10 College Tips for Veterans Going Back to School

10 College Tips for Veterans Returning to College

Transitioning from military service to civilian life can be challenging. Fortunately, student veterans have a lot of resources they can access for help. One of the most common ways to start this transition is for veterans to go back to school. This is why the experts at CVO have developed some basic college tips for veterans going back to school. Earning a college degree brings several powerful benefits with it. Examples include increased employment opportunities, increased marketability, higher wages, economic stability, and greater job satisfaction. It is important for veterans to learn about these and many other benefits of a college education as well as college life in general. 

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Returning to civilian work life is so different from their active duty days. Many student veterans may have doubts about this approach. Specifically, so many vets have concerns about their ability to do well at school after such a long time. Student veterans may even question whether it is an attainable goal after serving in the military for years. The challenges are there, but they should excite interest instead of anxiety. Thankfully there are many support systems in place to help each student veteran make a successful transition. That way, they can further their education and pursue successful civilian careers. These college tips for veterans offer somewhere to start when undertaking a college education

There are many state-funded benefits for active and former military. These can help kickstart the second phase of their careers. With a little help from advisors and guidance counselors, veteran students who use the GI Bill from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can decide on the areas of study to pursue. There are unique challenges that military veterans face. Still, studies on graduation rates show that veterans and non-veterans can complete their programs and earn their degrees at the same time. 

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Military personnel go through rigorous training and overcome many challenges in their careers. Every day is a new lesson learned, so college, though a different experience, should not stop a student veteran from achieving their dreams. In this article, we have listed some advice and ten college tips for veterans to follow while considering going back to school. It is a list of advice and tips veterans can use to prepare themselves for a college degree program and thrive as students. We have also touched upon some potential scams targeting veterans to be aware of and avoid.

10 College Tips for Veterans to Consider When Going Back to School

Image of female veteran holding books in front of American flag.

#1 Plan

The first of the college tips for veterans is to make a solid plan that includes career goals and areas of study. Most colleges and universities offer a wide range of majors and areas of study. But which one will work best for military students and match their career goals and interests? For many military veterans, it may be important to consider the flexibility of schedule during the planning phase. Often, student veterans take up a job, full-time or part-time, so they may not be able to attend classes on campus or a full-time program. Prospective students should make a note of all these questions. Then, they can contact an academic advisor to find out more about the programs they are interested in as well as any potential military benefits. They can discuss pertinent issues like placements and student success. They might inquire about how successful past student veterans are in getting a job and advancing their careers. They also need to research the faculty and find out how classes are taught or delivered. Setting up a time with an academic advisor is, thus, very important to find out about the above. Student veterans need to ensure that they pursue a degree (such as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree) that best suits their needs and earn it in a way that is as stress-free as possible. 

Setting goals in the planning phase is an important part of the college application process for many veterans. It can help guide the decisions about one’s education. Some of the goal-setting questions may include: 

  • Why do you want to earn your degree or go to college?
  • What degree do you want to pursue that best aligns with your interest and prepares you for that career?
  • What career do you want to go into, and what kind of job title do you hope to have after graduation?
  • Will the career you have chosen require you to earn a graduate degree to stay competitive in the field, or would an undergraduate degree suffice?
  • Do you want to commute to a campus nearby, change locations or study online?
  • Are there jobs in your chosen field near your location, or do you want to select a degree that matches the best jobs there?
  • What is the job outlook in your chosen field, and how will the degree help you?

Reflecting on personal and professional objectives is important. This process can help student veterans better align with their degree program and achieve their goals. Instead of blindly enrolling in classes, it may help students set goals, make concrete plans, and figure out the outcome of a degree. If they make a wrong decision, it could eat up their college credit and educational benefits, especially if they have to switch institutions later. 

#2 Program

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Evaluating what each university offers and choosing the right program is very important. This can ensure student veterans enjoy what they study and derive optimal benefits from their degree. Selecting a college or university that offers veterans special benefits or simply enrolling in a military-friendly college is a good idea. It will make the transition from military service to the civilian world much easier and increase the likelihood of success. These institutions have veteran or military offices with trained staff to help veterans. They assist students with the application and admission process. They also understand the credit transfer process and how to use VA education benefits like the GI bill.

They can choose from various degree options like: 

  • Associates – An associate degree is an undergraduate degree awarded by a community college after a two to three-year course of post-secondary study. 
  • Bachelor’s – A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree awarded after a course of study for over four years. 
  • Master’s – A master’s degree awarded after an advanced academic course of study for two years or more.  
  • Doctorate – A doctorate is a research degree that qualifies students to work in a specific profession.
  • Certificate – A certificate is a short program that takes less than a year to complete. They provide specialized training for vocational courses to get into a specific job quickly. 
  • Diploma – Diplomas are short courses of study that lead to vocational credentials from a community college. 
  • Non-Degree Courses – Non-degree courses are typically short courses. They provide students with more knowledge in a specific field. 

Going back to school also allows student veterans to receive training in a new field of their choice. They might want to learn new skills that weren’t as appealing to them as a teenager such as community leadership skills, for example. College is the time to learn those skills and put them to use in the professional world. If a college offers a large amount of financial support for military students and other military-specific academic assistance as well as an active veterans resource center and veteran community on campus or online, it could be the right choice. These colleges also have military-specific career resources and a dedicated staff to prepare veterans for the civilian world after graduation.

Still, some for-profit schools may be looking to make easy money through GI Bill benefits. Student veterans should look out for fake checks that are associated with grant scams and financial aid scams. Opting for a college that helps veterans find education benefits for free is a good idea. Students should stick close to the recommendations made by the VA when using their GI Bill funds and always beware of financial aid scams. 

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#3 Cost 

Cost of college expenses is a very important factor to consider while planning for school after military training. Veterans can use their military experience to earn college credits. Thus, knowing what credits will transfer will help determine costs. The credit policy differs from one school to another. It’s important for vets to research these differences and understand what will carry over before they enroll. But most schools have generous credit transfer policies for veterans and service members. These can greatly reduce the cost of tuition, at times offering a full tuition waiver. Others may also cover other costs of attendance for a college program. Moreover, these credit transfers allow students to graduate and get into the workforce sooner. Some veterans can take the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). This can help them skip general education or introductory-level courses, pay less, and graduate faster with their military experience. Opting for community colleges as opposed to universities is also a good cost-saving measure for active duty and other veterans.

#4 Credits and Benefits 

College Tips for Veterans

Like other students, veterans too can apply for tuition assistance and financial aid, including federal student aid. But before they do that, they should first go through all the generous educational benefits that they are entitled to as veterans such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill .  The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers them a wide range of benefits. It is aimed to help veterans get an education and receive job training after their military service. For approved programs, the GI Bill provides up to 36 months in education benefits. But for some, they may not cover the entire cost of attendance. In such cases, they should explore all other options available to them. Active military personnel receive training in specialty areas through programs like DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support.) The courses and the DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests) help them earn college credits for the training and experience they gain during their service.

Aside from their Post-9/11 GI Bill and other military benefits, they may be eligible for various federal and state financial aid. Thus, all veterans who apply for college should submit the free FAFSA application. They should also check eligibility for grants and scholarships specifically for veterans, money that does not have to be repaid. If the school participates in community organizations like the Yellow Ribbon Program, they may offer veterans limited or unlimited contributions. Once students have identified all the above options, they can look at the remaining out-of-pocket costs.  One thing to keep in mind about loans, a college student will incur interest with student debt. Generally speaking, choosing a degree and understanding the ROI of that degree is important. Considering all options will help veterans make an informed decision about college costs. 

#5 Duration 

A veteran student who is eager to get into the workforce may want to explore programs with accelerated course options. These allow students to take courses on a college campus at a faster rate and graduate in a short time and start working. Other students who wish to take advantage of flexible formats may want to explore options that allow them to graduate in a longer time frame. This is especially useful for students who are in a full-time job and need a flexible schedule to complete their college courses and degrees. 

College Tips for Veterans

#6 Placement 

One of the key reasons that many veterans go back to school is to get into the workforce easily. After years of serving in the military, starting a whole new job search may feel intimidating. But earning your degree will improve job opportunities. In fact, it can make a big difference between getting just any job and a job that one loves. Some schools have arrangements with graduates’ future employers, making job placement possible.

#7 Online Learning

There are many higher education programs that offer flexible options for veterans. Perhaps none are more flexible than online programs, though. Students have the option to commute to a nearby campus every day and get their degree from a local college. But if they have aspirations to earn a degree that is not offered at these nearby campuses or they want to attend a college outside their geographical region, online options can help.  With online opportunities, a veteran student is no longer limited by geography when attending classes. Many veterans earn their degrees online or through a hybrid mix of in-person and online courses. With such options, these college students can get the best possible education while juggling other responsibilities. Some of these might include work or family obligations, for instance. 

#8 Academic Advising 

College Tips for Veterans

One of the very important college tips for veterans is to seek guidance. Every veteran who begins their admissions process can have a chat with an enrollment advisor. This advisor can answer all their questions and guides them through the whole admission process. Once admitted, they will be assigned an academic advisor who is there to help them achieve academic success through graduation. The advisor is focused on the best ways veteran students can earn a degree, so they help with the degree plan, transfer credits, and more. They help veterans choose classes to fulfill degree requirements and meet their graduation goals. Advisors who specialize in veterans affairs are also dedicated to helping veterans get in touch with various career development services. They leverage their expertise to ultimately benefit students and improve their chances of success.

#9 Network

Networking is important for all students pursuing post secondary education, and the same goes for veteran students going to college. Finding and socializing with veteran affairs groups, student clubs, or other student and community organizations on campus can help them develop support systems and settle in faster. All colleges that offer programs for veterans also have a veterans group or veterans center to help them adjust to leaving active duty and entering the college environment. These veteran affairs groups are run by coordinators who are there to help and answer all queries that veteran students might have as they’re starting school. These can include questions about financial assistance or GI benefits, for example. The other important part is building a professional network and support system which is important for all students, not just veterans. Many companies have stated that 80% of their new hires come from employee referrals. Veterans who graduate also have a responsibility to help fellow members of the military through peer leadership and mentoring. This helps keep the networking community alive for former members of the armed forces. Building a community of peers can make it easier to graduate. Building a support system is important as you make the transition from the military to college, from networks as well as through friends and family.

#10 Experiential learning 

College Tips for Veterans

The last but certainly not the least of the college tips for veterans who desire to attend college is valuing hands-on, experiential learning. Hands-on learning is important for students to learn and apply their learning in their work. That is the real key to their success. For this reason, they need to select schools and attend classes that offer hands-on learning opportunities and more internships for veterans. These components may help them train to get into the workforce easily. They learn to translate their military service to benefit them in a private sector role. They can also show potential employers that they are capable of being successful in a civilian work environment after completing their degree programs.

Leading colleges are dedicated to helping veterans and active members of the military pursue a college education. All prospective students need to do is reach out to higher education advisors and ask for more information. 

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