Some advice for veterans when picking out a college
Editor’s note: If you’re in the military or ready to get out, you might be thinking about furthering your education. If so, here’s some advice from the US. Department of Veterans Affairs about picking a college. Give it a read, you might just learn something.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a School
Choosing the right school involves more than just completing the school’s application process. The school you select is important, and is a decision not to be taken lightly. You should ensure the school meets your standards and expectations. You earned your college education and you will want to maximize your hard-earned investment. In the military, you demonstrated the commitment, courage, discipline and desire to succeed. Each of these qualities is highly sought after by colleges and universities. Leverage that. Don’t settle on an institution that isn’t right for you. Attend the school that can best provide what you need and maximizes your hard-earned investment.
There is a lot of information available to assist you. Although it can be time-consuming, take the time to gather all the information you need to make the best choice.
The Department of Education’s College Navigator web portal is a great place to start. But before you access College Navigator, keep reading. The information available on College Navigator is important, but it’s equally important to understand what the data means, as well as to identify questions you can ask potential schools so you understand what the information means to your specific situation.
Below are sets of questions that will help you get answers about a school you are considering. These questions, and information provided, may not tell you everything you need to know, but understanding this information will give you a solid awareness of what to consider when selecting a school.
Question 1: Would my professional field respect a degree from the university or college I’m considering?
The life lessons learned from going to college are important, but ultimately what’s the point of a degree if it won’t lead to employment? Employers have a good idea about which colleges and universities have good standing in their professional field and which don’t. So choosing the right school for your particular discipline is crucial.
One thing employers look for is what kind of accreditations the school holds. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs.
As stated by the U.S. Department of Education, the goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. While this database does not constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education, it is useful to see which colleges and universities are legitimately accredited and which are not.
Another helpful way to discover the respectability of a degree is to check the national ranking of the school and the program you’re considering. Visit the website for US News and World Report, one of the leading college and program ranking sources and discover which schools make the grade.
Question 2: How well does the school support Veterans? Does it have a special support program for Veterans?
We all know veterans are a microcosm of our society as a whole. Veterans come from the same towns and cities as everyone else. Their needs are as diverse as we are diverse as a nation.
A lot of schools claim they are “Military Friendly” or “Veteran Friendly”. However, only a student veteran can decide whether that is true. Don’t let the pretty recruitment material or other advertising be your only reference. And under no circumstances should you ever feel pressured, forced, misled, or otherwise coerced into attending a school. If you feel you are, we, at VA, want to know about it. You can make VA aware of these concerns by contacting the State Approving Agency (SAA) in your state. The State Approving Agencies are state employees who represent VA in these matters.
Be careful about “Friendly” claims and make sure your prospective school is friendly to your needs. There are objective sources to help you with that.
The American Council on Education (ACE) has developed recommendations for schools to better serve Veterans. The following points were derived from its list of recommendations. Ask your prospective schools how they meet these recommendations.
• Transfer of credits from other schools or for military training. It is important that your school recognizes your past coursework and transfers the credit.
• Support from the surrounding community. Look for access to mental health and medical support, as well as support from the community in general, such as involvement with service organizations or mentoring programs.
• A strong Veteran voice. An administration that listens to and involves Veterans in Veteran programs will serve the Veteran better.
• Veteran-specific points of contact. Individuals who specifically assist Veterans can cut through the red tape and bureaucracy Veterans may face.
• A strong web presence: An area of the school’s website just for Veterans allows them to stay better informed regarding the issues that are important to them.
• Expanded housing options: student Veterans may prefer to live among peers. Student Veterans should not be placed in dormitories with students significantly younger than them.
Another good source is Servicemembers Opportunity College (SOC). While focused on education during active duty, SOC requires that participating schools meet criteria that may also be of value to veterans after they separate from service. There are approximately 1,750 colleges and Universities who are SOC members.
A school becomes a SOC member by complying with SOC principles and criteria for services to servicemembers and by following operational guidelines.
There may be no better way to find out how a school supports veterans then to ask a current veteran at that school. To get in contact with veterans at specific schools, contact your potential school’s veteran’s affairs office. You can also contact the Student Veterans of America (SVA). SVA is a national student organization ran by fellow student veterans. They have chapters on almost 300 campuses nationwide. Ask if they can put you in contact with a veteran student from the school you’re considering. Ask about their experiences, the support they’ve received from the school, and what they’re doing to maximize their college experience.
Question 3: Will I get credit for my military training?
Policies concerning credit for military experience vary. Some colleges will award credit for military training courses but not for military occupational specialties (MOS). In some situations, it is even more complex. The American Council on Education has developed a guide to assist schools in ensuring they are granting all
possible applicable credit for military training. Ask your school if they follow the ACE guide.
Question 4: If I transfer to another school later, will the credits I receive from my first school be accepted at the new school?
This is a critically important issue and one in which the answer varies greatly. Remember, you have 36 months of GI Bill benefits. That equals four academic years of nine months each. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. In order to graduate, you cannot afford to take classes that don’t end up counting toward your degree.
When transferring from one school to another, students often find that they don’t receive as many credits for a previous course as expected. This is especially common when a student is enrolling in a program of study at the new school that is different from what they were previously pursuing. It is also very common when attempting to transfer courses taken on-line. Many schools simply do not accept transfer credit from another school’s on-line programs. The type and amount of credit awarded by the new school will depend on the receiving institution’s transfer policies and the specifics of the courses being transferred as well as the institution from which the credits are potentially being transferred.
If you are considering enrolling in a particular school, but feel you may need or want to transfer to another school later, think this through carefully. It is important to ask any schools you may transfer to if they accept credits from the school you are currently considering.
Question 5: What is the school’s graduation rate and are graduation rates important?
Graduation rates vary greatly. They also represent many complex factors. Don’t discount them. However, you should also not assume they are the most important factor.
Question 6: What is the school’s retention rate and are they important?
Retention rates are a measure of students who first attend a school and then continue attendance during following semesters. Perhaps more than graduation rates, retention rates can demonstrate student satisfaction with their experiences at a school.
This article derives from the US. Department of Veterans Affairs “Factors to Consider When Choosing a School” The full text of this document can be found at: www.gibill.va.gov/documents/factsheets/Choosing_a_School.pdf