10 Things for Veterans to Consider When Going Back to School

10 Things for Veterans to Consider When Going Back to School

Transitioning from military to civilian life can be challenging, but thankfully 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. Earning a college degree brings a number of powerful benefits with it, like 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. 

Returning to civilian work life is so different from their active duty days that many veterans may have doubts about this approach or even their ability to do well at school after such a long time. They 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 veterans make a successful transition to further their education and pursue successful civilian careers.

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

Military personnel go through rigorous training and then overcome many challenges in their careers. Every day is a new lesson learned, so college, though a different experience, should not stop them from achieving their dreams. In this article, we have listed some tips and advice 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 college and thrive as students. We have also touched upon some potential scams targeting veterans to be aware of and avoid.

10 Things for Veterans to Consider When Going Back to School

10 Things for Veterans to Consider When Going Back to School

#1 Plan

The first thing to do is 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 a veteran and match their career goals and interests? It is also important to consider the flexibility of schedule during the planning phase. In many cases, 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 and contact an academic advisor to find out more about the programs they are interested in. They can ask and discuss pertinent issues like placements and student success and how successful past students 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 advisors is, therefore, very important to find out about the above. Students need to ensure that they pursue a 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, as it can help guide the decisions regarding 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 will help students better align with their degree program and achieve their goals. Instead of blindly enrolling in classes and then figuring out results, it will help students set goals, make concrete plans, and figure out the objective of a degree. If they make a wrong decision, it could eat up their credits and education benefits, especially if they have to switch institutions later. 

10 Things for Veterans to Consider When Going Back to School

#2 Program

Choosing the right program is very important so that students enjoy what they study and derive maximum 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, understand the credit transfer process, and use VA education benefits.

They can choose from various degree options like: 

  • Associates – An associate degree is an undergraduate degree awarded after a course of post-secondary study for two to three years. 
  • 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. 
  • Non-Degree Courses – Non-degree courses are short courses that provide students with additional knowledge in a specific field. 

Going back to school also allows 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. College is the time to learn those skills and put them to use in the professional world. If a college offers substantial financial support for military students, offers military-specific academic assistance, and has an active veteran center and veteran community on campus or online, it is the right choice. These colleges also have military-specific career resources to prepare veterans for civilian life after graduation.

However, some for-profit schools may be looking to make easy money through the GI Bill. Students should look out for fake checks that are associated with grant scams and financial aid scams. Opting for a college that helps veterans find aid and file 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. 

10 Things for Veterans to Consider When Going Back to School

#3 Cost 

Cost is a very important factor to consider while planning for school. Veterans can use their military experience to earn college credits, so knowing what credits will transfer will help determine costs. The credit policy differs from one school to another, so it is very 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. Moreover, these credit transfers allow students to graduate and get into the workforce sooner. Some veterans can take the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), which helps them skip general education or introductory-level courses, pay less, and graduate faster.

10 Things for Veterans to Consider When Going Back to School

#4 Credits and Benefits 

Like other students, veterans too can apply for financial aid. But before they do that, they should first go through all the generous educational benefits that they are entitled to as veterans.  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 some cases. In such cases, they should explore all other options available to them. Active military personnel receives 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 gather during their service.

In addition to their military benefits, they may be eligible for various federal and state financial aid so all veterans who apply for college should submit the free FAFSA application. They should also try and see if they are eligible for grants and scholarships specifically for veterans, money that does not have to be repaid. If the school participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program they may be offering veterans limited or unlimited contributions. Once students have identified all the above options, they can look at the remaining out-of-pocket costs and think if they can afford them or if they have to take loans.  One thing to keep in mind about loans, students will incur interest with the student debt. So 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 

Veterans who are eager to get into the workforce and get into civilian life may want to explore programs with accelerated course options. These allow students to take courses 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 degrees. 

10 Things for Veterans to Consider When Going Back to School

#6 Placement 

One of the key reasons that veterans go back to school is to get into the workforce easily. After years of serving at the war front, 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.

#7 Online programs 

Though there are numerous programs that offer flexible options for veterans, perhaps none are more flexible than online programs. 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 go to a college outside their geographical region, online options can help.  With online and distance learning opportunities, students are no longer limited or bound by the constraints of geography. Now veterans can earn their degrees online or through a hybrid mix of in-person and online courses. With such options, students can get the best possible education while juggling other responsibilities like work or family obligations. 

10 Things for Veterans to Consider When Going Back to School

#8 Advisors 

Every veteran who begins their admissions process can have a chat with an enrollment advisor who answers 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 all through graduation. The advisor is focused on the best ways a veteran can earn a degree, so they help with the degree plan. They help veterans choose classes to fulfill degree requirements and meet their graduation goals. Advisors are also dedicated to helping veterans get in touch with various career development services that the university offers. They leverage their expertise to help students improve their chances of success.

#9 Network

Networking is important for all students, and the same goes for veterans. Along with narrowing with student clubs and industry groups, finding and socializing with veterans groups on campus would help them settle in faster. All colleges that offer programs for veterans also have a veterans group or veterans center to help them adjust to civilian life. These groups are run by coordinators who are there to help and answer all queries that veteran students might have, like financial aid or GI benefits. The other important part is building a professional network 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 service members thus keeping the networking community alive. Building a community of peers can make it easier to graduate and transition to civilian life. Building a support system is important, from networks as well as through friends and family.

10 Things for Veterans to Consider When Going Back to School

#10 Experiential learning 

One thing that veterans can benefit from is hands-on, experiential learning. Hands-on learning is important for students to learn and apply their learnings in their work. That is the real key to their success. For this reason, they need to select schools that offer hands-on learning opportunities and more internships for veterans so that they can train to get into the workforce easily. They learn to translate their military experience to benefit them in a private sector role and show potential employers that they are capable of being successful in a civilian work environment.

Leading colleges are dedicated to helping veterans and active service members pursue a college education. All prospective students need to do is research out to advisors and ask for more information. 

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Bambi Majumdar
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