Business Schools Tap Veterans
Former Military Members Bring Unique Perspective, but Tuition Can Be Tough
by Dianna Middleton
Five years ago, Augusto Giacoman was commanding about 30 soldiers and leading raids in Iraq. Now he spends his days in classrooms alongside former bankers, engineers and other civilians earning a master’s in business administration.
Mr. Giacoman, a retired U.S. Army officer, is evidence of a growing effort among business schools to lure ex-military members into M.B.A. programs, where they are prized for their leadership skills and ability to bring an alternate perspective to the classroom, say school administrators.
At Harvard Business School, veterans currently make up 3% of the class of 2011’s 930 students.
Known for its case study method, Harvard relies on students’ personal experiences to propel cases, says Deirdre Leopold, director of admissions at Harvard Business School. Veterans, she says, bring something to the room that other students don’t. “They’ve been responsible for lives, which brings a gravitas to classroom discussion,” Ms. Leopold says.
Stacy Blackman, an M.B.A. admissions consultant and president of Stacy Blackman Consulting in Los Angeles, says she has worked with military clients who nabbed spots at top business schools, even without stellar GMAT scores. “They automatically know how to work in a team and they have respect, an important characteristic for business schools,” Ms. Blackman says.
But an M.B.A. program can cost upwards of $150,000 for two years at a top-tier school””a high price tag for veterans who may not have had income from several years at a traditional job to save for tuition.
Business schools are luring new recruits via military job fairs, dedicated veteran’s scholarships, and partnerships with the government to offer hefty scholarships. Mr. Giacoman received a $25,000 scholarship from New York University’s Stern School of Business from a fund dedicated to military-turned-students.
An increase in government funding for veteran education has also helped. The Post 9/11 GI Bill increases the number of students who qualify for educational aid and offers a housing and book allowance.
Business schools have also joined the Yellow Ribbon program, which gives a lump sum payment to each student beyond the rate the GI Bill will reimburse. The amount is matched by the Veterans Administration and varies by school. Harvard Business School, for example, gives its veterans $5,000 a year through the program, while the University of California-Los Angeles’ Anderson Graduate School of Management gives its veteran students $8,600 a year.
Harvard M.B.A. student Seth Moulton, a former Marine Corps platoon commander, says money from the Yellow Ribbon grant and GI Bill, totalling $24,000, have made it much easier for him to earn his degree.
Corporate recruiters say veterans bring teamwork skills and a penchant for leadership to their companies. Bill Brenton, director of the leverage finance group at Credit Suisse Group, says an internal study found that employees with military backgrounds tended to be highly successful due to a sense of discipline and ability to build camaraderie. Veterans made up 20% of the firm’s internship class last summer””part of a firm-wide effort to recruit more former military, says Mr. Brenton.
Chip Saltsman, a vice president of consulting firm Capgemini Worldwide, says veterans are attractive to his firm because they are typically well-equipped for government projects that the company handles. “If you’re recruiting from a top business school, you already know you’re getting a quality product,” Mr. Saltsman says. “But if you add military experience, it takes out a lot of the guesswork.”
Even so, some veterans say they struggle with potential employers’ perceptions about how relevant military experience is to, say, a finance or marketing job, and some employers pigeon-hole them into general management or operations roles.
The shift from the battlefield to the classroom comes with other challenges as well. Many veterans need to beef up their quantitative skills to keep pace with their more business-oriented classmates. And until they’ve figured out how to easily translate military experiences into corporate speak, some face ambiguous reactions from recruiters.
“The adjustment to coming back to school is significant for them,” says Harvard’s Ms. Leopold. The school eases its veteran students into campus life in a variety of ways, including hosting a résumé workshop specifically geared to translating military experience into recruiter-friendly language.
Mr. Giacoman says he opted for NYU’s Summer Start program. The pre-term program allows nontraditional students to “get more involved with campus activities and spend more time becoming acclimated to the business world,” says Isser Gallogly, executive director of M.B.A. admissions at NYU.
Other transitions are more of a challenge. Mr. Moulton, who served in Iraq in 2004 during one of the most violent periods in the war, says returning to school after four deployments was a big adjustment.
“School can feel like a selfish endeavor to make yourself more marketable,” says Mr. Moulton, who commanded some 35 Marines and remains a reserve officer.