You’ve admirably served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard, and now it’s time to find a school that’s willing to serve you. Leaving the service may mean you’ll need extra education and career training to successfully transition to civilian life. Thankfully, there are many schools and programs designed just for you.
Today’s veterans, service members and their families have a wide range of education options, but military friendly schools can make your transition and training easier by understanding your experiences and service. These institutions also understand the special requirements you may have due to your service, and they are sensitive to the needs of military members.
A newfound education provided by military friendly schools can be the greatest foundation to lie when starting a new civilian life.
What Makes a School Military Friendly?
Many universities and colleges will spend a lot of money on flashy logos, graphics and advertisements that claim they’re friendly to military veterans. However, a big marketing budget isn’t what makes a school military friendly.
To discover if a university you’re looking at is truly military friendly, you need to do a little research, and check out what the school offers that’s special to military veterans. When you’re speaking to a counselor or admissions professional, be sure to ask them:
- What programs do you have specifically for service members?
- Are your mentors and counselors also veterans?
- How many of your students are in the military or are veterans?
- Is priority scheduling available?
- Do you accept military education and training credits? Will you accept my Joint Services Transcript?
- What are your tuition programs specific to veterans and their families?
These questions will help you start to gauge if the university or college you’re interested in is good for service members. After you get some initial answers, and the school looks good, it’s time to start digging deeper into the institution and see why military friendly schools may be right for you.
GI Benefits and Military Friendly Colleges
The first step for looking for a school is to understand your GI Bill®¹ benefits. Depending on when your service began, you’ll be eligible for either the Montgomery GI Bill® or Post 9/11 GI Bill®. You’ll get more than $1,500 each month while enrolled in college, as well as other benefits, but your GI Bill® version will determine what this money can be used for.
The updated Post 9/11 GI Bill® can also be used by spouses and children instead of the service member.
True military friendly colleges will have a full understanding of both GI Bills® and can help you determine how to maximize your benefits and support. They will help you understand the big question: How does the military pay for college in your specific situation?
Speak with potential schools to see if they offer you this assistance, and then verify other aspects of the school, such as its accreditation.
Check Out Military Friendly Schools
One unfortunate reality for many new and online schools promoting veteran friendly colleges’ credentials is that the school may be trying to hide a lack of accreditation. Always ask about accreditation, because this means the school will provide a quality education and adheres to established academic standards.
Your school of choice should not only tell you that it is accredited, but it should also tell you the organization that provides its accreditation. Take this information and verify it with the accreditation service before you spend any money or move through the enrollment process.
Colleges typically get accredited through national or regional agencies. These include:
- Distance Education and Training Council
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
- Council on Occupational Education
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
There are also many specialized and professional accrediting associations that are approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. These govern many specialized degree programs for careers in dentistry, engineering, veterinary medicine and many others.
The Department of Education also provides a list of accredited schools to help with your research.
Special Veteran Support
While much of our conversation will deal with financial help for veterans, there are many specific support needs that veterans have outside of financing school.
Today’s veterans face many challenges that normal colleges aren’t always equipped to handle. Some things that separate the average veteran student from the typical college student include:
- 90 percent of veteran students are older than 25;
- Many vets have families and a spouse to help support;
- Veterans typically see a pay decrease when leaving the service;
- Veterans have not been in typical classrooms for many years and have had a very different authority structure compared to high school and other institutions.
Military friendly colleges online and those with traditional campuses will have extra support built in for veterans. This support not only addresses the statistics above, but it typically will also include counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder and a variety of programs to address special needs related to physical disabilities.
The American Council on Education says that nearly 90 percent of military friendly colleges offer specific supports and resources for veterans and their families. In a report on these services, it suggests that you ask for assistance as soon as you begin the application process.
The report also notes:
- 84 percent of veteran friendly programs include counseling services for PTSD and other military-related trauma;
- 82 percent have policies that cover tuition reimbursement for military activations and deployments.
- 71 percent of military friendly online colleges contain a dedicated office for specifically made to address military student affairs;
- 55 percent have special staff members with a stated priority of serving veterans and addressing their specific issues;
- 55 percent have certified staff members to assist veterans with disabilities with their studies, from the class room to completing courses at military friendly online colleges;
- 37 percent provide financial assistance and workshops to help service members transition from life in the service to their new educational setting.
Some of this support should also extend directly to the classes you want to take.
The degree program that you’re considering should be flexible on two fronts: course offerings and times.
Coming out of the service will give you a wide range of skills that may be better applied to an associate’s degree, master’s program or even certifications for trades such as HVAC maintenance programs. Universities will have course and admissions counselors who can help you match your military experience and career with a civilian career that will be rewarding financially and mentally.
Going through an education program once retiring, instead of going straight into the workforce, can be a big boon for vets. Unfortunately, with the fact that our military branches are all-volunteer forces, it’s unlikely that your employer will have had a military experience. This means the employer may not fully appreciate your training and what your experience has prepared you to handle, especially when it comes to new or specialized jobs.
Investing your time and military benefits into a degree can be the deciding factor for future success and help you establish a strong path to a lifelong career.
One of the biggest fears for service members and veterans is that they won’t fit in or understand what to do when they first arrive at a new school or training program.
Military friendly schools are addressing this major concern by creating special orientation packages and plans for veterans and their families. With these special offerings, you’ll get a look at a regular school day, take a tour of the specific service and course areas you’re considering and be shown areas that address veterans’ special needs, such as disabled student offices and PTSD counseling offices.
Officials from the VA are also keen on touring these schools and giving talks to service members as they progress through their coursework. These are a great resource, because they’ll help you check the benefits you’re receiving. While talks traditionally focus on your GI Bill® benefits, the VA representatives can also give you a heads up on outside perks, like your health care, insurance and loan programs.
Supporting Outside Programs
There are a lot of great veteran groups out there, such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
The IAVA runs a Service 2 School program that will work with military friendly colleges to help you gain admissions, get the right courses and work through all of your courses. The schools you’re considering should know about these programs and give you a hand in joining with these outside programs.
Service 2 School and other programs not only give you assistance with paperwork, but some also offer scholarships, counseling and tutoring. Organizations designed by vets can best serve vets, so it’s always smart to look for a college or school that works with these vet organizations.
Tuition Discounts for Vets
Great military friendly schools will also offer a variety of tuition discounts for service members.
Reduced tuition rates are not standard, so you’ll see many different discounts. Check with your school partner to see what reduced rates are offered, if you can apply for them and what courses or degree programs they apply to at each school.
Typically, all active duty service members, veterans of armed forces and members of the Reserves or National Guard will be eligible for any offered discounts. Some schools will also extend these to dependents. Getting these will require your service documents, especially the service member's Leave and Earnings Statement.
Just like the contract you signed when joining the military, you’ll be signing a contract where these rates and their conditions are explained. Take close care to see if your tuition discount would change if you changed your degree program.
Helping with Paperwork
Campus-based programs and qualified online veteran-friendly colleges should also offer you assistance in applying for your VA education benefits. They will have specialized counselors and officials who can help with submitting your documents and provide the proper verification to give the VA.
Currently, you can apply for your benefits by:
- Using the VA’s online application portal;
- Going in-person to your nearest VA regional office.
- Using a school-provided VA Certifying Official to fill out your official application forms, who will submit documents on your behalf;
- Call 1-888-GI BILL-1 (888-442-4551) to have an application mailed to you.
When you look for a school partner to help you fill out these forms, find one with an office that can guide you through each of these VA benefit application steps.
There is not much difference between the different options in terms of the forms and requirements, but applying online is usually the fastest route to start the process. When you apply online, the VA will automatically send your documents to the right jurisdiction and you’ll be emailed once the processing begins.
It’s important to speak with your school of choice as early as possible, because you’ll want to get the paperwork processed as soon as possible. The VA even recommends trying to hurry your paperwork if you’re applying toward the end of the month. In some cases, your entitlement is based on the date the VA receives your claim.
Transferring Your Credits
Military friendly colleges will offer a special transfer credit program that applies to the training you received as a service member, including any military schooling as well as other experiences. Depending on the school, they may offer you some credits based on your military career, active duty training, prior college courses and the scores of your tests from GREs and LSATs to DSST, DANTES and CLEP.
Many colleges can give you a heads up on what they accept by being a part of the “Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges” (SOC) program. Each branch has its own version of the SOC program, though the Air Force adheres to general SOC guidelines and doesn’t offer any additional programs or requirements.
SOC institutions help hundreds of thousands of service members each year, and their online degree programs can work if you’re still in the military and stationed abroad.
You’ll have to get a military transcript to understand what credits you may be available to receive. Depending on your branch and the education that you’ve received while in the service, you’ll need to contact one or more of the following services to get the transcripts you need:
- Army ACE Registry Transcript
- ACE Registry Transcript
- Community College of the Air Force
- Coast Guard Institute
- DANTES Score Report
- CLEP Score Report
When you’re planning to apply for colleges, go ahead and send all of your official transcripts to the military friendly online colleges and universities you are considering attending. By doing this ahead of time, you can see what credits each will offer you. This may help you make a choice between your available military friendly schools.
Does the Military Pay for College?
Picking a veteran-friendly college and enrolling often depends on your overall ability to pay for college, but does the military pay for college and all of your expenses?
You can use your GI Bill® benefits to pay for much of the tuition, books and other costs of military friendly online colleges and universities as well as in-person military friendly schools. Whether or not this pays for the full cost of your new education depends on the school.
The military can also help pay for college in secondary ways through some added savings. For example, earning enough credits to replace a standard college course will save you as much as $600 per class that you don’t have to take.
Try out Veterans Affairs’ GI Bill® comparison tool to determine your benefits and eligibility for financial help for veterans.
Why Choose a Military Friendly School
As a service member, you have a lot of special qualifications and needs when it comes to your education. Military service has shaped you into a great soldier, but now you’ll need an educational partner who can help you shape your career to have a great civilian life.
Service members are best served by programs that treat all of your needs, from education to counseling and programs that help out our wounded warriors. Pick a partner that provides the right outreach for your needs and your desires so you can continue to be the best warrior your can be.
You’ve worked hard for all of the benefits you’re getting, so step up with a great military friendly college and take full advantage of everything you’ve earned.
¹GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.