Which graduate degree is right for military veterans?

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A typical military veteran develops multiple skills — such as leadership, communication, team building, management and specialized technology knowledge — that are highly transferable to jobs and educational programs once they depart the armed forces. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were nearly 21 million veterans in the U.S. at the end of 2017, and their educational attainment levels were broadly similar to those of non-veterans.

A veteran preparing for an online class.

Veterans as a group had a slightly higher share of individuals in the associate, master’s and professional degree categories, but a narrowly lower percentage of bachelor’s degree holders. Nearly 9 percent of veterans have master’s degrees and 3 percent have doctorates or professionals degrees. In 2016, the BLS found veterans also had slightly lower unemployment rates compared to non-veterans.

Today’s veterans have many options when it comes to graduate education. Some of the most popular routes include the Master of Business Administration and the similar but more focused healthcare MBA (HCMBA), the Master of Public Administration (MPA), the Master of Education (M.Ed.), and various science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) degrees.

There’s no one-size-fits-all track for a veteran’s education, as the best option will depend on each person’s background and professional interests. Here’s a primer on some of the possibilities and what veterans can gain from each one:


These business degrees build on the leadership capabilities that every veteran developed while in the military, such as learning to follow/give orders, meet deadlines and operate under significant pressure. MBA programs emphasize a blend of hard and soft skills. In other words, they cover analytical topics in economics, mathematics and accounting, while also cultivating expertise in communications, management and teamwork — all familiar skills for veterans.

Students who enroll in the HCMBA offered by the George Washington University (GW) gain the additional benefit of learning about current challenges in the healthcare industry and how MBA holders can address them. Since the GW HCMBA is a 100 percent online program, it’s ideal for veterans seeking maximum flexibility in how they set their schedules, since no residency or travel is required.

With an MBA or HCMBA, veterans can present themselves to employers as well-rounded candidates knowledgeable of leadership both in and out of the classroom. The professional network of the HCMBA program, along with its study abroad opportunities, also give veterans a way to re-acclimate into civilian life, streamlining the traditionally challenging transitional period.


The MPA is similar to the MBA in that both degrees prepare students for managerial careers with interdisciplinary curricula. The primary difference between the two is in the outcomes they target. Whereas the MBA and HCMBA are primarily for individuals seeking opportunities in the private sector, the MPA is usually for students interested in the public sector.

The public sector remains an important area of employment for veterans. The BLS has estimated one-third of employed veterans with service-connected disabilities worked in government as of August 2017. The MPA can be a valuable tool in distinguishing a veteran’s candidacy for certain positions, since MPA programs usually cover topics in public policy, international development, politics and economics, in addition to familiar MBA courses in management. With this knowledge, an MPA graduate might pursue a career in a government agency, law enforcement or transportation.


Earning a graduate education degree is a natural transition for many veterans, since the common tasks of an instructor bear some similarity to the everyday activities of military personnel. For example, student evaluation is somewhat similar to conducting assessment reports, and there’s significant overlap in areas such as communications, coaching and planning as well.

With an M.Ed., an educator might eventually transition into an administrative position that would entail managerial responsibilities akin to those of military leadership. Depending on the school districts in which they work, teachers may be required to earn a master’s degree or higher within a certain number of years of entering the profession. The M.Ed./Ed.M. is a convenient way to meet this requirement and advance your educational career prospects.

STEM degrees

The apparent shortage of STEM professionals was a major topic of discussion in American politics in the early to mid-2010s, even receiving direct attention in a presidential address delivered in 2010. Veterans often already possess a strong foundation in STEM, based on the roles they fulfilled while in the armed forces. Specific positions such as biochemist, medical services corps officer, financial manager and signal officer harness key STEM skills.

Accordingly, veterans may opt to explore graduate degrees in STEM, such as a Master of Science in Engineering or Data Science. An advanced degree in a STEM field is excellent preparation for seeking in-demand careers and for potentially becoming a STEM educator.

A veteran works on an online course.

How can you choose the right veterans education option?

Beyond personal interest, there are several other considerations to make when selecting a graduate education program as a veteran:

  • First, check if the institution supports the Yellow Ribbon Program, which provides tuition benefits to veterans serving on or after September 11, 2001.
  • Second, see if there’s an admitted student checklist and other services for streamlining the use of veteran’s benefits.
  • Finally, see what type of formats it offers, including on-campus, online and hybrid.

GW has been recognized as “Military Friendly” by G.I. Jobs and “Best for Vets” by Military Times. It also supports the Yellow Ribbon Program. Aspiring HCMBA students can apply with confidence that the program is veteran-friendly and provides a high level of support to current and former service members.

To learn more about the HCMBA curriculum and outcomes, visit the main program page, where you can answer a few simple questions to receive a free copy of our brochure. Also take a look at our Military and Veteran Services page to see what we offer our veteran students. We look forward to connecting with you on your educational journey.

Recommended Readings:

9 Successful Individuals Who Returned to School

How We Can Expect the Healthcare Industry to Change in the Future


A Guide to Master’s Degrees for Military Members and Veterans

A closer look at veterans in the labor force

Employment Situation of Veterans Summary