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Serious Business
Why the nation’s top MBA programs aggressively recruit military veterans.
By Andrea Downing Peck 

Service members leaving the military today are heading into a civilian job market where finding a job might seem like a long shot. Yet veterans graduating from the nation’s top MBA programs are sifting through a wealth of job offers as they reap the rewards of combining military service with a master’s degree in business.serious-business219x292

Army veteran Aaron Perrine, 34, will graduate this spring from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and begin work at McKinsey & Co. Perrine sifted through more than a half-dozen job offers before accepting a position with the management-consulting firm where he had completed a summer internship.

Perrine, who left active duty in 2010, said an MBA is proving to be a ticket to full employment for the 45 former-service members completing their second year at Wharton.

“Are there enormous issues with unemployment with the veteran community?” Perrine said. “Absolutely. All the vets at Wharton take it seriously. It’s not the experience of those of us who have happened to go to top MBA programs. That’s a small number of people, but for those of us who have happened to have this opportunity, we have found our service to be nothing but an enormous positive.” 

Vets Have Unique Advantages
Many of the business schools that are consistently ranked among the best MBA programs in the nation, such as Wharton, Stanford University and the University of Chicago, are aggressively recruiting veterans.

Wharton, for example, held its first Veterans Prospective Student Day last October. About 45 veterans came to the Philadelphia campus to learn more about Wharton, the admission’s process and the MBA experience.

While veterans typically cannot match other applicants’ business experience, their résumés boast unique advantages.

“Military candidates tend to come with incredibly strong leadership and management skills, particularly at a very early onset of their careers,” said Ankur Kumar, Wharton’s director of admissions and financial aid. “They have a high sense of accountability and responsibility, great exposure and success working in teams and a desire to have an impact. They also think about things in a very structured and analytical way, which is much the way we think about business.” 

Vets Help Vets
Wharton receives about 7,000 applications for each incoming class of 800 students. While admission to a top MBA program is highly competitive, Veterans Clubs are eager to help prospective veteran students navigate the application process.

“We work with upwards of 100 applicants a year, making sure they are stating their experiences in a compelling and effective way on their résumés and that their essays are well thought out and speak to our perception of what Wharton looks for,” said Perrine, co-president of Wharton’s Veterans Club. 

Navy Vet Adds to His Tool Kit
Matthew Gore, a second-year MBA student at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, said his leadership skills have translated well to business school, but his ability to make quick decisions has proven equally beneficial.serious-business2

“In the military, you really become accustomed to learning on your feet, getting up to speed very quickly in an area and having to make decisions,” said Gore, 28, a former nuclear propulsion officer. “You learn to act on whatever limited sets of information you have. That is a very valuable skill that I didn’t think about consciously but have found very useful.”

While business school was “nowhere on my radar” when he entered the Navy in 2005, Gore said the MBA experience has laid the groundwork for a smooth transition to the private sector.

“I did feel in this challenging [job] market, if I took that time to add to my credentials as well as really fill out my background – I had a lot of strengths coming from the military but there were holes in that experience as well,” said Gore, who is weighing several job offers. “I never dealt with anything financial. I never touched marketing. I felt if I could add those things to my tool kit, I would have an easier time finding the right job.” 

MBAs Aren’t Cheap
A degree from a top-tier MBA program does not come cheap. Wharton pegs its cost of attendance for 2011-2012 at $89,200, including $58,244 in tuition and fees, while first-year costs at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business are estimated at $85,488. Both Perrine and Gore used the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon program (YRP) to offset those big price tags.

Though the Post-9/11 GI Bill now caps private college tuition payments at $17,500, many MBA programs have responded by increasing scholarship support for veterans. The University of Chicago, for example, increased its $10,000 YRP grants from eight to unlimited, meaning all veterans at Chicago Booth who qualify under Veterans Administration guidelines will receive YRP scholarships. The VA matches each YRP grant.


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