What Veterans Should Look For In A CollegeUpdated: February 4, 2022
What should veterans look for in a college? There are many features to consider but much depends on whether you are attending a state-supported school or a private institution. State universities and other institutions operate differently than some private colleges–you should know the differences between state and private colleges you want to consider before deciding.
Some of the differences are related to whether or not federal benefits (including the GI Bill) or federal educational financial aid can be used or whether you may need to apply for private student loans to fund your education.
The First Thing To Ask
For-profit colleges abound and there are many private colleges which are not recognized by regional or national accreditation bodies. You will want to know whether your new school is accredited, and also which schools may accept transfer credits from this institution in case you decide to try another school. Accreditation counts.
The College Search For Veterans: Location Counts
Veterans looking for a school have unique challenges. Some are retiring or separating from overseas locations and must choose a state to live in, while others may separate stateside and remain in the state they were last assigned in. Still others want to relocate to an area depending on which school they choose rather than looking for schools in their current address.
Depending on what state you choose, there could be important GI Bill-extending benefits. One great example is the Illinois Veterans Grant, which pays for tuition for veterans who meet minimum service criteria.
State-Level Programs And State Residency
Residency requirements often apply and you may or may not be considered a resident for these programs depending on when you relocate to the state, whether you entered military service from that state, or plan to relocate there within a predetermined time after leaving the military.
Some states are fairly generous with these benefits, others seem to be less well-funded or staffed. Your college selection decision could be influenced by the presence of such a program, especially if you need to save your GI Bill benefits for a later portion of your academic experience.
Location, Location, Location
Location is also crucial for another reason–those eligible for receiving the Post 9/11 GI Bill housing stipend will have that stipend paid based on the zip code where you attend the majority of your classes.
That means that someone attending the University of Illinois in Chicago may get a much different housing stipend than someone attending a small community college in Kenosha, Wisconsin based on the amount of housing allowance authorized for that zip code.
No, you likely won’t decide on a school solely using the amount of your housing allowance as your guide, but it is a very important consideration for those who want a combination of in-person classes and online learning.
Those who plan to attend fully online get a reduced housing stipend, and that is another factor to consider when deciding on your academic program.
When reviewing colleges and universities, be sure to ask the admissions rep where your classes will be held for GI Bill housing stipend purposes–many schools have a main campus but may also have satellite campuses in other towns or cities and you’ll want to know where most of your classes may be held.
Ask This Very Important Question
When you consider a college–ESPECIALLY a for-profit college–be sure to ask how their academic calendar is structured and how much control you have over class selection. Some for-profit colleges (your experience will vary) require students to take classes according to a fixed schedule, and that fixed schedule may or may not maximize your GI Bill or other benefits.
One good example–a for-profit college in Chicago (which shall remain nameless, but was attended by the author of this article) at one time structured its classes for students based on a fixed schedule of instruction–attendees could NOT manage their own schedule.
The problem? In many cases students were assigned classes that technically met the full-time requirements for GI Bill and other programs, but wound up scheduling their students for the MINIMUM full-time requirement.
Those who wish to take more semester hours under such a program to extend their GI Bill benefits were left behind by this policy. Be sure to ask about such issues if you plan to take more credit hours than a traditional student or want to carry a high class load.
What Veterans Should Look For In A College
The first thing to do is to evaluate how veteran-friendly your college is. What is the veteran population at the school like? Are there enough vets that the campus has an office for handling veteran needs for enrollment, GI Bill, state-sponsored veteran education programs, etc.?
If a college doesn’t have at least one person who acts as a liaison for the veteran student community there, you might want to compare schools a bit more aggressively.
A school that doesn’t know what to do with your GI Bill benefits, doesn’t participate in the Yellow Ribbon program, and/or won’t offer flexible admission policies (especially where payment via GI Bill is concerned since those funds often don’t arrive on the usual school tuition payment deadlines) you should compare that school with those that do.
Such instances may be rare in your search for a college, but it’s not unheard of.
One of the best ways to weed out schools that don’t provide as much support for vets and currently serving military members is to examine college official sites for an office of military affairs, veteran service office or similarly named entity. Any college that doesn’t have one may not be the right fit for you, depending on circumstances.
It’s best to talk to an admissions counselor about your plans, financial aid concerns, and college career for any school you’re seriously considering–you’ll want to know important details about how the school handles common issues like delayed payments under the GI Bill program, what your responsibilities are should you be unable to complete a course of study, and what the program you are interested in will entail.
What Veterans Should Ask When Choosing A College
One of the best ways to determine whether a college is right for you is to ask a set of questions that can help you make a more informed decision. Here is a list of things you should ask when selecting a college:
- What is the school’s overall policy for those attending on GI Bill benefits or veteran-centric state level student financial aid?
- What is my responsibility if my benefit payments to the school are delayed?
- What is the school’s policy for incomplete, dropped, or failed classes for those attending on veteran benefits program?
- How flexible is the school when determining financial aid for veterans? Does the school participate in the Yellow Ribbon program? Does it provide matching funds in any other way or offer some kind of help for vets who don’t have quite enough benefit money to finish the program?
- What opportunities are offered specifically to veterans by the college? This can include work-study, student unions or other activities, campus organizations, etc. Ask about the veteran culture at the college–does it thrive? Or is it non-existent?
- What is the school’s transfer policy? Will the school accept your military credits and experience or is the school more stingy about the credits you bring to your new school?
- How long do you have to complete your program? What happens if you are called to active duty as a member of the Guard or Reserve, and how do you deal with interrupted class schedules due to duty, illness, VA appointments, or other issues?
- What specific differences should veterans expect in terms of payment deadlines, graduation rules, incomplete or dropped classes, etc. compared to non-veteran students?
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News