Overcoming the Challenges of Higher Education and Career Training
Veterans going to college for the first time face a wide range of challenges. Before classes begin, there’s pressure to find the right school, navigating the new GI Bill®, and making sure all necessary materials have been organized and submitted. After D-Day, there’s fitting in socially, staying afloat financially, and working toward a degree that offers true career potential. Also, students who saw combat might have medical issues to deal with, such as PTSD, or need special accommodations on campus to help with travel to and from the classroom. To help current and aspiring student veterans and their families, this comprehensive guidebook serves to address the many challenges that current college and college-bound veterans face daily, including those of a financial, social, academic, medical and geographic nature.
The transition from serving one’s country to school is no easy task, for student veterans or their families. But with the right guidance, well-placed persistence, and a little know-how, it’s certainly attainable and worth the effort. Continue reading to get tips for college transition and success.
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). More information about educational benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.
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Academic Success for Veterans in College
Many veterans need help brushing up on basic math and writing skills, or just in understanding the expectations of a college-level program. Veterans can improve their skills through resources online, as well as through programs available through campus veterans’ centers. They may also wonder what kinds of degrees or majors to study. Finally, they may want to know a how to select a school to attend, whether they can obtain credit for classes taken during service, and whether online education is something worth pursuing. That is the focus of this section, and we’ve fully fleshed out the list of resources below to help veterans obtain answers to those questions.
Understanding Academic Benefits in Your State
Veterans need to invest the time and effort to understand the educational benefits that may be available to them in their state. These benefits may complement or even add to what is available at the federal level. Of course, it’s always best to talk to a counselor in the state’s veterans’ affairs office to find out the specific details. Explore the map below to learn more about the VA office in your state. This information is solely intended to be informational, and to point veterans in the right direction for seeking out and understanding the various eligibility criteria for programs.
College Preparation and Study Skills for Student Veterans
More than one million veterans have taken advantage of the benefits that come through the Post-9/11 GI Bill since it became available in 2009; however, some want to improve their study skills to increase their opportunities for college success. Many schools offer specific general-education classes for veterans to help them refresh their knowledge for college courses while others have employed staff who work with and provide services to these veterans.
For example, Sierra College, in Rocklin, California, offers a Boots to Books program, which includes a three-unit English class and a three-unit personal development class, both specifically designed to address the needs of veterans. Students returning to school will want to check with their specific college or postsecondary institution to see what kinds of special services or classes are available for veterans.
This guide covers study skills for college, tips to improve your current study habits, and a quick 20-question quiz that will test your skills in four essential areas needed for success in school:
- Time Management
- Test Preparation
- Note Taking
- and Organization
Top Study Skills to Have Before College (And How to Master Them)
Six Additional Study Skills and College Prep Resources for Veterans
Peterson’s offers two courses: Online Academic Skills Course for Military Success and College Placement Skills Training for College Success. The first one seems to be geared more toward veterans although either course will work. Both courses identify strengths and weaknesses in math and verbal skills and create a path to improve in the weak areas.
The Defense Voluntary Education (VolEd) programs of DANTES manages a portfolio of resources designed to help military members and veterans get the knowledge they need to successfully enroll and complete college degree programs.
This program, offered through the U.S. Department of Education, is available to help veterans gain the academic and life skills necessary for acceptance into a postsecondary institution. A link on the page allows veterans to search by state to find the schools and colleges offering the VUB program.
This education-prep resource offers to veterans free-of-charge two-week, bootcamp-style academic workshops at some of the top colleges and universities. Their mission is to bridge the gap by enabling transitioned military members to gain or refresh the skills they need to get into college today.
Many veterans typically—and rightly so—have a number of concerns when it comes to preparing to go to college. This resource provides answers to many of their questions and advice for how to get help on campus.
Credit for Time Served
Veterans may be able to seek credit for the training and experiences they gained while serving in the Armed Forces. These credits can help accelerate learning if applicable to a certificate or academic degree program or may replace prerequisites or required courses at the lower level. Below, we list several resources about military transference to college credit, usually made possible through the American Council on Education. Many schools also post information online about their acceptance of transferred-in credits.
Resources for Academic Credits for Military Education and Training
Veterans can look up military training by the military course number, ACE course number, training site, or other ways to determine which courses the American Council on Education recommends for academic credit and at which division level.
Service members and veterans of the Air Force can request a transcript of their education and training that may be applicable for credit at a community college.
oVeterans should look at this sheet put out by the American Council on Education to see how their credits earned from military service could be used when going to school. However, each school maintains the right to decide how many credits they will accept and how those credits will be applied.
The JST site is where military members and veterans from the Army, Coast Guard, Marines or Navy and their reserves can request transcripts that list the classes and training they have completed while serving along with the ACE credit recommendation. Air Force members use the Community College Air Force Transcript site.
Selecting a College or Program
For many veterans, it is not easy to select a college and degree program that is right for them. First, veterans need to determine how much of their tuition and fees will be paid for by their Post-9/11 GI Bill depending on if their school is public or private. And if they are interested in attending a school that is out-of-state or a private institution, they should additionally research if their prospective school(s) participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program and the specifics of that school’s Yellow Ribbon Program. Below, is a list of resources to help veterans sort out some of these answers and more.
Four Questions Veterans Should Ask Before Selecting a College or Program
1.Does this school or program have dedicated staff for veterans’ affairs?
While there are several different types of support programs for veterans, one of the premier organizations located on many campuses is the Student Veterans of America. Their site offers a map of where all of their chapters are located to see if your school is one of them or not. If not, dig into the school’s website to see if they list any veteran support programs or initiatives.
2. How much of my tuition and fees will my Post 9/11 GI Bill pay?
Before enrolling in a program, it’s important to have a full understanding of how much your GI Bill will cover. The GI Bill comparison tool allows veterans to select pertinent data from the drop-down menus, enter a school they are interested in and view the results. Drill down deeper into the data by clicking on “View details”. In part, it tells you how much of your tuition and fees are covered by your GI Bill and if there are any out-of-pocket costs.
3. Does my school have a Yellow Ribbon Program?
Find out if your school has a Yellow Ribbon program and what it covers as far as number of students, max contribution per year per student and the degree programs covered.
4. Will I have to pay out-state tuition?
As a veteran, certain conditions apply as to whether you will have to pay non-resident tuition rates or not. You can read the specifics on this page from the VA.
Want to learn more about choosing the right school for you? Check out this guide to hear expert tips and understand how to determine which program or college is your best option. How to Choose the Right College
Online and Distance Learning for Veterans
When transitioning into college, veterans might feel limited in their academic options due to career, family or other location issues that can restrict them from attending courses on campus. This is where online learning can help. Veterans who need a more flexible schedule to complete their education can find it with online colleges.
Why might online learning be a good option for veterans?
These programs generally allow students to complete their coursework from anywhere with an internet connection. This flexibility may be especially helpful for student veterans or dependents who have location restrictions due to work or family. Those who are actively serving can also get a head start on their education, regardless of their location.
What academic resources are available for online students?
For the most part, colleges try to provide online students with the same resources as their on campus peers. Students enrolled in online courses should expect to have access to resources such as tutoring, academic advising, counseling and veteran-specific resources, depending on the school offerings. Before enrolling in a program, it’s a good idea to check with the online learning department to see what resources will be available for you.
How can veterans choose the right online program for them?
While veterans must consider many factors when selecting an online education program right for them, the guide below can help make the process easier by identifying what truly makes a school military-friendly and by ranking 379 of the best online programs for veterans based on a specific methodology for veterans.
Search for the Best Online Military-friendly Schools
Financial Aid and Scholarships for Veterans
It is no secret that college is expensive these days. However, veterans have a unique advantage over other students in that they the GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon Program and a variety of scholarships and grants they can use to help pay their college expenses. Every former service member considering a college degree, certificate or learning a trade should tap into these benefits to minimize out-of-pocket costs. Before diving in, however, it’s important to understand the basics veteran-specific financial aid and exactly what it covers. Veterans can use the information below to find out what’s covered, as well as the additional need-to-know information for these programs and military-specific scholarships.
Post 9/11 GI Bill
Who’s eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill?
Veterans with at least 90 aggregate days of qualifying military service after September 10, 2001 or those having a service-connected disability with at least 30 days of consecutive service during the same timeframe should consider using their Post-9/11 GI Bill to help pay for their post-secondary education.
What does the Post 9/11 GI Bill cover for student veterans?
Tuition and fees, housing, and books are among the provisions partially or fully covered for veterans with eligible service. Monies can be used toward education at public and private colleges, universities, and trade schools as well as for licensing, tutorial assistance, and testing, such as the LSAT or SAT.
For veterans who served between 90 days and six months, the minimum benefit is 40 percent for tuition and fees, the monthly housing allowance and book stipend, while the maximum benefit is 100 percent for the same benefits for veterans who served at least 36 months of active duty. For lengths of service between these two extremes, percentage of benefits is tiered by prorating the duration of service.
Do these benefits expire?
Certain qualifying veterans are eligible for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits for up to five years from their last discharge date from active duty ending with an Honorable Discharge provided their discharge date was prior to January 1, 2013; however, for veterans discharged after January 1, 2013, their benefits do not expire as they fall under the parameters of the Forever GI Bill.
Can dependents benefit from this program?
One unique feature of the Post 9/11 GI Bill is the option to transfer unused educational benefits to a spouse and/or dependent children. With at least six years of qualifying service, but less than 16 years and still serving, unused benefits can be transferred, provided the military member can serve an additional four years at the time of transfer. After 16 years of service, the serving member is not authorized to make a transfer of benefits under the Forever GI Bill rules.
Today’s GI Bills are more complex than at any other time in history, thus making it harder and harder for veterans to understand how to maximize the use of this benefit. The following guide can help sort out changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill brought about by the Forever GI Bill.
6 Ways to Maximize Your GI Bill Benefits
Post-9/11 GI Bill Resources for Veterans
Benefits.va.gov provides a one-page website flier that outlines benefits available to veterans, including the major changes under the Forever GI Bill. The at-a-glance format can be a good starting point for veterans wanting to understand their basic eligibility; click on the links in the flyer to drill-down for more detailed information on a particular aspect of that GI Bill.
America’s Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan can turn to the website Newgibill.org for an overview of how the Post-9/11 GI Bill replaces the older Montgomery GI Bill in part by providing veterans with up-front tuition payments directly to their schools. Veterans can also find a link to a checklist to help them through the various steps in preparing to start school, including applying for plan benefits.
This site explains the basics of the Post-9/11 GI Bill for those who have served in the Air Force, and also includes some of the changes brought about by the Forever GI Bill.
Check out the Navy Personnel Command, a website page of value for seamen and veterans for its explanation of the Post 9-11/GI Bill. The site includes a link to a nice PowerPoint presentation on the Forever GI Bill.
Yellow Ribbon Program
Veterans who want to attend a private or a public out-of-state school could end up paying some of the costs themselves. The Veterans Affairs (VA) sets a national maximum covered for tuition and fees at private schools per academic year and only pays up to the resident rate for public schools. The Yellow Ribbon Program was set up to help off-set some of these costs and allows schools to enter into agreements with the VA through which the VA matches every dollar the school contributes toward tuition and fees beyond the maximum covered by the Post 9/11 GI Bill. This amount can help veterans at the 100 percent Post 9/11 GI Bill tier cover much or all of the difference between what the school charges and what the Post 9/11 GI Bill pays.
Yellow Ribbon Program Resources for Veterans
Veterans can find specific details about the Yellow Ribbon Program on this site, including qualifying eligibility requirements for the program and a link to the current list of schools with a Yellow Ribbon Program.
This website provides information on the Yellow Ribbon program in a question/answer format with links to other information of value on this feature of the Post 9/11 GI Bill and includes a four-step application for benefits section.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides a list of schools, searchable by state, that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. Also, on the list are specifics about their Yellow Ribbon program, such as degree level, division or school, number of student and max contribution per student per year.
Grants, Scholarships and Tuition Assistance
Veterans may be able to cover tuition and fees for a college education not covered by their Post 9/11 GI Bill through other financial assistance programs. Scholarship opportunities may also be offered to spouses or children of veterans going to school. Explore the guides below to learn more about these alternative options and how to start funding your education. Financial Aid for Veterans and Dependents Online Colleges that Accept MyCAA Education Benefits
Student Veteran Experiences in College
It is easier for some veterans than for others to transition back to the civilian world but it’s always a good idea to know your support options in college. From learning to fit in, to utilizing all the resources available, a variety of factors account for successful social adjustment. Seeking help and support when adjusting to civilian life can often be a step in the right direction. That’s why in this section we take a comprehensive look at the social aspect of returning home. Veterans can find information about adapting socially, the resources that are available on campus, including some of the national organizations with area chapters, and help and support available specifically for women veterans.
Fitting in On Campus as a Student Veteran
Transitioning from the military to college, or even for veterans having already been out for a time and deciding to go back to school, it can be difficult to fit in with other students. Colleges and universities recognized a few years ago that veterans are unique students and because of that have some unique support requirements if they are to be successful. Check out support resources for student veterans on and off campus below.
On Campus Support Resources
Campus Service Office for Veterans.
This resource varies from school to school but can include help using the GI Bill and financial assistance counseling, connecting to resources both on and off campus, degree planning, employment search assistance and deployment planning. For example, part of the University of Oklahoma’s Veteran Support Alliance is a written process of how they handle students called to active duty while in school. When they must leave during which part of a semester, drives different outcomes. But it is an important process in place to know that the time and money invested will not be lost and reduces the student’s stress level during this stressful time.
Campus Social Organizations and Support Groups.
Many schools have Student Veterans of America chapters on campus and they coordinate different social and support functions for their veteran student population. One such chapter is the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s vibrant Student Veterans Organization where military and veteran personnel can get together at different hosted events. The events range from participating in charity and volunteer work, to career and academic talks, regular weekly meetings, Wednesday coffee talks and a Friday free pizza lunch!
Student veterans’ groups.
Their main purpose is to make the transition to college and the college experience positive from enrolling for the first time to graduation and beyond (as many of these groups also have veterans’ alumni programs).
- University of California at Santa Barbara. Their goal is to establish a widespread network of support both on and off campus for not only their student veterans, but also for family members and alumni.
- Student Veterans of America. A directory map of schools having operating chapters. Counseling centers. Many veterans are not emotionally ready to attend college but fail to realize that until after starting school. Having a counseling center available to help work through these problems many times is the different between staying in school and quitting.
Many veterans are not emotionally ready to attend college but fail to realize that until after starting school. Having a counseling center available to help work through these problems many times is the different between staying in school and quitting.
Off Campus Resources
These are similar in nature to forums except generally in forums there is an expert or moderator to answer questions. With veteran discussion boards, other veterans for the most part answer the questions based on their experience. The interaction provides the veteran asking the question with a broad range of answers, which must then be sifted through to find the best one fitting their situation.
Student Veterans of America.
Through their robust website, the Student Veterans of America not only support their on campus students, but also those going to school online. From their active social media presence to a myriad of online opportunities, they support all student veterans regardless of the attendance venue.
Vet Center Program.
Coming back from a deployment is never easy and it becomes difficult if the veteran decides to enroll in school right away. One of the services offered is readjustment counseling for veterans returning from a qualifying combat zone, along with their family members. Other services include bereavement counseling, sexual trauma counseling and a Veteran Hotline. The Vet Centers are community centric and located away from VA facilities for confidentiality purposes.
Veterans on Campus: Support Training.
Just because a veteran does his or her coursework online instead of on campus doesn’t mean they can’t network with other student veterans. The peer program of Veterans on Campus helps them understand some of the challenges virtual students encounter that they don’t as resident students, such as isolation, time management and even PTSD. To learn more, go to this support training.
Military to College Transition Resources.
Transitioning back to a civilian life is hard enough for many veterans but going to school online at the same time can compound the issues they face. But through an online program called half of us, they can get support if they are feeling angry or at a loss of what to do. Part of the site is videos of students like them that have faced the same issues and have overcome them. Students who need to talk to someone right away can call 1-800-273-talk (8255).
Veteran Support Hotlines.
Sometimes a veteran needs to talk to someone right away about issues they may be currently having; sometimes it can be a matter of life or death. Fortunately, there are people—other veterans—that stand ready to help. Vets 4 Warriors is one of those organizations. To contact them call (1-855-838-8255), or text or chat live online.
Women Veterans in College
As National Public Radio reports, women veterans face multiple issues when returning home, including post-traumatic stress disorder and sexual assault trauma, the latter of which they are often disinclined to report because of the stigma that comes with it. Emotional issues may be bottled up and women who return to the states may feel they don’t have the same support from family and friends as do their male counterparts.
Of course, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also provides support: According to Dr. Patricia Hayes, chief consultant of Women’s Health Services at the VA in Washington, D.C., nearly 75 percent of its 152 medical clinics across the country now offer female-centered care. A Minnesota Post article highlights four women veterans and the mental and physical challenges they faced and how the “system” for veterans is slow to respond to their specific needs. From a roadside bombing, to unemployment, isolation and carrying the burden of being a single mother while deployed, they all tell their stories and the difficulty they have had.
Academic Support for Women Veterans
Fortunately, some schools have recognized issues pertinent to this unique group of veterans and are responding with tailored support programs to address these issues.
Campus Support for Women Student Veterans.
One such school having a support center for women veterans is the University of New Mexico. The school’s Veteran Resource Center recently teamed up with an organization called LeanIn and now offers two different pilot programs: veteran-to-veteran and face-to-face.
- Veteran-to-veteran. With this program being virtual, the 17,000 female veterans in New Mexico, along with female veterans anywhere in the United States for that matter, can connect online and virtually attend moderated meetings by other female veterans. This resource is a real boon to the female veteran online student population that can otherwise be isolated from on campus support systems.
- Face-to-face. As its name implies, it is a hybrid program where female veterans and non-military members can meet, share and learn leadership skills from each other.
Student Veteran Clubs and Activities for Women.
While most of the activities in many of the veteran clubs also apply to women veterans, they also need to have their own activities and program exclusive to their gender. Two schools answering this call is the Pasadena City College and the University of Louisville. Both schools provide support to their female veteran students through a network of friends and their community.
Campus Advocacy Groups for Women Student Veterans.
For women student veterans thinking about starting their own business after graduating, the V-WISE (Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship) program can train them in entrepreneurship and small business management. The three-phase program consists of a 15-day online course followed by a three-day training event and ongoing mentorship, training and support after graduating and starting a business.
Off-Campus Support Resources and Organizations for Women Veterans.
There are many support organizations that stand available to help female student veterans and even those who are not students. One site that is a clearinghouse for resources Operation We Are Here is operated by a spouse of a military member still serving. Another site for female veterans is the Women Veterans Community. It too, is a clearing house of resources for just for women.
Health and Wellness for College Veterans
While adapting to life on campus or deciding to work toward a degree, veterans may have medical needs that require attention. Indeed, about eight million adults have post-traumatic stress disorder during any recent given year. Because of the high numbers in the military/veteran population, it’s important to understand that a variety of resources exist to help these veterans connect and to be able to work toward a healthy life.
Though many veterans suffer from a mental disability like PTSD, others may be adjusting to service-related physical disabilities that can include anything from sight or hearing loss, to paralysis or loss of a limb. With the recent extended wars on two fronts, the number of these veterans are high; in fact, as of 2014, the U.S. Census reported that 3.8 million veterans had service-connected disability ratings. Of that, 1.1 million had a rating of 70 percent or greater. Many of the veterans with disability ratings are students. Fortunately, veterans on campus can look for support through a veteran’s services department and/or also through an office of disability services.
Health Resources for Veterans
Because many student veterans have disabilities—mental and physical, and sometimes both—they have different health needs from the general population of students that never served in the military. Programs tailored for them address common issues such as:
- Emotional issues, including the risk for suicide. Eighteen to 22 veterans take their own life every day with the age group of 18 to 44 being the most at risk, the age of most student veterans falling inside that group.
- Substance abuse. As a way of dealing with mental issues, many veterans turn to smoking, alcohol or drug abuse at a rate much higher than found in the general student population.
- Chronic pain. Among the OEF/OIF veterans, 82 percent report chronic pain. But their chronic pain can be different with the cause not physical at all but can be a secondary symptom caused by having PTSD or a TBI. If opioids are prescribed as part of the treatment, it must be carefully monitored due to the higher risk of veterans becoming addicted to the pain medication.
Many schools have tailored their general health care programs to address these special needs. But for it to work, they must know the student is a veteran of military service. It all starts by the healthcare provider on campus asking, “Did you serve in the military?” Form there more information can be collected, and the veteran directed to the proper medical care to address their healthcare issues.
On Campus Support
Veteran Affairs and Disability Services.
Not only does a disabled veteran get access to the services they need, but these service centers also do a great job at increasing the awareness of the issues many veterans face. Many times, veterans are placed in an uncomfortable position because of questions asked by inquisitive non-military personnel. Asking a veteran how many people s/he killed is not a question many veterans care to answer. One, they don’t want the stigma of being labeled a killer and two, most don’t care to relive that experience over and over. Also, sometimes professors can be unintentionally hurtful to veterans. One Marine veteran was in a math class and the professor (unaware that one of his students was a Marine veteran) made the comment to his class that if they could not pass that math exam, they might as well join the Marines.
So not only does the service itself help student veterans with disabilities, but also increasing the awareness of other students and staff is a big help. Most student veterans want to get through school just like other students, but many have health challenges that make it more difficult. One school that has a great Disability Services program is Alabama AandM University.
Veteran student support centers.
A number of services can be provided by veteran support centers. Of course, the services they offer vary by school, but generally they can help authorize academic or environmental modifications that can be realistically made to accommodate disabled veterans. And these modifications can also benefit non-veteran disabled students too, so it is a win/win all around. In addition, some support centers offer additional benefits to veterans of OEF/OIF in addition to the support resources already in place.
University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign —This school has a separate Health Services webpage as part of their Veterans Support Services where veterans can go to get answers to many of their healthcare questions. Most of the answers also include links to other resources that can provide more information on the topic in question.
The University of Utah —This school has a model Student Veterans Support Center. Their mission in part is to provide a valuable resource to disabled veterans by serving the community, organizing social events, providing a peer support network and providing a student voice at the U.
Student veterans’ groups.
These organizations are usually located on campus and can provide a multitude of services. In general, they are the clearinghouse for student veterans as far as any specialized support they may require. In addition, most of them hold regular meetings where a central topic of concern is discussed. Most of them also have a place where veterans can go to mingle with other veterans and where veterans can support each other. Two schools that have great student veterans’ groups are:
University of California at Berkeley —Since 2004 this school has been engaged at efforts to bring student veterans together. To name a few. their efforts include outreach to local community colleges, legislative advocacy on issues pertaining to veterans, and work to make higher education available to all veterans who want it.
University of Oklahoma —Through their Veterans Support Alliance, the UofO works to promote a unity of student veterans and among other initiatives, an early support system to prevent issues from becoming overwhelming, and professional development for faculty and staff.
Off Campus Support
Going to school either on campus or online is a stressful time in life especially if the student is transitioning from the military into civilian life. And if the veteran also suffers from a mental or physical disability resulting from their military service, it makes the transition into a school environment even more challenging. However, there are several resources available to help make the transition to school easier. Below are four such resources all designed to help students with disabilities reduce the stress they may be undergoing during transition. Explore each of them and get the information you need.
Promoting Student Mental Health: Expert Advice and Tips for Getting Help
Support for Student Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injuries
Higher Education for Students with Disabilities
Stress Management in School