College Resources for Veterans and Their Families Overcoming the Challenges of Higher Education and Career Training

Expert Writer

Ron Kness Read bio
Maggie O’Neill Read bio

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.

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.

Six Additional Study Skills and College Prep Resources for Veterans

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 programs.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Post-9/11 GI Bill Resources for Veterans

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

VSOC for short, this branch of the Department of Veteran Affairs strives to help veterans make the transition to the college world whether going to school on or off campus. VSOC Counselors stand ready to make sure veterans have what they need to be successful at reaching their education and employment goals. All listed on this web page have their email listed, so even online-only students can contact them.

Help is available for student veterans in crisis. They can call anytime of the day or night for help at 1-800-273-8255 or make contact through the live chat.

While not specific to just off campus veterans, it is a one-stop shop that is beneficial to online students. The have eight different categories dealing with veterans and their families from health and wellness, to relationships and education and employment to name three of the ones more applicable to the online student. Plus, they have nine different categories in their quick access list. A valuable resource for any veteran student regardless of venue. And for student veterans needing confidential help, they have an access point for that too.

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.