How to Get a Free Veteran MBA Through the Yellow Ribbon Program

The misconception about goals is that you have to have a certain goal or a certain subset of goals in order to be an attractive candidate for a given school. And this is just patently untrue. There is literally an infinite array of MBA application career goals that you could have that both necessitate an MBA and that make you an attractive candidate for business school. And which goals or set of goals is right for you depends on you. It depends on your background, your experiences, your ambitions and your vision for the future. It depends on where you want to have an impact. It depends on the kind of work that you want to be doing post MBA based on the experience that you've had pre-MBA. You’ll submit a unique MBA application that is tailored to you and your personal experiences. I can't tell you how many times I've had my clients go and speak to their friends who are alumni, their alumni friends tell them “You need to destroy this entire essay and you need to talk about wanting to have goals in finance.” or “You can't say that you want to go into consulting, everybody says they want to go into consulting.” or “You have to have an entrepreneurial goal or the school isn't going to accept you.”. The problem with taking advice in general from alumni is that they have a data set of one. They have their own application process and what they believe made them successful in getting into business school. It's only natural to think that whatever worked for you is definitely what's going to work for everyone else. But this is crazy and it's wrong because for the most part, there's a very good chance that those alumni got into school, not because of their essays or their goals, but in spite of them.

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This was definitely the case in my case. When I look back on all the horrible mistakes I made in my MBA essays, I can't even believe how lucky I was to be admitted because frankly, I was admitted not because of my essays, but in spite of them. So, taking advice from anyone who has a single data point is always a risky proposition. And where I see this most going wrong – with alumni in particular – is advising you to have a certain set of MBA application goals that they think the school is interested in or that they themselves met success with. But that has nothing to do with you or your specific ambitions or your unique MBA application. And I'm picking on alumni here, but if you go to the internet, you're going to find a lot of misinformation about what goals you should and should not have when you apply to business school.

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Excuse Me, How Much Does Business School Cost?!

Looking to pivot careers after military service while still feeling that strong sense of community with your peers in civilian life? Hoping to quickly translate your military leadership into a private sector role that values your military experience and compensates well right off the bat? Then an MBA may be your next step as a military veteran.

A Masters in Business Administration degree is a (typically) two-year, full-time professional degree where you can develop valuable business skills like managing people, mitigating risk, building value in order to transition your military experience to a civilian career while making life-long friends in the process.

Business schools love veteran and military students, and always have because they contribute diverse perspectives and unique skill-sets to the classroom and academic community. Their military training and leadership experience also makes them strong leaders, teammates, and problem-solvers—all attributes that MBA programs look for in their ideal candidates.

On average, veterans and reserve military can comprise around 5%-10% of an MBA class at the top-25 business schools. To attract prospective students with military experience and diversity the student body, many MBA programs even offer significantly reduced fees  or waived fees for military and veteran applicants. There are also a few great military benefits out there that can help make the MBA degree more affordable to military veteran students.

Read on to find out how to score a quality MBA education on the cheap or for free as a military veteran!

Can You Use GI Bill for MBA?

Fortunately for veterans, your GI bill benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs can pay for part of your MBA education. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, veterans at the 100%-level for GI benefits can receive full tuition and fees up to the maximum public school tuition level set for their state. The VA also provides a book allowance of up to $1000 per year and a housing allowance based on the school’s location for veterans studying full-time.

If you were honorably discharged before January 1, 2013, your GI education benefits expire 15 years from your date of separation from active service. However, if you were honorably discharged from service after January 1, 2013, then the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act (aka the “Forever GI Bill”) your educational benefits won’t expire.

The GI benefits are especially great for veterans going to public MBA programs in-state because their tuition is fully covered. But the tuition price cap significantly limits veterans looking to enroll in out-of-state public school or private school MBA programs, both of which cost much more than in-state public tuition. That’s where the Yellow Ribbon Program steps in to bridge the gap.

What’s the Yellow Ribbon Program?

The Yellow Ribbon program is a partnership between the Department of Veteran Affairs and select participating schools to help cover the difference between what the GI tuition benefits cover and the more expensive costs of out-of-state or private school tuition incurred by student veterans. The Yellow Ribbon Program applies to both full-time and part-time attendance, which is great for those seeking to pursue a part-time MBA. 

In order to qualify for the Yellow Ribbon Program, veteran MBA candidates must be at the 100% level for Post-9/11 GI bill benefits, meaning they have:

  • Served at least 36 months on active duty, or

  • Received a purple heart on or after 9/11/2001, and were honorably discharged after any amount of service, or

  • Served at least 30 continuous days on or after 9/11/2001, and were discharged after 60 days with a service-connected disability

Generally, active duty service members and their dependents are ineligible, but recent modifications to the Yellow Ribbon Program through the Forever GI Bill allows certain active duty applicants to use the program beginning August 1, 2022. Surviving spouses and adult children of military members who died in the line of duty may also qualify for the Yellow Ribbon program as Fry Scholars.

How Does the Yellow Ribbon Program Work?

First start by calculating your maximum GI benefit.

According to the VA website the max benefit for private school tuition for 2021 is $25,162.14. Once admitted to the MBA program, private MBA programs can elect to offer a grant of any amount up to maximum GI benefit amounts. The grant will vary depending on whether the school has a limit on Yellow Ribbon grant recipients and how much money they have for scholarships in general. Then on top of that, the VA can contribute funds up to a matching amount that your school offers.

So if your schools matches your max GI benefit amount and so does the VA, then you have ($25,162.14 x 3) $75,486.42 of your MBA tuition and mandatory fees covered. Say you also receive the max book allowance for two years ($2,000), plus a housing allowance (varies by location and whether you’re a full-time student), then you’ve reduced your MBA costs to nearly zero.

Of course, there are some limitations to the program.

First, the Yellow Ribbon program only applies to those who qualify for 100% GI benefits. Veterans with fewer than the requisite 36 month service requirement are ineligible for the program.

Second, the Yellow Ribbon program only applies to tuition at US schools. So if you’re looking to pursue international MBA, it’ll cost ya out of pocket.

Third, school participation in the program is voluntary on an academic year-to-year basis. So there’s no guarantee that your school will continue participating in your second year of your MBA. If your school discontinues the Yellow Ribbon program, however, they are required to notify you as a current student. Finally, there’s also no guarantee that the Yellow Ribbon school contribution amount will be the same from Year 1 to Year 2. Just something to keep in mind when budgeting your higher education costs.

Which Schools Participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program?

To find a participating Yellow Ribbon school, enter the name of your desired school into the VA school search tool.  Since there’s no official published list, just the search tool, we took the liberty of searching the top MBA program participants for this year to aid your research:



2022 US News & Report Ranking

School Name

Yellow Ribbon participant?

Other scholarships for veterans?



Yes (here’s a link)



Uni. of Pennsylvania – Wharton)

Yes ($40,000 per year)

FRA Education Foundation; LunaCap Foundation; AT&T Veterans


Uni. of Chicago – Booth

Yes ($30,000 per year)

David W. Fox Scholarship


Northwestern – Kellogg

Yes ($15,000 per year)



Harvard Business School

Yes ($20,000 per year)

Wells Fargo Veterans Scholarship Program; LunaCap Foundation; American Warrior Association Scholarship


MIT – Sloan

Yes ($20,000 per year) limited to 30 students



Columbia University

Yes (here’s a link)



UC Berkeley – Haas

Yes (here’s a link)




Yes (here’s a link)



Dartmouth – Tuck

Yes (here’s a link)



NYU – Stern

Yes ($10,000 NYU contribution)

Fertitta Veterans Scholarship


Duke – Fuqua

Yes ($18,000 per year)



University of Michigan – Ross

Yes (here’s a link)

U-M Veterans Scholarship


Uni. of Virginia – Darden

Yes (here’s a link)

Edward A. Watjen Military Scholarship; Colonel James A. Fowler USMC Scholarship; John and Mary Kay Strangfeld Scholarship; Gary T. and Elizabeth R. Jones Military Scholarship; Darden USMC Scholarship; Robert J. Hugin USMC Scholarship; and many more


Cornell – Johnson

Yes (here’s a link)

Peter and Stephanie Nolan Veterans Scholarship; Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program; The Johnson Veteran Scholarship


Carnegie Mellon – Tepper

Yes (here’s a link)



USC – Marshall

Yes ($10,000 per year)

Schoen Scholarship


UCLA – Anderson

Yes (here’s a link)



University of Texas – McCombs

Yes (here’s a link)



UNC Chapel Hill – Kenan-Flagler

Yes (here’s a link)


How Do I Apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program?

Apply online through the VA. Some business schools cap the number of Yellow Ribbon scholarships they can offer, so enrollment is often based on a first-come, first served policy. So if you’re eligible for the Yellow Ribbon program, apply as soon as you can!

For the online application, you’ll need your social security number, bank account direct deposit information, education and military history, basic information about the school you’re planning to attend.

You can also apply by mail by first calling 888-442-4551 (Mon-Fri 7:00am – 7:00pm ET) to request an application be sent to you. Then mail your completed application form to the VA regional claims processing office that’s in the same location as your school.

You can also apply by going to your regional VA office and requesting assistance from a VA employee.

FYI, it can take up to 30 days for your application to be processed and for the VA to make a decision. If your application gets denied, you can appeal the decision.

Once you get approved, you’ll receive a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) for VA benefits, which you’ll present to your MBA program to get a matching contribution. Then your school submits an enrollment form to the VA, which will match the school’s contribution.

A personal note from the Career Protocol team

We absolutely LOVE working with military applicants. Our only filter for our client intake is whether or not someone plans to use their career in service of others in some way. There is no one who fits that bill better than folks who have already given their career to date in service of their country. So even if working with an admissions coach isn’t in your budget, please talk to us.

Sign up for a free MBA strategy call right here:

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And we’ll give you as much free advice as we can in the call and let you know all about how we help you tell your most inspiring stories in a way that inspires confidence in your ability to lead in a civilian context.

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Louise Loeb

Archeologist of Joy | Senior
Instructor and Master Storyteller

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