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Yellow Ribbon Program: Application Process, Who Is Eligible, How Much Does It Cover?

Ready to transition from barracks to business? Want to know how the Yellow Ribbon Program could make an MBA more affordable?

By  Fay Nyberg

Fri May 31 2024

An MBA offers career credentials widely recognized by employers across sectors. It teaches business fundamentals, as well as specialized tracks like finance or marketing, making it a great way for veterans to bridge the transition to a business environment.

It's no surprise then that vets take up seats at many US business schools. Among the MBA Class of 2025 at Duke Fuqua, 19% of students are from the military, at Washington Foster, they make up 18% and at Darden, it's 14%.

In addition to supporting a career pivot, business school can offer a sense of community for a return to civilian life after military service. Founder at Military MBA Consulting, Emily Sawyer Kegerreis, says for veterans contemplating how to cross into a post-military career, an MBA has a lot to offer.

"The MBA is an excellent option for veterans leaving active-duty service because it serves as a transition program bridging military and private sector roles.

"A full-time MBA effectively gives veterans the opportunity to reflect on their military leadership experiences, build a network of private sector peers, learn new skills and work with a dedicated career services team."

There is further good news for vets: the US Department of Veteran Affairs Yellow Ribbon Program (YPR) offers support with funding for MBA programs.

Read on to discover the steps for applying for the program and whether receiving Yellow Ribbon funding put a b-school education within your reach. You can also meet schools at the special Veterans' Mixer in partnership with Service to School, during the upcoming MBA Tour in Washington DC.

What Is the Yellow Ribbon Program?

The US Department of Veteran Affairs runs the Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP). The scheme helps eligible veterans pay for tuition and fees at public schools outside their state, foreign, or private schools.

The YRP adds financial support on top of the amount covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill reimbursement. Yellow Ribbon Program schools agree to contribute or waive some of their fees. The VA then matches this financial contribution.

Yellow Ribbon Program eligibility—who is eligible?

To be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program, you must qualify for 100% Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

At least one of the following should also be true:

  • → You served at least 36 months of active duty consecutively or with breaks and received an honorable discharge
  • → As an active-duty service member, you have served at least 36 months consecutively or with breaks in service
  • → You're a spouse or dependent child who qualifies to use the transferred benefits of an active-duty service member
  • → You're a Fry Scholar
  • → You're a Purple Heart recipient awarded on or after September 11th, 2001, and were honorably discharged after service
  • → On or after September 11th, 2002, you served at least 30 continuous days with no break and were released or discharged from active duty due to a service-related disability

Read more reasons veterans choose a b-school education


What are the Yellow Ribbon schools?

Yellow Ribbon schools are institutions of higher learning that volunteer to be part of the VA program. Top MBA schools in the US, such as Colombia, Stanford, and Wharton, are part of the Yellow Ribbon Program.

However, not all schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program offer MBA courses.

Right now, no b-schools participating outside the US offer an MBA for veterans with Yellow Ribbon Program benefit. 

How to find Yellow Ribbon Schools and programs

Check directly with schools to see if they offer YRP-eligible programs. You can also search for YRP schools by territory, state, or institution name on the VA website.

How much does the YRP cover?

The YRP covers additional costs for tuition beyond the contribution of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Some business schools give full Yellow Program scholarships for MBAs for veterans. Others contribute a stipulated amount to reduce your fees.

Each school determines the amount based on its contribution or waiver of tuition and fees. The VA will match the amount the school contributes.

You should check with individual schools how much contribution is potentially available. You can also search school information on the VA website.

Consider the fact some schools cap the number of vets offered the Yellow Ribbon matching each year. So, you shouldn't assume you'll be eligible for the YRP even if your MBA application is successful. Always clarify with individual schools before applying. 

What is the YRP application process, and how long does it take?

Follow these four steps to apply for the YRP, starting with your Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits application.

1. Apply for benefits. If eligible, you’ll receive a Certificate of Eligibility for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

2. Find a school and submit your certificate. Determine YRP contributions and any cap on places at potential schools. Tell your school you want to apply for the Program. Give your certificate to the financial aid office, military liaison, or certifying official.

3. Your school's decision. If your school caps YRP places, it will decide if has have spaces. They will then process your enrollment. The school decides how much it will contribute/waive for you.

The school deducts any other grants or scholarship fund awards, plus your Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition payment. Your YRP benefit is applied to this final amount.

4. Receive confirmation of acceptance and how much money you'll get for tuition and fees, if applicable.

The YRP process timeline

Since the Yellow Ribbon Program operates on a first-come, first-served basis, you should apply as early as possible. You will need to factor in time to apply for GI Bill benefits, which on average takes 30 days. Then, add time for the school to process your application. Check with your school how much time to allow for processing, but this could be upwards of 4-6 weeks.

You can check the open season timeframe to apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program for each academic year on the VA website. This usually runs in the spring months.

Can you use the Yellow Ribbon Program without a GI Bill? 

It's only possible to use the Yellow Ribbon Program with Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. You must have 100% level GI Bill benefits to be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program.

If you don't have full GI Bill benefits, you could explore business school veteran scholarships and bursaries.