By Glynn Cosker
Finding the right college for military veterans doesn’t have to be daunting, even though there are unique factors and considerations veterans have that differ from traditional students. Whether you served in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard or Space Force – you bring a greater level of maturity, job experience, and skills than the average college freshman.
Veterans enhance the student body of any college or university because of their strong work ethic, commitment to teamwork, and their fearlessness tackling challenges and learning new skills. These traits and skills were refined during service, and veterans deserve an educational experience that meets them at a further point in their professional development and provides them with the well-deserved services and support to help them reach their goals.
Education for veterans is more than simply picking a “military-friendly” college. It’s about discovering the right college culture that understands and authentically caters to supporting veterans – and delivering on that promise – from the time you enroll to graduation and beyond.
Here are five more steps to consider in your search for the right college for veterans.
1. Military-Friendly Colleges for Veterans
A great starting point for veterans looking to get into college is the VA website which can help you determine if prospective colleges are regionally accredited and approved by the VA. As a veteran, you should choose a college or university that is best equipped to help you succeed. Military-friendly colleges are a great choice because many of them highlight and promote their support for enrolling active-service military personnel and military veterans – often resulting in course credit for servicemembers and a shorter degree-completion timeline.
Additionally, military-friendly colleges inherently have a large military and veteran student population. Right out of the gate, you’ll have peers within your classroom who share a very similar background to you.
The institution with the largest military student population in the U.S. is American Military University (AMU). Eighty-five percent of AMU’s student body is comprised of active-duty, National Guard Reserve and veterans. AMU is the #1 education provider to the military, a 100% online Yellow Ribbon university, and is the #1 provider of higher education for veterans using GI Bill benefits.
AMU is 100% online and does not require standardized testing. There is also no entrance exam or application fee at AMU. The entire process at AMU lowers barriers by catering to busy servicemembers and veterans, and the faculty and staff know (often from their own professional experience) that military personnel have tight schedules with little room for extensive entrance exams or complicated application requirements.
AMU also offers a book grant for undergraduate students, so course materials are provided at no cost.
2. Apply for Veteran Education Benefits Early
It’s important to start early if financial aid is an important factor of your plan to get into college. The GI Bill and its benefits are the number one way for veterans to fund their post-military education. However, the GI Bill must be utilized within specific timeframes, and receiving benefits can take up to six months, so you should explore all options early to ensure the funding is in place long before your degree program begins.
Grants, scholarships, and other means of funding are also best researched and applied for proactively. There is a long list of military scholarship options to research, including many for disabled veterans’ education.
Applying early for GI Bill benefits, grants, scholarships and other options will help you attain the most financial support possible for your chosen degree program.
“Active-duty servicemembers and veterans earned their education benefits through sacrifice: long deployments, frequent moves, missing birthdays, holidays and important milestones, and more,” states AMU alumnus Wes O’Donnell who attained his Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and his MBA at AMU. “There is no better way to say, ‘thank you for your service’ than to empower veterans to achieve their life goals through the GI Bill.”
3. Research the Best Veteran Education Degree Programs That Fit Your Future
One big question a veteran must ask is, should I focus on what I’ve already learned in the military, or do I want to enroll in a program that will take me in a whole new direction?
If you want to continue in a field closely tied to the military, AMU offers many degree programs that may already relate to you depending on your military experience. For example, some of AMU’s bachelor’s degree programs include:
- Homeland Security
- Intelligence Studies
- International Relations and Global Security
- Space Studies
And some of AMU’s master’s degree programs include:
- Cybersecurity Studies
- Homeland Security
- National Security Studies
- Emergency and Disaster Management
Alternatively, if you’re looking to explore degree options to take you on a different path, AMU offers more than 200 degree and certificate programs including business, management, entrepreneurship, government contracting and acquisition, nursing, and many more.
The best approach for you is to talk to a student advisor, and AMU has advisors who are trained specifically to address the unique needs of veterans. Many of AMU’s advisors are veterans themselves, and many of them are the spouses of servicemembers or veterans.
4. Transfer Credit for Post-Military Education & Military Training
Transferring credit is vital for veteran students. If you have previously completed college classes, you should check with your prospective school to see if your academic credits will transfer. Additionally, military training often counts toward degree requirements. Advanced Individual Training (AIT) or tech school completed in the military will often translate to college credits. Nearly all military-friendly colleges accept credit for courses that veterans took in past years. Skipping certain requirements toward their new degree is a huge advantage for veterans.
At AMU, 94% of military undergraduate students transfer credit – which AMU reviews at no cost – and students are given credit for military service, training, and on-the-job experience. AMU allows you to transfer up to 90 academic credits toward a bachelor’s degree (up to 60 non-traditional credits). Effectively, a veteran may be further toward degree completion at enrollment thanks to transfer credit – before even starting a class.
5. Research the College’s Career Services
As a veteran, transitioning out of the military into a civilian career can be challenging, so it’s important to establish a relationship with your college’s career services department so that you can see how they cater to veterans and make sure you’re well-equipped to succeed upon completion of your degree program.
“AMU’s Career Services center is not based on the traditional higher education career center model and the benefit to veterans is that the center resources are specific to understating that people may be transitioning into something directly related to their military service or something completely unrelated,” states Christine Muncy, M.Ed., AVP of Career Services at AMU. Christine is also the spouse of a veteran. “All the employers we talk to understand that the majority of who serve are military or military-affiliated, and they appreciate their unique qualities. We designed our services around the needs of the individual all the way up to executive-level positions.”
After serving in either the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or Space Force, our transitioning servicemembers all deserve a kick-start toward their veteran education.
Armed with careful planning (a character trait that all veterans intrinsically have) and equipped with the right tools and guidance – including thorough research of all the benefits on hand like military-friendly colleges, GI Bill benefits and the many grants and scholarships available to them – as a veteran, you’ll have the confidence to move forward with your education at a college that understands what it means to serve our great nation.