If you’re a veteran, you’ve already gained more life experience than a lot of your peers. But you also know that a college degree has become an essential piece of the modern career portfolio. While you may feel like a fish out of water at times, searching for a college as a veteran is basically no different than it is for high school students: You need to do the right research and make the right moves to find that perfect fit. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help with your journey.
Before scouring the internet for tips and tricks, start instead with a look inward. Step one is identifying who you are. What kind of student are you? Do you have some college experience, or none at all? Do you have any family members who have attended college? If not, don’t worry. It’s actually much more common than you might think. According to the Student Veterans of America (SVA), a nonprofit organization committed to helping veterans transition to postsecondary life, nearly two-thirds of veteran undergraduates are first-generation students. Once you have identified your unique personal needs, it’s time to set your sights on the thousands of college options available to you.
“The first thing a potential student veteran must know is that they are more likely to graduate compared to their peers,” says Barrett Bogue, vice president for public relations at SVA. While this statistic might be new to you, it isn’t for admission staff. Remember this when you are applying, Bogue advises, and don’t be afraid to send applications to some reach schools. You might be surprised at how far your military experience gets you.
Cost will (and should) enter the equation at some point–but don’t be immediately scared off by a high price tag. You may have heard about the GI Bill, which in addition to alleviating the tuition burden provides a monthly living stipend. The Yellow Ribbon Program, also known as the post-9/11 GI Bill, can help with additional costs not covered under the original bill.
More good news? “Access is even more open now that many schools charge out-of-state student veterans the same as an in-state student,” Bogue says.
At the start of your search, the playing field might seem a little crowded. To sort through your options, look at graduation rates, program strength, available financial aid, student loan debt levels and repayment rates, school size, campus culture, and geographic proximity to home.
Narrow down your list even further by considering which colleges and universities have demonstrated a commitment to serving veterans. While you explore the great expanse of postsecondary terrain, be mindful of promises like “military friendly.” Peek behind that curtain, and you’ll find that some colleges, often for-profit institutions, are military friendly in name only.
So instead of relying on labels, let data be your guide. Look for schools that support an active SVA chapter or offer other veteran assistance programs. And see which colleges graduate student veterans at high rates and offer flexible enrollment periods. Remember: A bit of research can go a long way when choosing the college that’s right for you.
For more guidance, browse NACAC’s student resources, including Balancing Act: Tips for Adults Returning to College and For-Profit Colleges: What to Know Before You Enroll.