Chuck Markos originally wanted an MBA to improve the quality of his small business, but he didn't know it would change the path he was on.

After retiring from the Army in 2011 as a lieutenant colonel, Markos became the owner of a CrossFit gym in Arizona. He wanted to take advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, so he enrolled at Arizona State University and dabbled in a few earth and space exploration classes.

"My wife is a scientist, so I wanted to get smarter," Markos quipped.

His wife's passion wasn't his own, however, so he eventually went to an introductory evening at ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business. Markos thought the Master of Business Administration program sounded interesting and would help him do a better job with his CrossFit gym.

"But after I started going through the program and started talking to my colleagues, I said, 'Wow, you know, I think I want to practically change what I do,'" he said.

Markos recently sold the CrossFit gym — "It was fun, but it's not something you want to do for the rest of your life."

Instead, he was surprised at how much he enjoyed the classes on accounting and finance.

"I never thought as a soldier I'd have a lot of use for finance," he said. "But I really got into it."

ASU's Pat Tillman Veterans Center was a good resource for Markos when he was trying to figure out his benefits and classes, he said.

Navigating military benefits can be a difficult and confusing process, but Markos said the advisers at the veterans center really "bridge the gap between you and the benefits that are there for you."

"Sometimes you need someone who can help you make that jump and make it all work," he said.

Joan Brett, associate dean of graduate programs at the W.P. Carey School of Business, said the advisers can answer questions and help reduce any tension or anxiety veterans might have.

"We treat them as individuals who just happen to be in the military," she said. "You can feel the whole culture at ASU is supportive."

The W.P. Carey School of Business took the sixth spot in our Best for Vets: Business Schools 2016 rankings. The top five business schools are the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Eastern Kentucky University, Rutgers, the University of Kansas and Syracuse University.

Leaders from multiple business schools agreed that getting an MBA allows service members and veterans to translate the skills they already have into the business world.

"It could be a recent vet or a colonel with many years of experience — the business degree helps them capitalize on their strengths," said Neeli Bendapudi, dean of the University of Kansas School of Business. "What they mean in the business world becomes clearer."

Lynn Harland, associate dean of the University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Business Administration, said veterans already have leadership skills and a can-do attitude, but an MBA exposes them to the language and concepts of the business world.

"They know how to get stuff done, and they have this strong work ethic," she said. "What an MBA does is complement all the strengths that they already have."

Nicole Higgins, a former sergeant who was in the Army National Guard from 2002 to 2010, said UNO's business school really embraced her.

"[The advisers] have just planned the whole thing out for me," said Higgins, who wants to be a public accountant. "I didn't feel like I had to ask a bunch of questions or that I was going to get the wrong classes."

UNO Military and Veterans Services office Oct. 29, 2015
UNO Military and Veterans Services office Oct. 29, 2015

Jenna Matlock, an Army veteran and math tutor at University of Nebraska at Omaha, chats with Navy veteran Kevin Sefcovic.

Photo Credit: University of Nebraska at Omaha

Harland said a number of employees in the business school have gone through training to be able to understand the needs of military and veteran students.

"They understand the unique challenges for students coming from the military," she said. "Our school really benefits from having military students in the classroom — they're really professional and do really well."

Bendapudi, business school dean at the University of Kansas, said the goal is for military and veteran students to feel appreciated and welcome.

We "hope they see that they're not an afterthought," she said.

Ron Novack, executive director for veterans and military affairs at Syracuse University, said the school is there for student veterans from Day 1.

"We've made the commitment across the whole life cycle of a student, from recruiting to employment, to make sure their academic experience is great," said Novack, a retired Army colonel.

Novack advises veterans who are thinking about getting an MBA to do their research and don't just look at the first resource they come across.

"Make sure you make the best informed decision for yourself," he said. "This will be a decision you're going to have to live with for a while."

Rob Coslick, an active-duty Navy lieutenant in ASU's executive MBA program, stresses taking a good look at the university you're thinking of attending.

"A lot of times, people chase down just a title or degree," he said. "It's really important to look at the culture of the university and if it's going to be a place where you feel comfortable."

Marine Corps veteran Alec Mizner, who's pursuing his executive MBA at University of Nebraska at Omaha, said the United States is in dire need of good leadership right now and that educated veterans can help fill those roles.

From top left: Min Chen, Michael Hockett, Brian O'Kane and Kurt Welday in front of Capitol Federal Hall (the new KU School of Business building to be completed in April 2016)
From top left: Min Chen, Michael Hockett, Brian O'Kane and Kurt Welday in front of Capitol Federal Hall (the new KU School of Business building to be completed in April 2016)

From top left, Min Chen, Michael Hockett, Brian O'Kane and Kurt Welday in front of Capitol Federal Hall, the University of Kansas new home for its School of Business to be completed in April 2016.

Photo Credit: Ann Dean/University of Kansas

"I think the guys and girls that come out of the military that have that honor and the courage from serving and the dedication and accountability are the kind of leaders that we need," he said. "And we have to be educated."

Eugene Palka, associate vice president for student success at Eastern Kentucky University, wants student veterans to know that earning an MBA is a marathon, not a sprint.

Palka, a retired Army colonel, said vets need to be prepared to go the distance. He said there will be peaks and valleys, but much of that should be familiar as a result of military experience.

"If they're willing to apply themselves and use a little self-discipline," he said, "that degree can take them a long way beyond their military service."

FROM OUR DATA

Findings from the Best for Vets: Business Schools 2016 survey include:

  • Among responding schools this year, about 38 percent have business school leaders with military ties; an additional 46 percent have military-affiliated leaders at the larger university.
  • Tuition costs at about half of the schools did not exceed Post-9/11 GI Bill caps. Among schools whose costs did exceed the caps, 81 percent participated in the Yellow Ribbon program, which helps students pay the difference. A majority of those schools gave full Yellow Ribbon scholarships to every eligible student.
  • Veterans accounted for about 17 percent of the graduate student population at the business schools.
  • About 65 percent said the larger university has a veteran or military group; fewer than 6 percent have a separate group unique to the business school.
  • About one-third of responding schools don't require applicants to take the Graduate Management Admission Test or the Graduate Record Examination as part of their applications. Those that do require an admissions test will generally accept either the GMAT or the GRE.

THE RANKINGS

The 77 Best for Vets: Business Schools 2016:

  1. University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Business Administration
  2. Eastern Kentucky University College of Business and Technology
  3. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Rutgers Business School Newark and New Brunswick
  4. University of Kansas School of Business
  5. Syracuse University Martin J. Whitman School of Management
  6. Arizona State University W. P. Carey School of Business
  7. Old Dominion University Strome College of Business
  8. The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business
  9. Texas A&M University Mays Business School
  10. Northern Arizona University The W. A. Franke College of Business
  11. Stratford University School of Business
  12. Park University School of Business
  13. University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire College of Business
  14. Bowling Green State University College of Business
  15. University of Southern California Marshall School of Business
  16. University of South Florida Muma College of Business
  17. California State University, San Bernardino's MBA Program
  18. Bellevue University College of Business
  19. Saginaw Valley State University College of Business & Management
  20. San Diego State University College of Business Administration
  21. Fordham University Gabelli School of Business
  22. University of the Incarnate Word Extended Academic Programs
  23. Texas Tech University Jerry S. Rawls College of Business
  24. Quinnipiac University School of Business
  25. University of Missouri-Saint Louis College of Business Administration
  26. Mississippi State University College of Business
  27. George Washington University School of Business
  28. University of San Diego School of Business
  29. Colorado State University College of Business
  30. Indiana University Kelley School of Business
  31. Northern Kentucky University Hale/US Bank College of Business
  32. University of Massachusetts Lowell Manning School of Business
  33. Regent University
  34. University of Wisconsin-Whitewater College of Business & Economics
  35. University at Buffalo School of Management
  36. Angelo State University College of Business
  37. University of Colorado Colorado Springs College of Business and Administration
  38. Webster University George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology
  39. Middle Tennessee State University Jennings A. Jones College of Business
  40. Walsh College
  41. American Public University System School of Business
  42. Pace University Lubin School of Business
  43. University of Texas-Arlington College of Business
  44. University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business
  45. Metropolitan State University of Denver College of Business
  46. Fayetteville State University School of Business and Economics
  47. State University of New York Oswego School of Business
  48. University of Connecticut School of Business
  49. John Carroll University Boler School of Business
  50. University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business
  51. North Carolina State University Poole College of Management
  52. Long Island University
  53. Drexel University LeBow College of Business
  54. Hawaii Pacific University College of Business
  55. Southern Illinois University Carbondale College of Business
  56. Liberty University School of Business
  57. Western Illinois University College of Business and Technology
  58. Saint Joseph's University Haub School of Business
  59. University of North Carolina at Greensboro Bryan School of Business and Economics
  60. Western Carolina University
  61. University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics
  62. Youngstown State University Williamson College of Business Administration
  63. Columbia College
  64. ECPI University
  65. Colorado Technical University College of Business and Management
  66. University of North Georgia Mike Cottrell College of Business
  67. University of Georgia Terry College of Business
  68. East Carolina University College of Business
  69. University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business
  70. Cleveland State University Monte Ahuja College of Business
  71. West Virginia University College of Business and Economics
  72. University of Massachusetts Amherst Isenberg School of Management
  73. University of Charleston School of Business
  74. Creighton University Heider College of Business
  75. Washington State University Carson College of Business
  76. University of Northern Iowa College of Business Administration
  77. Brandman University School of Business and Professional Studies