Thinking About School After The Military? – Tips For Entering College And Succeeding Beyond

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Dr. Dani Molina, U.S. Army veteran (E-4), during Operation Iraqi Freedom, March 2003.
Dr. Dani Molina, U.S. Army veteran (E-4), during Operation Iraqi Freedom, March 2003.

Thinking About School After The Military? – Tips For Entering College And Succeeding Beyond

by: Dani Molina, PhD | .
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published: December 26, 2015

The transition from military service to civilian life can be daunting, especially for those that are thinking of entering college after they return home. The transition to higher education becomes even more difficult for veterans who have had a break in their schooling, a family history that doesn’t include college, and an assortment of complex information presented to them as they transition out.

When I left the military and returned home after serving four years on active duty, I knew I wanted to go to college but finding the right information and people to support me was a huge challenge. But thankfully, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Take the following steps to make the transition much smoother.

Explore your interests early on – Remember taking the ASVAB to determine the types of jobs you qualified for in the military? Similarly, find out what you like to do and identify the college education you will need to reach a career that interests you. Do this BEFORE leaving the military and applying to college. I always recommend the website www.mynextmove.org to transitioning service members who are not sure what they want to do in life. This website has a great “Interest Profiler” that shows you how much education you will need to work in your interested career, as well as the average annual salary and job outlook. Go to the website now!

Find out where you will live and how you will make money – Start thinking of where you will likely live and how much it will cost. Maybe it’s best to move back in with your parents or family members while you get situated with part-time work and begin college. If you can save money by starting at a community college, that’s ideal. You’ll need much more money once you transfer to a four-year college or university.

Start at a community college – Once at a community college, try to be efficient with your time and money by taking general education classes first. After you transfer to a university, begin taking classes in your major. Starting at a community college will save you money and prevent you from having to use your limited GI Bill® benefits, as well as other financial aid. Make sure to speak with a college counselor immediately after beginning at a community college. Make it clear to your counselor that you would like to take courses that will count toward transfer to a four-year college or university.  If you are able to, save your Post-9/11 GI Bill®, including filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (also known as FAFSA), until you transfer. Try to stick to your coursework plan!

Transfer to a top university – Too few veterans enter college, and even fewer will earn a four-year degree. This problem is exacerbated when veterans choose not to attend research universities. I often hear veterans suggest that institutions like Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, or UCLA are out of their reach. However, having served in the military, be assured that you have the maturity and commitment to excel in the nation’s top universities. If there are other veterans or a Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter (www.studentveterans.org) on your campus, connect with them. They can be a great resource for getting helpful tips and for making immediate peer connections. Once you transfer to a four-year college or university, begin using your Post-9/11 GI Bill® and apply for the FAFSA. If at all possible, try not to take out loans. Instead, apply to as many scholarships as possible. The hard part comes with the first application. However, you can repackage the initial application for other scholarships. The university’s Financial Aid Office and college counselors should have a list of available scholarships you can apply for, as well as the personnel to assist through the application process. Service 2 School (http://service2school.org/) focuses on helping you get into these top colleges and universities. Check them out BEFORE transferring from a community college!

Finally, consider a master’s degree and doctoral education – While most jobs do not require an advanced education, consider pursuing a master’s and doctoral degree program. Studies have shown that earning an advanced graduate degree INCREASES wages on average and REDUCES your chances of unemployment. Plus, we need more enlisted veterans in these higher education programs. Enlisted veterans are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds and, therefore, can use an advanced degree for upward social and economic mobility. If you are a disabled veteran, consider applying for Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (Voc Rehab) benefits to help pay for a master’s degree. Ultimately, the VA will determine your eligibility, but it’s worth applying for this great benefit. If you decide to pursue an advanced degree, make sure to major in a field that you enjoy since these programs require intense study.

Remember, you are your strongest advocate. GOOD LUCK!

Bookmark These Websites

1) Explore your Education and Career Interests
My Next Move
http://www.mynextmove.org/

VA Career Scope
https://va.careerscope.net/gibill

2) Choose a College or University
GI Bill® Comparison Tool
http://department-of-veterans-affairs.github.io/gi-bill-comparison-tool/

Federal Student Aid – Choosing a School
https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/prepare-for-college/choosing-schools

3) Pay for College or University
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
https://fafsa.ed.gov/

VA Education and Training
http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill

Federal Student Aid – Grants and Scholarships
https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/grants-scholarships