With financial aid programs just for them, servicemembers and veterans can get a college degree with little financial struggle—if they do their research. Thanks to these special funding options, military students need to consider additional factors when choosing a school. And that includes being extra sure institutions have their best interests at heart.
Fortunately, whether you are currently in the military or transitioning out of active duty, you don’t need to make your college choice on the double. To get the most of your benefits, ask these five questions of any school you consider. That way, you can be sure you aren’t making an unsat decision.
1. Will The School Accept Transfer Credits For Military Experience?
Like any college students, servicemembers can decrease their costs by taking advantage of College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DSST (formerly DANTES Subject Standardized Tests) exams to earn credit for what they already know. However, some schools will also accept your specific military experience as qualified college credit.
You can request your military transcripts from the American Council on Education (ACE) to present to schools for consideration. Depending on your experience and the school’s policy, you could finish school faster and cheaper by applying your military experience toward your degree. Talk to the schools you are considering to see if and how many credits they’d accept.
2. Can You Receive Yellow Ribbon Benefits At The School?
The GI Bill allows eligible veterans to pay in-state resident tuition and fees for public colleges. All veterans who have served at least 90 days of active service receive in-state tuition rates at any public institution in any state within 3 years of leaving the military. Because of this, you may receive a barrage of promotional material from a plethora of colleges.
If you wish to attend a private institution, some of these schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon program. This program provides additional funds to veterans to help cover the added cost of the private school tuition and fees, and Veteran Affairs (VA) will match the amount the school provides. In most cases, this allows veterans to attend tuition and fees free.
Talk to the private colleges and universities you are interested in to learn if they participate in this program, which could save you a lot of money on your college degree. You can also use the GI Bill Comparison Tool to help compare your benefits at different schools.
3. Is There A Military Or Veteran Community?
Many schools have a designated person in administration who acts as a VA liaison, but not all VA liaisons are created equally. Some schools also have veteran or servicemember organizations that allow peers to provide support in the transition from the disciplined military routine to the usually more laidback college lifestyle. This type of community may put you at ease, especially when you’re new to the military or returning to civilian life.
4. Is The School Accredited?
Before choosing any school, and especially before you make any payments, check that the school is accredited—preferably a regional accreditation. You can’t use federal financial aid and military education benefits at an unaccredited school. Accreditation information should be readily available to you. If you can’t get it from the school, that’s a serious red flag.
5. What Is The Graduation Rate?
Certain military education benefits, such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, can only be used for a limited amount of time after leaving the military. That’s why it is important to determine how long it’s going to take to get your degree. If 99% of students graduate within 4 years, you may safely assume the same outcome if you’ll attend full time so that you may use your military education benefits before you lose eligibility. If, on the other hand, students typically take 5 or more years to graduate, you should be prepared for the same result or ask why that is happening.
Are most students in programs that require a fifth year or are students just taking more than 4 years for a bachelor’s degree? Knowing the answers to these questions will allow you to better prepare for the overall time and financial commitment you will need to make to achieve your degree.