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3 Major Tips for Military Troops Leaving to Become College Students

As anyone who has served in the military can attest, the culture is very different from that of the civilian world. Most troops fall in love with the sense of belonging to a giant, diverse family spread around the globe. So when the time comes to separate, the transition can be tough.

Some servicemembers depart after a few years, while others make it a career, spending 20 or 30 years in the service before retiring. Everyone has different reasons for leaving, and one of the most common is to attend college full-time as a civilian student. Such a dramatic and sudden change of lifestyle can be difficult, so here are three important tips to consider!

Understanding Which GI Bill You Have

Active military troops can go to school, too, of course. In fact, every military branch places great emphasis on higher education—which is why the Department of Defense funds lucrative Military Tuition Assistance programs to cover college costs for those who are actively serving.

Still, it can be hard to work a full-time military job while taking college courses part-time. But once troops get out, they no longer qualify for Military Tuition Assistance funds. Luckily, that’s why there’s also the GI Bill program to step in and help cover those costs for veterans!

The GI Bill program is managed by Veterans Affairs and there are a couple of different versions of it—the older Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) and the newer Post-9/11 GI Bill. It’s important to understand which of these you have, if either. With the MGIB version, participants paid into it by contributing $100 a month for 12 months of active duty. Post-9/11 GI Bill participants don’t pay in to be eligible. Students must use their applicable benefits before they expire.

Another thing to remember is that those who opt for the MGIB generally have a chance to convert it to the Post-9/11 version using a VA Form 22-1990, Application for VA Education Benefits. We strongly suggest speaking to a VA representative who specializes in the GI Bill to understand your benefits and options!

Finding a Military-Friendly School

Many schools advertise themselves as “military-friendly,” but sometimes that is just marketing. It’s important to take the time to find out what benefits they actually offer to veterans. Keep in mind, the term military-friendly may mean different things for an active duty troop versus a veteran who is now a civilian student.

For example, if you’re still on active duty, then a school that offers mostly online courses may be a friendly option because it is so flexible. But if you’re a civilian who wants to attend at least some courses in person, then military-friendly might mean the school has a VA representative on-hand to assist with figuring out your paperwork. Or it could mean there’s a strong veteran presence on campus, with a dedicated space or building where veterans can hang out, study, and hold events.

Another big indicator of military-friendliness? Giving college credits for military training! Separating personnel should obtain a copy of their Joint Services Transcript, listing any training approved for credit by the American Council on Education. Not every college will count every item as meeting their credit requirements, but friendly ones will try and go the extra mile to do so! That said, you want to avoid enrolling in a degree mill that doesn’t truly offer a good value for your investment.

A third huge indicator of military-friendliness is when a school participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program. “The Yellow Ribbon Program can help you pay for higher out-of-state, private school, foreign school, or graduate school tuition and fees that the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover,” writes Veterans Affairs. Note, both the school and the student must meet eligibility criteria to participate.

Find Your Support Network

Not every college has a big network of veterans, but that doesn’t mean they’re not around in the local area. It might take some research to find them but it’s well worth it!

Connecting with fellow vets is a great way to feel supported during the transition from military life back into the civilian world. It’s especially important for college students because figuring out college is often very stressful. It’s easy to feel isolated, which may negatively impact one’s college experience and increase the odds of dropping out.

Not only that, but the majority of students have much different life experiences than veterans who have often traveled a lot, held positions of great responsibility, and possibly deployed into combat environments. Suffice it to say, veterans’ experiences can shape their perspectives and priorities in a way that leaves them uncomfortable around civilians.

Most colleges have knowledgeable counselors able to help veteran students connect with local resources. Meanwhile, veteran communities are out there, always ready and eager to welcome fellow vets into the fold!


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