Now that you’ve honorably served, it’s time to explore the next chapter in your career, and for many, a degree from a university is the logical next step. Perhaps you were young when you joined the military, or you never thought of yourself as “college material.” The great news is that you now have numerous resources in place to help you achieve success in the university setting, including the GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Having a degree can lead to greater benefits in your civilian life, as reports show that employees holding a degree typically earn 40% more than their counterparts without degrees. The hard work you put into a few years at a good university can mean increased job stability, higher job satisfaction, and greater employer-provided benefits for you and your family.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs recently published a guide to choosing the right college as a veteran. Inside the document, several questions are outlined what you should consider when choosing your college and field of study. For example:
- What are your interests and how do you want to make a living?
- Is the school you are considering respected in the field of work you’d like to pursue?
- What types of degrees and majors does the school offer and does it match up with your career goals?
- What types of resources specific to veterans does the school offer (such as dedicated guidance counselors, credit transfers from your military service, special housing options, etc.)?
- What it the annual cost of tuition (and estimated cost of housing and books) and how does it compare the amount of funding you’re eligible for from the GI Bill based on your time in service?
Once you’ve outlined the answers to these questions, you can start considering schools in your area or in locations to which you’d be willing to relocate. Many students do well by beginning at a community (or “feeder”) college to take care of the basic requirement courses that every degree requires (classes tend to be smaller and more affordable), then transferring to a larger university to purse their higher-level courses. Other students enjoy going directly into larger universities and taking a full load of coursework to complete their schooling more quickly.
The website bestcolleges.com recently published a survey on its top 45 most military-friendly colleges based on factors such as the availability of veteran-focused counseling services, financial aid, and career consultation. The top five universities to make the list included:
- University of LaVerne (LaVerne, CA): This university has been supporting U.S. veterans in higher education for 45 years, and offers a VA-certified official and a dedicated academic adviser to help vets complete their degrees. It also offers veteran-specific career services, counseling and psychological services, and disability services.
- The University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL): The University of Alabama features numerous veteran-focused on-campus programs, including the Campus Veterans Association, the Veteran Work Study Program, a VA Certification Program, Outreach Mission, special housing options, and Transition Assistance.
- Liberty University (Lynchburg, VA): This university partnered with the Virginia Wounded Warrior program and We Are Virginian Veterans organization to create VetLink, an organization that delivers comprehensive academic and community support to veterans and their families through job placement assistance, scholarships and financial aid, peer support and community and outreach activities.
- The University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC): In addition to a very active Student Veterans Association, the University of South Carolina is home to a Green Zone program, designed to help veterans transition into campus life and better understand the educational resources available to them. The university also offers a VA-funded work study program to qualifying veterans.
- The University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK): Named as one of the nation’s best colleges for veterans in 2015 by Military Times magazine, OU supports the Warrior-Scholar Project and the Veteran Support Alliance Fund, and hosts its own Green Zone program. Its Students Veterans Association is also very active and works to merge scholastic achievement with veteran support.
If you’re a bit overwhelmed by the choices and options, you can take advantage of the VA’s online GI Bill Comparison Tool, that allows you to filter your options based on your military status, which GI Bill benefit you plan on using, your cumulative active duty experience, your location, and a few additional questions about your scholastic goals and plans.
Remember that putting in the hard work now to get your degree may make a big difference in the quality of life for you and your family for years to come. Many veterans find themselves excelling in scholastics at a greater rate than they would have had they gone straight to college after high school. After all, you’re older, more mature, and now have real-world experience in discipline, hard work, and goal-setting. Make the most of the resources available to you as you learn from the experiences of your fellow veterans in higher education.
Written by Megan Hammons