The conversation surrounding veterans and college can be a complex one. Veterans don’t come to college straight out of high school. They have a unique set of life circumstances, and they tend to know what they want from their education. At the same time, other factors can make attending college as a veteran potentially more complicated.
Smart Questions Military Vets Should Ask Before Choosing a College
There are so many colleges and universities that market themselves to veterans, and it can be tough to work through the options. Choosing the best college as a veteran is a complex decision, one that requires weighing many factors. It’s about more than just finding the school with the best perks or vet-friendly program. The ultimate goal is to choose a program that will enable you to succeed after graduation, not just during your college experience.
Once you’ve identified a few colleges and universities with programs that interest you, you’ll need to ask a series of smart questions with each. Schedule time with an admissions counselor at each school that you’re seriously considering.
Post University is here to help you, no matter what college you choose to attend, with eight questions veterans should get answers to before starting class:
Download your Military Service Member’s Guide to learn everything you need to
know about earning a college degree online.
What Is Your Tuition and Fees Structure?
For many veterans, cost is a significant factor when choosing a college. This important question must be a part of your conversation with each school. Typically, you’ll encounter a per-credit cost, but there are almost always additional fees to consider as well. If you plan to be a residential student, be sure that the admission counselor includes room and board costs in this information.
This is one of the most important questions to ask before enrolling because it plays into several of the other questions and can have a long-lasting effect on veteran students.
Do You Offer Financial Aid and Assistance for Veterans?
Just about every veteran can access tuition assistance through the military. Available programs include the GI Bill, the Tuition Assistance Top-Up, and a wide range of other smaller programs. But there’s more to the conversation than just federal assistance.
Many colleges and universities offer competitive rates or tuition discounts to veteran students as well as active-duty military who qualify. Whatever your service affiliation or status, be sure to inquire about what financial aid and assistance packages are available to veterans.
Once again, don’t forget about the fee structure for each school. Some veterans’ assistance programs cover or discount tuition, but you may still be required to pay fees, book costs, and more.
On a related note, some veteran students looking for financial aid or scholarships might wonder about the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges program or SOC. The SOC was a network of over 1900 schools that agreed to simplify both residency requirements and the process of transferring credits for servicemembers. Unfortunately, the program ended in March 2019. So, SOC affiliation is no longer a relevant question to ask before enrolling.
Is the Institution Accredited?
Just about every serious academic institution will possess institutional accreditation. Accreditation simply means that a DOE recognized accrediting agency has evaluated an institution and has determined that the institution meets the standards required of the accrediting agency. Accreditation is, therefore, a mark of quality.
Practically, though, there’s more at stake here. Many employers who require a college degree will expect or even explicitly require that the degree be from an accredited institution. The same goes for graduate schools. (And for that matter, if you plan to access GI Bill funds, you’ll need to choose an accredited school.)
Regional accreditation is generally considered to be the gold standard. However, certain specific degree programs or disciplines (such as nursing or accounting) may have other forms of accreditation. Take time to determine what sorts of accreditation are common in your desired field, and then make sure to ask whether each school on your list has the accreditation you’re looking for.
Can You Provide General Course Information for Specific Degree Programs?
These days, it’s pretty common for universities to publish sample course schedules and general course information on their public websites. That said, doing so isn’t a universal practice, and those example course schedules are just that—examples.
You should ask the admissions counselor at each prospective school to provide general course information for specific degree programs of interest to you, plus any schedule considerations. Many institutions offer certain courses only during certain semesters. It’s important to make sure you can fit all the needed courses into a coherent schedule that finishes up in the timeframe you intend.
What Is the Typical Program Completion Time?
Speaking of timeframe, it’s important to understand that not every program takes the same amount of time. Yes, there are many programs that still fall into the traditional two- or four-year schedules, but schedules aren’t nearly as rigid as they used to be.
Many programs offer flexible scheduling, either allowing students to finish coursework at an accelerated pace or while continuing to work full-time. There are pros and cons to traditional, accelerated, online, hybrid, and evening schedules—whatever you choose, completion times can vary considerably.
Take the time to ask about typical program completion times for your degree program. While you’re at it, ask about what schedule options are available for the program.
Does the school accept transfer credits from military training and experience?
An important question to ask of the school you plan to attend is does the school evaluate your military and life experiences for credit toward your degree. Having your military service recognized for possible college credits can shorten the time it will take for you to complete your degree program. Not only does this save time, but will also save you money and provide you the opportunity to use your educational benefits to earn an advanced degree.
The school should be able to provide you with a transfer evaluation based on your Joint Services Transcripts, Community College of the Air Force Transcripts, Marine Corps Institute Transcripts, or Coast Guard Institute Transcripts. Based on your branch of service, your military training and experience is referenced and in most cases will show credit recommendations from the American Council on Education colleges can use to evaluate your military training and experience for college transfer credits.
What Career Services Are Offered?
Today’s veteran students know that classroom learning isn’t enough. One of the most critical questions to ask before choosing a college is in the arena of career services. What kinds of support does a college provide for graduates (or soon to be graduates) looking for post-educational employment?
Earning high marks in a degree program is critical for success in many high-prestige careers, but the grades and degrees are only part of the equation. You also need to connect with desirable employers in your field who are looking for graduates from your program.
Not every school is equally well connected to the job market. And within a given school, various degree programs often have varying levels of career placement success. Ask which employers and businesses your chosen program has formal or informal connections with. If the program is a strong one, you’ll receive an impressive answer. If the answer is vague or thin, you might want to look elsewhere.
Alumni networks are another part of this puzzle: If a school has many successful alumni in, say, business, those alumni may target graduates of their alma mater when hiring. Do some investigating about the size and activity of the alumni network.
Don’t be afraid to ask your admissions counselor direct questions about this. What percentage of graduates in a program are employed in their field within a year of graduation? Before graduation? Many institutions track this information, and they should be willing to share it.
Of course, there can be other aspects to career services, including remedial training, resume assistance, job fairs, and more. Make sure you know what each prospective school is (and isn’t) doing for its graduates.
Are There Online Options?
The traditional four-year, on-campus residential model of university studies may be exactly what you’re looking for. Increasingly, though, students are looking for a greater amount of flexibility. This is certainly the case for many older students with some life experience, including veterans or active-duty personnel. Even if you’re planning to attend school full-time, you may have family responsibilities that make all-day classes untenable.
Many colleges and universities offer courses and even entire degree programs in an online format. These courses and programs are just as rigorous as their in-person counterparts—and often just as expensive. Some are synchronous (instruction in real-time, like an in-person class) and others are asynchronous (take at your convenience). Either way, they offer a level of flexibility that on-campus learning cannot.
While you may come across fully online courses or degree programs, you’ll also likely find some hybrid programs that require a short time (weeks or a semester) on campus while allowing you to complete most coursework online.
If you’re unsure about committing to the residential college experience, then at the top of your list of questions to ask before enrolling should be whether the college offers online learning and how that experience works.
What Are Some of the On-Campus Facilities & Amenities?
If you’re considering an in-person education, there’s one more very important consideration: the quality of the campus life experience. What are the on-campus facilities like? Is the campus full of ivy-covered brick and towering heritage trees, or does it look like a repurposed retail space? Are the classrooms spacious and equipped with technology, or cramped and dilapidated?
Also, ask about any amenities important to you. If you require accessible facilities, be sure to ask detailed questions on this topic. Many campuses contain older buildings that may not be up to modern accessibility standards.
The decision of which college to attend as a veteran is a complex one with many overlapping factors. These eight questions to ask before choosing a college will help you learn what you need to know to succeed and even thrive in your educational journey.
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