Bringing Stars & Stripes into the MBA: Essential Lessons on Military Student Recruitment

Military students have the distinct advantage of possessing the skills and determination necessary to succeed in the business world.

Aug 22, 2017


Military Students

Veterans and active military personnel have bravely led others, overcome challenges, and honed organizational, problem-solving, and time management skills. Like many other institutions, the Carlson School at the University of Minnesota recognized the advantages military students bring in to the MBA program and to the organizations they serve during or after their MBA. As such, in 2011 we sought to increase the number of military students joining our program by launching a military veteran’s initiative aimed at facilitating their enrollment in the program.


Starting with just two percent of the incoming full-time MBA class represented by military students, our initiative has grown our military student enrollment to nearly 20 percent.  The Carlson School veteran's initiative ensures that military veterans receive tuition assistance and support through dedicated Carlson School and University of Minnesota personnel and services that help facilitate entry into the program, as well as success during and after. The mission of the initiative is still maintained today to:


  • Help veterans assimilate back into an academic setting
  • Provide financial support or guidance
  • Provide a strong support network
  • Translate acquired military skills into the practice of business
  • Provide experiential learning opportunities that help veterans advance their careers

Military student enrollment growth has delivered many benefits to our program. For one, military students added a layer of diversity to the perspectives and experiences of the Carlson School's student body along with a new dimension to class discussions and projects for all Carlson School students. In addition, veteran students brought their military experiences and leadership skills to share with military and non-military classmates alike, whether as a classmate, group project team member, experiential learning project team member, or case competition teammate.

Over time, newly minted veteran MBA graduates have brought their combined military and classroom leadership experiences to the workplace and have been recognized as highly productive members of their employers and community. We witnessed many our MBA veterans excelling in our various experiential learning opportunities, including participating in programming provided by the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School. Five MBA veteran students that were entrepreneurial fellowship recipients participated in a MN Cup competition (largest statewide entrepreneurial competition), showcasing their new venture ideas that went on to become successful start-up businesses.

Lessons Learned from the Initiative

We learned many lessons through the development of our military initiative and growth in military student enrollment. Most notably, we learned that although financial fellowship support served a critical component to attracting more military students for whom an MBA program might have been cost prohibitive, the support for our military students had to go far beyond financial support.

Over time, our military initiative grew into a more holistic MBA Veterans Program led by Naval Commander Charles Altman (Ret.). Altman serves as the director of our MBA Veterans Program and is responsible for recruiting veteran students into the MBA and connecting them to various resources and services available on campus. Our Graduate Business Career Center further connects with our military students prior to their arrival on campus for an in-depth interview about background, skills, and possible areas of opportunity, and assists military students with pre-internship programs and industry career transitions.

Our Enterprise and Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship experiential learning programs provide distinctive experiences for our veterans. The Carlson School offers four Enterprise programs (Brands, Consulting, Funds, and Ventures) that assemble students into small teams to address real-world business challenges that expect real-world results. This is an in-depth professional and transformational experience that is especially valuable to military students seeking to translate their military experiences into the private sector.

The Holmes Center provides access to the entrepreneurial community and events, like Twin Cities Start-Up Week, the state-wide MN Cup competition for new ventures, and the Acara Challenge, a competition for developing innovative business solutions for environmental and social challenges. The student-led Military Veterans Club serves to connect current, former and prospective Carlson School of Management students, promote professional advancement, and help overcome common challenges faced by veterans.

Undoubtedly, the MBA Veterans Program at the Carlson School has enhanced the culture and diversity of our program experience by attracting veterans who bring unique leadership, discipline, and problem-solving skills to the program. Its success, however, was earned through the recognition and purposeful action of taking what started as a recruiting initiative and developing it into an innovative student support model for our military students that starts from the moment they are considering our program and all the way through post-graduation.

Linh GillesLinh Gilles is Director of Admissions & Recruiting at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.