The end of the long-running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan coupled with the downsizing of the U.S. military means thousands of servicemembers will be returning to civilian life over the coming years. Some will look to return to the classroom. Fortunately, many colleges and universities offer a range of financial benefits and other assistance designed to help current and former military personnel and their families to pursue a postsecondary education.
Of course, with so many factors to consider in choosing the right school and degree program, it’s important to ask the right questions. Whether you’re on active duty, a veteran or a military spouse, answering the following questions may help guide you toward a successful college career.
- Are you on active duty or a veteran? Many colleges and universities offer special programs for servicemembers who are on active duty with the possibility of deployment. For example, 100% online courses and programs can offer a solution to the frequent relocations involved in active duty and deployments. Schools often offer certain benefits for veterans, as well. Whatever your status, don’t forget to consider your schedule and duty responsibilities when picking a school and program.
- Is the school accredited? Schools must be regionally or nationally accredited if you plan to use your military benefits to attend. For example, accreditation is required for use of GI Bill® and military Tuition Assistance (TA) funds. Accreditation also ensures the validity of the degree you earn. Check with your Education Services Officer or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to learn whether a school or program has been accredited.
- How much will your education cost and how will you pay for it? Talk to a college admissions counselor, Education Services Officer or VA representative to determine the cost per credit hour of your likely classes. Tuition Assistance typically provides up to $4,500 each fiscal year to eligible active-duty servicembers. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, meanwhile, determines tuition and fee reimbursement based on several factors, including whether a college is a public or private institution. A housing allowance, as well as a stipend for books and supplies, may also be available through the GI Bill. Additionally, prospective students should ask about scholarships, fee waivers or other financial assistance available for servicemembers and veterans.
- Is the school military-friendly? The G.I. Jobs list of Military Friendly Schools and Military Advanced Education’s Guide to Military Friendly Colleges & Universities are two resources that can help you determine an answer to this question. The annual guides list or rank schools based on a number of criteria, including whether they offer tuition assistance, support for military-based students and easy transfer of credits. You should also find out whether a school belongs to the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges Consortium, a group of about 1,900 accredited postsecondary institutions that have committed to helping military personnel and their families overcome potential challenges in earning a degree. These schools may waive residency requirements and award college credit for military training and experience through the American Council on Education (ACE). Many schools also have special transfer rules for military-affiliated students in order to minimize the potential loss of credits and duplicate courses.
A wealth of assistance is available to military personnel, veterans and their families who hope to advance their education and career, and asking these and other questions can help put individuals on the path toward a college degree.
GI 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 web site at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.