participation is a reflection of how highly a business school values the unique work experiences in high-stress environments veterans bring to an MBA class.

Read more: In honor of Veterans Day, Poets&Quants reached out to MBAs with military backgrounds at several top B-schools. See them here.

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