September 29, 2022 11:00 pm
September 29, 2022 11:00 pm

Enlisted to B-School: Increasing Enlisted Veteran Representation at Top MBA Programs

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Enlisted veterans are underrepresented in the top MBA programs. Top 7? 10? 20? It doesn’t matter how you define top programs; military officers dominate veteran representation at the top schools. If you look for information why, you’ll find very little. For instance, there’s no breakdown in a class profile of how many veterans at a given school were officers or enlisted. However, you can check the pages of veteran alumni or click through bios on LinkedIn and quickly realize that the veterans you find are overwhelmingly former officers. For me it became increasingly obvious during the admission process as I met more students in the alumni clubs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we have veteran representation in business schools. The purpose of this post is to reiterate the value an MBA can provide and let other enlisted veterans know that you can succeed in business school. In fact, the schools, students, and alumni all want to see you succeed.

Value of an MBA

Graduates of top programs routinely find jobs that pay well into the six figures immediately after school. If you enter an industry like consulting, you could earn nearly $200k in your first year out of school. Compared to an E5 or E6 pay, these are life changing amounts. Don’t believe me? Check out the 2021 UC Berkeley Haas Employment Report where the median salary and sign on bonus for graduates going into consulting tops $195k.

Not only the money

Beyond simply earning the type of income that could quickly setup your finances for life, the best programs open opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. For example, if you dream of making it to Wall Street as a banker after your days in the military, that’s going to be very difficult to do coming straight out of the service. However, with a full-time program you can network with veterans at these firms, work with career management teams to polish your resume, and receive tips and advice from faculty mentors and students who just completed similar internships. These are all the tools that you might need to make your dream a reality!

Even more value with the GI Bill

Veterans might make up somewhere between 5-10% of a school’s students. That means that 90-95% of students do not have the GI Bill. While some may have scholarships, many will not. Many students will take out loans to land high paying jobs that these top programs provide access to. Even with the high costs, the benefits of the education are often worthwhile. The financial support of the GI Bill, further tips the scales in favor of going back to school. You may even be in a position where you do not need to worry about pursuing the highest paying jobs at graduation; a luxury your classmates might not be able to afford.

For the vet with less than 100% eligibility for the GI Bill, there are several excellent public schools available. These schools can make excellent choices for vets who don’t qualify for the yellow ribbon program but otherwise have remaining benefits. Let’s take an example of a soldier who finishes a two-year contract and qualifies for 80% benefits. If she uses her benefits at a private school, then the GI Bill will pay for up to 80% of the maximum private school tuition ($26,042) annually or a little under $21,000. This can leave a significant gap in funding for expensive private schools that can charge $75,000-80,000 for tuition alone.

If she instead goes to a public school, then the GI Bill will pay 80% of the total in state tuition. At UC Berkeley the in-state tuition is about $65,000 so the GI Bill would pay $52,000 annually just for tuition!

A few great public schools to consider:

  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • Indiana University
  • University of Minnesota
  • UNC, Chapel Hill
  • University of Texas, Austin
  • University of Virginia

You can do it

Veterans clubs at business schools can be incredibly helpful as you explore different programs. The students in these clubs can assist with updating your resume, sharing details about the school and admissions process, and interview prep. These are the same services that admissions consultants might charge hundreds of dollars for, and most vets are happy to “pay it forward” by assisting you.

Another source of support, which is highly regarded by other vets I’ve spoken to, is Service2School. Service2School is a non-profit that began in 2011 and consists of other veterans who have already been through the admissions process or recent alumni. As of January 2022, they partner with business schools at UC Berkeley, University of Minnesota, and Vanderbilt. Regardless of your school choice, their guidebook is an excellent resource for understanding the application process for business school and is something I wish I had found when applying.

Focus on impact

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that an officer has a leg up in admissions because they are more likely to have been in charge of a large group like a platoon (30 soldiers) or company (120 soldiers). However, any leadership experience will set you apart from your peers as not all of your civilian counterparts at business school will have had direct reports. What is more important is the impact that you had in your role.

Our perspective is valuable

Veterans bring a unique perspective as members of the military. The military is incredibly large and has a unique culture that doesn’t exist in the private sector. Differentiation between officers and enlisted, how contracts are structured, and how orders are notable aspects which make the military unique. The underrepresentation of enlisted veterans means that you bring a particularly unique perspective to the classroom. The ability to impact and influence from below is something that you can highlight in application. Admissions officers for schools strive to bring diversity to the classroom, so use this to your advantage!

Change the status quo

For enlisted veterans considering a career in business, an MBA can be a rewarding and lucrative path. Numerous roles and industries recruit top MBA talent so if you haven’t considered a business degree then check out employment reports for the top schools. The employment reports are publicly available and combined with informational pages on a school’s website provide an overview of the kinds of careers available to graduates. Don’t forget there are numerous people who are willing to help you on this journey. You’ve got the opportunity, so get started today!

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