If you are currently serving, or have retired or separated from the military, choosing a college to use your GI Bill benefits, state military education benefits, or student loans can be challenging. There are a variety of practical issues unique to service members and veterans that can help you weed out colleges that aren’t right for you and make your selection process easier.
Choosing A College As An Active Duty Service Member
There are important considerations for active duty military members including whether or not the college has policies to accommodate those who require absences due to regular military duty, temporary duty or TDY, and deployments.
When you speak or email a college counselor or admissions rep, be sure to ask what specific policies are on the books to accommodate your needs for service-connected absences.
Questions To Ask About College Policies For Active Duty Military
- Does the college have a policy for duty-related absences? What is the specific policy?
- Does the institution allow the military member to make up missed course work or assignments due to service-connected absences? If not, what kinds of reasonable accommodations are made?
- How long can a duty-related absence be without penalty? What is required for prolonged absences (deployments, training, etc.)
- What is the withdrawal policy for active duty military and what are the deadlines to notify the school without penalty?
- What is the refund policy for classes which must be dropped due to deployments, extended training or TDY, or permanent change of station moves?
- What is the policy for switching to distance or online learning from an in-person class for the purposes of continuing coursework while deployed or on TDY, etc?
- What kind of documentation is required to drop, suspend, or be absent from classes for service-connected reasons?
- What specific deadlines and penalties apply when modifying, dropping, or pausing higher education for military duty?
Choosing A College As A Guard Or Reservist Service Member
Guard and Reserve duty present unique challenges to those attending school. You may find a deployment, national emergency, annual training, or other military service requirements cutting into your class attendance. In addition to the considerations mentioned above for active duty service members, if you are a Guard member or Reservist, be sure to ask about the following:
- How does the school’s absence, add/drop, or class cancellation policy differ for members of the Guard or Reserve compared to active duty?
- What is required to add, drop, suspend, or withdraw from classes due to deployment, mobilization, etc? How do these policies specifically apply to Guard/Reserve students?
- Are there penalties for extended absences for military service? What are they and how do they apply to Guard/Reserve requirements?
- What documentation is required for Guard/Reserve students who need accommodation for military service?
General Considerations For All Military Members And Veterans Looking For A Military-Friendly College Or University
There are many questions to answer about the college or university you are considering. For example, how does the college rank among its peers for your chosen major or specialty? What is the reputation of the school overall, and also among recent graduates in your area of study?
How far can you go at this institution of higher learning with your military education benefits? Does the school participate in state, federal, or self-generated programs to help extend how far your military benefits such as the GI Bill will go?
What are the school’s student-to-teacher ratios? How many are accepted into your chosen program of study and how many of that number graduate or successfully complete the program?
Is the program nationally accredited? Regionally accredited?
Does the school publish information about its success rates in placement after graduation? Not all schools do, but you may find that for-profit colleges (depending on the college) do and it’s important to know the difference between the school’s marketing hype and the reality of those published numbers. Study them if they are available.
When speaking to an admissions rep or college counselor, be sure to ask them about their experience working with students using the GI Bill, and whether or not state military education benefits (where offered) are accepted at the school, or if the school has a relationship with the VA or the state’s division of veterans’ affairs.
How To Research A College, University, Or Training Program
Social media can be a very useful tool for researching colleges, determining whether they meet your needs, or have issues that you should be aware of. One very good way to learn this information is by searching for alumni boards or groups on Facebook or related social media platforms. You may learn a great deal from current and former students by reading their posts about school experiences in such forums.
Not all colleges, schools, or training academies have bad reputations online, but if you aren’t sure about a particular school, consider a Google search on the term “(name of your school here) scam alert” or “(name of school here) complaints”.
Believe it or not, you may also find interesting and useful information by searching for the college on Yelp, Glassdoor, or other online rating websites. When using these resources, remember that many times the reviews should be taken with a grain of salt in varying degrees, but those sites can offer useful intel about a school that is borderline, or one that is outstanding.
You can also take a different approach by reviewing sites such as Indeed.com; search for your school and read the employee reviews left by faculty and staff. This information could prove quite useful in your decision making process.
How To Choose A Military-Friendly College
The qualities of the college you select should include the following:
Tuition Price Breaks For Military Members
Does the school offer any perks for your military service? How do they compare to others who do and those that do not?
Credit For Military Experience
If your chosen college or training program does not allow you to get transfer credit for your military life experiences, training, or professional development programs, is this college going to be flexible with your needs as a military member in other ways?
Military-Specific Financial Aid
Does the college offer Yellow Ribbon-type tuition help for those who can’t quite cover the full cost of their education with the GI Bill or other military education benefits? If not, are there comparable colleges that do? These are important considerations to have on your checklist early on in your selection process.
Does The School Have On-Campus Support For Military Members?
A college without an office or program to specifically address servicemember needs may be short-sighted in other areas, too. Is there an ROTC unit on campus? Are there student organizations with veteran or military focus? If you find yourself as an outsider due to your military status, this may be a situation that spills into other areas too-choose your campus carefully!
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
|Military Friendly Colleges||Online Military Friendly Colleges|
|Schools & Colleges Membership Lists||College Credit for Military Service|
|Forever GI Bill||Principles of Excellence Program|