For most military veterans, leaving the service for civilian life means big changes. Pursuing higher education is one way veterans choose to reintegrate. Taking this important step can provide training and education that may open further possibilities for employment, both inside and outside the military. Fortunately, the Montgomery G.I. Bill® and the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill® make it easier than ever for military personnel to move into their college education; according to the Million Records Project, 51.7 percent of all veterans obtained a post-secondary degree or certificate through these important avenues. The purpose of this guide is to help veterans transition from military to college life and provide numerous resources to assist in that transition.
Once in college, veterans may understandably feel like outsiders. Fortunately, there are a variety of programs to help, including special mentors or advisors to give advice on being a college student, as well as offer aid on veteran-tailored issues such as obtaining disability accommodations. Learning how to become an active member of the student body is vitally important, as it leads to a fuller college education – much of college learning comes from interacting with classmates. Here are some resources to help veterans find success in their pursuit of higher education.
Many colleges and universities have special offices established to help veterans succeed in college.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has assigned special counselors to several schools to provide outreach services to student veterans.
The Defense Activity for NonTraditional Education Support is part of the Department of Defense. DANTES works with educational institutions to help veterans get the education they need.
This organization helps veterans learn about the educational opportunities and make the most of what’s available.
This group is tasked with providing various support mechanisms to veterans so they can better succeed in higher education.
Offered by the Department of Defense, the Transition Assistance Program helps veterans and their families transition to civilian life in several areas, including starting a business, finding a job or going back to school.
A comprehensive resource for veterans that covers numerous aspects of going back to school.
The Twitter feed for Student Veterans of America, a leading student veteran’s organization.
An iOS only app released by Veterans Affairs to help veterans and service members handle stress, especially stress experienced while reintegrating into civilian life.
Healthcare is of vital importance for veterans, since many suffer from physical and/or mental injuries as a result of their service to this country. The following is a list of resources intended to help veterans receive the healthcare they need, whether it’s from Veterans Affairs or another source.
Most colleges and universities will offer basic healthcare service for students, including routine physical procedures and exams, as well as mental health services.
The Wounded Warriors Project provides support, including campus services, to soldiers who have been injured in the line of duty.
A nonprofit organization devoted to assisting veterans and their families in obtaining all pension and healthcare benefits available through Veterans Affairs.
Assists veterans by facilitating healthcare services between veterans and their healthcare provider.
Several states have specific departments aimed to assist veterans in taking full advantage of their state and federal benefits.
The central source for applying, receiving and learning more about health benefits offered by the federal government.
Military.com offers a broad array of resources for veterans who want to get the most out of their health care benefits.
The Twitter feed for the Veterans Administration offers regular updates on healthcare that are pertinent to veterans.
The Twitter feed for the Department of Defense’s Office of Warrior Care Policy, which has been established to help wounded soldiers get treatment and integrate into civilian life.
Available for Android, this app helps users estimate and understand how Veterans Affairs calculates their disability rating and monthly disability payments.
Veterans need insurance just like everyone else. During active duty, some types of insurance may not have been necessary – for instance, those who were deployed overseas likely did not have a vehicle of their own to cover. Other insurance was handled by the military, such health insurance under TRICARE. Once a civilian, figuring out insurance options can be complicated. These resources can help.
Some colleges and universities have special offices devoted solely to administering a medical insurance plan for its students. One such example is Colorado University’s Office of Student Insurance.
The Affordable Care Act’s health exchange website provides an overview of healthcare coverage requirements and options for veterans.
An explanation of the life insurance benefits offered by Veterans Affairs.
The official website for uniformed service members and their families.
A resource page that explains how the Affordable Care Act fits in with VA health care benefits.
The Veterans Affairs health system is devoted to meeting the health care needs of veterans.
A financial services company that provides high-quality insurance and other financial services exclusively for members of the military and their families.
Housing is an important consideration for student veterans, as it makes up a significant portion of the cost of school attendance. Even if the veteran will live off campus with family, depending on where the school is located, finding suitable off-campus housing may be difficult, expensive or both. This list of resources can provide assistance in figuring out these logistical details.
All colleges that have students living on campus will have some sort of office devoted to administering and assisting students with housing options. For instance, at the University of Florida, it’s The Department of Housing & Residence Education.
Housing benefits available through the GI Bill® are calculated using the Basic Housing Allowance, which is based on the ZIP code of the school the veteran attends.
For military members located in Colorado, this nonprofit organization offers several services, including housing assistance.
Many states that provide a state agency to assist in-state veterans often have a special department for veteran housing. For instance, California’s CalVet has a special Housing department.
Offered by Veterans Affairs, the SSVF program provides grants to organizations that help low-income veterans achieve stable housing.
HUDVet serves as an intermediary of several organizations and agencies that provide housing assistance to veterans.
Helps veterans with housing problems by providing a variety of assistance, including employment guidance.
An app that allows student veteran Android users to calculate their anticipated housing allowance.
The Veterans Crisis Line offers a confidential chatline for homeless veterans to help obtain assistance to find suitable housing.
An Android App issued by MAG-V, Inc., a non-profit organization that works to help veterans make full use of their benefits and find affordable housing.
College can be an expensive yet necessary step for gaining additional skills or finding employment after leaving the military. Some of the most significant benefits available to service members are those focused on education. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, between 2000 and 2012, over 900,000 veterans and service members were able to take advantage of education benefits administered by Veterans Affairs. But understanding these benefits isn’t easy, so numerous resources exist to help veterans make the best use of what’s available.
Every college and university will have a financial aid office that can assist students in understanding and obtaining financial aid. At the University of Maryland, it’s called The Office of Student Financial Aid.
Part of the US Department of Education that explains the financial aid options available to veterans.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a form that students must complete to be eligible for most federal and state financial aid packages.
One of the keystone benefits administered through Veterans Affairs that helps veterans pay for their post-secondary education.
Providing academic scholarships to veterans and their spouses who are focused on serving others.
A unique college comparison tool specifically designed for individuals taking advantage of the Department of Defense’s Tuition Assistance program, so that they may obtain the best educational value for each tuition dollar spent.
The VFW offers a wide array of veteran assistance, including a scholarship and fellowship.
Schools can voluntarily participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which provides additional financial support that goes beyond the benefits offered by the GI Bill®.
It’s completely understandable that veterans might be dealing with emotional issues that linger long after their service is done. Even if a veteran can return to civilian life relatively unscathed, the stress of college life, along with transitioning to life as a civilian, can put added strain on a veteran’s mental health. As a result, mental health resources are readily available to all college students, especially veterans.
The clear majority of colleges and universities offers student counseling services, many of which will be prepared to deal with issues commonly experienced by student veterans. For example, the University of Texas at Austin has the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center.
A resource for veterans to help with mental and emotional challenges following deployment.
Many veterans suffer traumatic brain injuries during their deployment. BrainLine Military exists to help these veterans adjust to life with these types of injuries.
A Department of Defense office specifically created to help wounded and ill veterans get the help they need and transition into civilian life.
A section of Veterans Affairs with the mission of researching and treating veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.
Established to bring the benefits of yoga and meditation to current and retired soldiers.
The Twitter feed for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a leading mental health advocate for the general public.
An iOS app distributed by Veterans Affairs to help veterans practice the art of mindfulness, which has been found to help reduce stress and improve mental health.
PTSD Coach is a Veterans Affairs app for veterans who use an iOS device and could use assistance in managing PTSD.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the risk of suicide is higher for veterans when compared to the general population. Some veterans face mental health issues when returning to civilian life after deployment to a combat zone. For veterans who are contemplating suicide, a number of resources are available, some specifically tailored to veterans.
The Veterans Crisis Line hotline can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255 or texting 838255. They also have a Veterans Chat service available.
Another resource is the Vet2 Vet hotline, which can be reached at 1-877-VET2VET (838-2838).Anyone who is contemplating suicide should call one of these numbers immediately – please don’t wait!
For many veterans, starting a civilian career is the primary reason they choose to go to college. The following list of resources can help student veterans promote themselves professionally and find career guidance and advice concerning a career that’s right for them.
Students at Arizona State University have the Career and Professional Development Services office to help them learn more about potential careers. The office also offers career advice, networking and help with applying for jobs and internships. Most other schools will have a similar office or department with career benefits, especially advice tailored for veterans.
A non-profit organization that provides career guidance to veterans so they may find employment and more effectively transition back to civilian life.
An employment website tailored for veteran job seekers and employers looking to hire veterans.
A good starting point for veterans looking for a new career in the civilian world.
Offered by the Department of Labor, VETS provides employment advice and resources for helping veterans obtain a career after military service.
Works with private sector employers to help veterans find jobs.
Veterans Affairs offers career guidance, including job training and career coaching.
Part of the Wounded Warriors Project, this is a special program providing career advice to Wounded Warriors Project members.
LinkedIn is a career-oriented social media network that offers one year of free premium access to veterans.
The Twitter feed for Mission: ABLE, an organization working to make sure disabled veterans can obtain benefits and find a career.
The Twitter feed for MilitaryConnection.com, a leading careers facilitator for veterans.
A student veteran is an example of a non-traditional student. About 85 percent of student veterans entering an undergraduate institution are aged 24 or older and almost half have either a child or spouse, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The extra responsibilities for student veterans can make getting an education more complicated. The following resources aim to make this balancing act a little easier to handle.
Several schools are now offering childcare services for students, faculty and staff members. One such school is the Bloomberg University of Pennsylvania and its Campus Child Care Center.
An organization that works to help families, especially military families, find practical solution to their child care needs.
Military Onesource provides a wide array of services and support to service members and veterans, including family and relationship advice and resources.
An organization working to help service members and veterans with their companion animals, such as during deployments, homelessness or inpatient medical situations.
Online resources for helping veterans establish relationships with others who are facing the same issues and problems.
Serves on behalf of military families to advance their concerns and provide necessary assistance.
The Real Warriors Campaign was started to promote help-seeking behavior in veteran and service members when dealing with emotional and mental issues.
Training and resources offered by Veterans Affairs to help with parenting.
The Twitter feed for PBS, which provides parents with family and child oriented advice and tips.
A special iOS app made by Veterans Affairs to help returning service members improve their parenting skills.
A busy Twitter feed for nontraditional college students. Tweets about childrearing, study skills and general support.
Sean-Michael Green is a former enlisted United States Marine who served on active duty in infantry and reconnaissance units based out of Camp Lejeune and with deployments to Panama, Cuba, and Iraq during the First Gulf War. He served an additional eight years in the Selected Marine Corps Reserve. After completing his undergraduate work at the University Honors College of the University of Pittsburgh, he earned several advanced degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Marist College and Cornell University. Today he serves as an associate vice president at the University of New Haven in West Haven, CT.
I offer two conflicting but equally useful pieces of advice. The first is that the vet probably does not stand out as much as she thinks she does. Most schools have populations of students who are not on the traditional assembly line of formal education. You may not be the typical underclassman, but you belong there. The second piece of advice is that you should use your university days as a place to get used to not fitting in. Face it: You are different. You offer more diversity and real world experience than most of the population. You will often be surrounded by people who are dissimilar. College is a time to explore and develop in a safe environment. Find your identity, values, and place among your classmates, and it will serve you well in the rest of the civilian world.
The most important thing is the fit, and the only way to really get a handle on it is to visit and spend some time. Many veterans choose their schools based on word of mouth. Not a bad strategy, but it is important to know that college is not a one-size-fits-all. Just because you have friends who are happy at a school does not necessarily mean that you will be – especially if you have different goals. Choosing a university is much like choosing a branch of the military. You should ask questions, take your time, and pick the right one for you.
The veterans that I have seen struggle tend to do so in two a reas. The first is a struggle with assimilating into the student body. These vets tend to feel like they are misunderstood or under-appreciated. Whether they are incorrect in their assumptions or not, it is on them to find a solution. Connecting with other veterans provides a forum to discuss these issues with peers, but remember that to goal is to earn a place in civilian society, not to demand that civilian society adapt to your wants and needs.
The second area of struggle is balancing work and family and school. Veterans have responsibilities beyond those of the typical 19-year-old. Understand that college is an investment, and you will get out what you put in. It is tempting to take on too much too fast in the interest of graduating quickly. Slow down your rate of study. Learn. Enjoy the experience. College should be an engaging and fun part of your life. If it isn’t, you may be doing it wrong.
Your first question is the most important for any vet, because that feeling of not fitting in is the universal shared experienced of vets returning to school. I went through it myself. IF they can get past that, they will be fine. The other thing I would add is that they should not aim too low. I have seen many veterans capable to earning admission to and competing in highly selective schools, only to attend third tier institutions. If that is their ambition, great; but many people misjudge themselves. Seek challenges and rewards as grand as you can imagine.
The path to a college education takes a little bit of patience and organization–two things veterans are exceptionally good at. This list of steps provides a roadmap for veterans who are making the transition to college.
To figure out which school to attend, you’ll need to figure out what your goals are. What career do you want to pursue? Will you need a certificate or degree? If a degree, will a two-year degree suffice, or will a four-year degree plus a graduate degree be required? Not all schools offer the same programs, degrees and areas of specialization that you might need.
Now it’s time to choose your school. There are many considerations to consider, such as school type, location, cost and programs offered, to name a few. Don’t forget that some schools will offer academic credit for military training and experience. To save money and/or graduate as quickly as possible, choosing a school that gives plenty of credit before even taking your first class is a good idea.
Thanks to your veteran status, your ultimate cost of attendance will probably be significantly less than the average college student. For example, schools may offer in-state status to veteran students or have special programs to make up the cost of attendance that’s not covered by the GI Bill®. Check with your school for requirements and more information.
Will you have the grades to get into the school of your choice? Do you need anything special to include in your application, such as letters of recommendation or test scores? These usually take a while to acquire, so the sooner you get on it, the better you can plan ahead and make sure your application is submitted on time.
The education benefits available to you will be determined by several factors, including how much time you spent in the service. The benefits are not automatic; prospective student veterans will need to apply for these benefits. You can apply for education benefits either online or in person.
Even though you may receive GI Bill education benefits, you’re still eligible for financial aid, including need and merit based grants, which don’t need to be paid back, as well as loans, which do need to be paid back. One of the first and most important things to do to identify financial aid is to complete the FAFSA.
By now you should have some of the more notable and long-term application components completed, such as letters of recommendation and/or test scores. There will be other parts to complete, such as an essay and transcripts. The application process usually takes some time to finish, so be sure to heed deadlines.
Part of your GI Bill includes a housing allowance, which is largely determined by the location of the school you will attend. Figure out what your housing allowance will be and what housing choice you will make, such as living on or off campus. Many schools have on-campus housing options for students with families, so if you have a spouse and/or children, don’t assume living off campus is your only option.
Congratulations! You’re going to college! In addition to the acceptance letter, many schools will issue their financial aid award. Carefully review this award to make sure it’s correct and along with your GI Bill benefits, enough to cover your total cost of attendance. If there are any changes or missing awards or benefits, contact Veterans Affairs, your school or other applicable entity to straighten things out before your first day of class.
The transition to military life on campus can be easier at schools that have made an extra effort to accommodate student veterans and ensure their academic and professional success. The following are five things students can look out for when choosing a school.
Several schools are looking to add veterans to their student population. One way they do this is by giving veteran applicants a special advantage during the application process. While veteran status alone won’t get admission to a given school, it can be a deciding factor, especially when a veteran applicant is vying for a spot against a non-veteran.
To handle the rising number of veteran students and offer the most helpful support during the college process, many schools have set up departments or offices that work only with student veterans. This shows a school’s commitment to helping veterans, as it allows for a more specialized level of service for their unique issues and concerns.
Many military education initiatives come from government agencies and outside organizations. Schools usually have the option of adopting these initiatives, such as the Department of Education’s “8 Keys to Veterans’ Success” or the Yellow Ribbon Program.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill promises paying for all education costs at the in-state rate. However, there is no such promise for the out-of-state rate, which is almost always significantly higher for out-of-state residents. Some public universities have agreed to waive the higher out-of-state rate for student veterans using the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
A relatively new benefit, many colleges and universities are realizing the special challenge of attending school while having a young child. Since most student veterans are older than the average college student and many have a family, a school with an on-campus daycare is particularly helpful.
* GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.