Why Graduate School? A Look at the Reasons Why for Veterans

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A veteran working on an online course.Many veterans consider earning a degree while they are in the service or once they leave the military, either to apply the advanced skills in their current roles or to seek personal and career advancement upon returning to civilian life. Compared to the population at large, this group has several key advantages, including eligibility for federal benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program.


This supporting infrastructure offsets some of the costs of graduate and undergraduate degrees so veterans can continue their educational journeys. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterans have similar rates of educational attainment to non-veterans but diverge in several key areas, including the number with “some college, no degree” (22.8 percent versus 19.6 percent) and the share with only an associate degree (12.5 percent versus 9.4 percent).

These statistics underscore the fact that veterans are generally interested in education programs but might not have had the time to complete their degrees prior to entering active service. Their reasons for finishing or starting on a new degree range from the practical (like gaining the right credential for a specific position) to the personal (e.g., broadening their knowledge base).

Online graduate degrees, like the Healthcare Master of Business Administration (HCMBA) from the George Washington University (GW), can benefit veterans in both respects. The GW HCMBA provides a wide-reaching background in current healthcare topics like pharmaceutical research and development, clinical trial design, and patient safety systems, along with a background in essential MBA domains including managerial accounting and operations management.

In this way, the best online schools for military veterans provide students breadth, depth, and flexibility in their studies, helping them reach their goals. However, graduate school isn’t for everyone. It’s worth examining the pros and cons of trying to earn a degree as a veteran and how these considerations affect the most common rationales for considering graduate school.

To Pursue a Degree or Not?

Why attend graduate school? The answer will vary from person to person, but will often fit into one or more of a few major categories that include:

  • Advanced skills realignment and acquisition
  • Career development
  • Personal and professional networking

Let’s look at this one by one.

Advanced Skills Realignment and Acquisition

Military veterans possess many unique capabilities, including leadership, communication, and expertise with specific technologies. Such skills translate well across educational and professional contexts and can be further honed through graduate education.
For healthcare-focused MBAs in particular, a veteran’s background might be useful in understanding how to lead a clinical research team or communicate with key stakeholders on a patient safety initiative. An HCMBA builds concrete skills that are a natural progression of what many veterans already excel at.

Career Development

How this renewed approach to thinking affects career prospects varies by field – one of the potential “cons” to consider depending on your intended path. While some professions may not require a master’s or professional degree for entry, a graduate degree may provide the critical skills and knowledge for further advancement in the field.

The BLS has published useful guidance on which occupations see the biggest and smallest boosts from earning a master’s degree. For example, occupational therapists usually see no wage premium, while some MBA earners see a 90 percent difference. Healthcare professionals as a whole see a substantial lift from having a post-baccalaureate education.

Why the stark difference between fields? It comes down in part to the skills developed in the corresponding graduate school programs.


The extensive network built during and after MBA completion complements the knowledge acquired in the program’s curriculum. It gives graduates many possible contacts for furthering their careers and exploring new opportunities.

How to Find the Best Online Degree Programs for Veterans

As a veteran, there are a few boxes to check off before exploring any graduate program. Start by seeing if the program offers an online-only format. Online programs, especially asynchronous ones that don’t require you to be logged in at specific times, provide superior flexibility since there are no required residencies or long commutes.

On the financial side, see if the institution supports the Yellow Ribbon Program, an initiative offering tuition benefits to any U.S. veterans who served on or after September 11, 2001. The school should also provide an admitted student checklist that simplifies the use of veteran-specific benefits.

GW participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program and has been recognized as “Military Friendly” and “Best for Vets” by major military publications. Students can rest assured the HCMBA program is veteran-friendly, with an appreciation for the value of military service and support for applicable benefits supporting increased educational opportunity.

Explore our Military and Veteran Services page for additional information on how we help veterans transition from military life into graduate education. You can also check the main program page, where you can answer a few quick questions for a downloadable copy of our brochure.

Recommended Readings

Which graduate degree is right for military veterans?
Key Skills Needed to Be an Effective Healthcare Leader


Pros and cons of graduate school from a veteran’s perspective
Should I get a master’s degree?
A closer look at veterans in the labor force