Best Value MBA Programs

Updated: December 16, 2020

Table of Contents

    Transitioning out of the military, many service members decide to pursue careers in business, and formal education can assist this transition.  As such, veterans often ask about quality, military-friendly business schools.  In this article, we’ll address the best value MBA programs for the veteran community.

    Best Value MBA Programs

    Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:

    • MBA Overview
    • GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon, and MBA Programs
    • MBA Best Value Methodology
    • Best Value MBAs for Veterans
    • Final Thoughts

    MBA Overview

    Prior to considering actually completing an MBA, veterans should gain an overview of this degree program.

    An MBA, or master of business administration, is a graduate degree program that provides academic, professional, and real-world foundations for a career in business.  These degrees typically take two years, though some schools offer one-year executive MBA programs, as well.

    While each MBA program will have a unique curriculum, standard coursework across all business schools includes the following subjects:

    • Accounting
    • Finance
    • Marketing
    • Organizational behavior
    • Economics
    • Management
    • Business ethics

    In addition to classwork, most MBA programs also encourage (or require) students to participate in a summer internship between their first and second years.  These internships provide veterans real-world business experience while also potentially opening the door to a post-MBA job offer.

    GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon, and MBA Programs

    After the above overview of MBAs, veterans next must understand some key veteran education benefits to properly assess value in different MBA programs.  More precisely, veterans need to understand how the GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon program work.

    In addition to a monthly housing allowance, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides eligible veterans full tuition and fees up to the in-state, public school maximum. However, this payment ceiling poses a potential problem for veterans looking to enroll in either out-of-state or private MBA programs with tuitions exceeding the in-state, public school maximum.

    In other words, if veterans apply for more expensive MBA programs, do they need to pay the difference out-of-pocket?

    Fortunately, the Yellow Ribbon program serves as a way to bridge this funding gap, so long as veterans applying for this program have 100% Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Specifically, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs-sponsored Yellow Ribbon program acts as a collaboration between schools and the VA to help cover the difference between GI Bill tuition benefits and these more expensive tuitions.

    When universities enroll in the Yellow Program, they establish a quota of Yellow Ribbons slots for their academic programs.  Veterans can then apply for one of these slots and, if accepted, receive a scholarship for part or all the difference in tuition between GI Bill benefit amounts and what the school charges.  With this scholarship, schools elect how much they want to provide, and the VA matches this amount dollar-for-dollar.

    For this reason, veterans at some expensive private schools have all of their excess tuition covered by the Yellow Ribbon program, while veterans at other schools only have part covered.  Bottom line, it’s up to each school whether veterans will need to pay any tuition out-of-pocket.

    Understanding how both the GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon program work allows the following MBA value analysis.  In this review, we discuss veteran MBA value in the context of these benefit programs.


    MBA Best Value Methodology

    In the following analysis, we’ve categorized MBA programs as high-quality based on the assessment of the primary MBA ranking organization in the United States: US News and World Report.  Specifically, we have used this organization’s most recent ranking of “Best Business Schools,” reviewing the top 10 MBA programs from this list.

    To compile its rankings, US News and World Report interviews and researches hundreds of business schools, ultimately ranking them based upon their respective performance in the following categories:

    • Peer assessment score
    • Recruiter assessment score
    • Mean starting salary and bonus
    • Employment rates among full-time MBA grads
    • Mean GMAT and GRE scores
    • Mean undergrad GPAs
    • Student acceptance rate

    While each of the above categories receives a different weight, they all combine to provide the overall score that dictates ranking.

    By focusing on the top 10 business schools in our analysis, we’ve attempted to find the intersection between these high-quality MBA programs and affordability to provide veterans a list of the best value MBA programs.  Put simply, we want veterans to go to the best business schools while spending the least amount of their own money.  In our analysis, we have reviewed each of these top 10 business schools with respect to veteran value, that is, how much veterans will need to pay, if anything at all.

    Our analysis assumes that veterans have 100% Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, as this status enables them to apply for Yellow Ribbon slots.

    NOTE: We solely account for tuition costs below – not living expenses.  Consequently, in a full analysis of an MBA program’s value, veterans should also consider how much it will cost to actually live near the school.  Related to this, though, the GI Bill’s monthly housing allowance accounts for cost of living, that is, veterans will receive larger monthly stipends in higher-cost areas.

    Best Value MBAs for Veterans

    The below list includes the top 10 business schools, as determined by US News and World Report.  For each of the schools, we assign a “Veteran Value,” stating how the GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon apply at the specific school.

    • University of Pennsylvania – Wharton School of Business
      • Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
      • US News Ranking: 1 (tied with Stanford)
      • Veteran Value: Partial Yellow Ribbon match (will need to pay some tuition)
        • Less than 100% Yellow Ribbon match: Yes
        • Limit on Yellow Ribbon slots: No
    • Stanford Graduate School of Business
      • Location: Palo Alto, California
      • US News Ranking: 1 (tied with Wharton)
      • Veteran Value: Partial Yellow Ribbon match (will need to pay some tuition)
        • Less than 100% Yellow Ribbon match: Yes
        • Limit on Yellow Ribbon slots: No
    • Chicago Booth School of Business
      • Location: Chicago, Illinois
      • US News Ranking: 3 (tied with Northwestern)
      • Veteran Value: Full Yellow Ribbon match (may still need to pay some tuition)
    • Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management
      • Location: Evanston, Illinois
      • US News Ranking: 3 (tied with Chicago Booth)
      • Veteran Value: Partial Yellow Ribbon match (will need to pay some tuition)
        • Less than 100% Yellow Ribbon match: Yes
        • Limit on Yellow Ribbon slots: No
    • MIT Sloan School of Business
      • Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
      • US News Ranking: 5
      • Veteran Value: Partial Yellow Ribbon match (will need to pay some tuition)
        • Less than 100% Yellow Ribbon match: Yes
        • Limit on Yellow Ribbon slots: Yes*

    *While MIT technically applies limits to Yellow Ribbon slots, in reality, those limits are high enough that they will not prevent a veteran accepted to their MBA programs from receiving Yellow Ribbon benefits.

    • Harvard Business School
      • Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
      • US News Ranking: 6
      • Veteran Value: Partial Yellow Ribbon match (will need to pay some tuition)
        • Less than 100% Yellow Ribbon match: Yes
        • Limit on Yellow Ribbon slots: No
    • University of California Berkeley – Haas School of Business
      • Location: Berkeley, California
      • US News Ranking: 7
      • Veteran Value: No cost (public school)
    • Columbia Business School
      • Location: New York, New York
      • US News Ranking: 8
      • Veteran Value: Partial Yellow Ribbon match (will need to pay some tuition)
        • Less than 100% Yellow Ribbon match: Yes
        • Limit on Yellow Ribbon slots: No
    • Yale School of Management
      • Location: New Haven, Connecticut
      • US News Ranking: 9
      • Veteran Value: Full Yellow Ribbon match (may still need to pay some tuition)
    • New York University – Stern School of Business
      • Location: New York, New York
      • US News Ranking: 10
      • Veteran Value: Full Yellow Ribbon match (may still need to pay some tuition)

    NOTE: In evaluating the above MBA programs, veterans should reach out to the schools’ respective VA certifying officials or veteran support centers to confirm exactly how much Yellow Ribbon scholarship they provide.

    Final Thoughts

    From a financial perspective, the above analysis only accounts for GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon benefits.  However, most MBA programs – especially the top-ranked ones – possess massive endowments and are able to provide additional scholarships and financial aid to veterans.

    As such, veterans who want to pursue an MBA should view the above as a tool to assist their decision-making process.  This list should not represent the be-all and end-all in deciding where to apply.  Rather, the intersection of high-quality programs and financial assistance should help you select the best value MBA programs for your unique situation.


    About The AuthorMaurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.


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