Most people apply to college in their late teens and early 20s, but for those who’ve served in the military, this otherwise simple path to higher education is filled with twists and turns. As a veteran transitioning to civilian life, the change can be tricky — not only do you have to adjust to being a civilian again, but you also have to get used to becoming a student in a classroom.
You are more than qualified to overcome these challenges, but finding support along the way can make a significant difference. Here are some tips from Mortgages for America to help you capitalize on the many strengths you already have.
Going to School As a Veteran
According to Become, 85 percent of veteran students are 24 years old or older. Besides a military background, these students enter school with different needs than regular college-age students. Many veterans plan to attend college after they get discharged, but are unsure where to start in the process. These helpful tips will point you in the right direction.
Apply for GI Benefits Early
GI benefits are available in numerous packages and differ in the amount of money offered, depending on when and the amount of time you served. For instance, under the Post-9/11 Bill, students have 15 years to use their funds if their military time ended before January 1, 2003, and unlimited time if their service ended after that date. The first step you should take is to find out if you are eligible for the GI Bill. VA education benefits can help you pay for education and even pick out a future career, so you should take advantage of them. According to the VA, if you’ve reviewed the eligibility requirements, and you think you might be eligible, you will then need to collect the necessary documents to apply and determine what benefits you’ll get at the school you plan to attend.
In-Person School or Online Degree?
Now that you’re aware of your benefits, remember that you can attend school in-person or online, with some differences between these methods. Overall, getting an online degree helps you save money on textbooks, commuting, and campus expenses, but if you’re the type of person who prefers personal interaction, consider applying to a college somewhere in your town. Still, if you want flexibility and the option to form your schedule around other responsibilities or a job, then an online degree is the best option for you.
If you’re considering starting your own business, earning a degree is a great way to start. Your discipline and real world experience will be invaluable in college, and afterwards, as ZenBusiness points out, there are plenty of resources to help veterans who want to launch their own business.
Find a Campus Community
Once you leave active duty, you might find that you miss the sense of community you experienced in the military. Fortunately, numerous colleges and universities have activities and clubs meant to ease the transition to civilian life. Veteran-friendly colleges often have certified counselors, tutors, academic advisors, and benefits advisors to ensure veterans’ success. Connect with these people during campus visits as they will offer advice and guide you throughout the transition. They also support and sponsor activities to allow student veterans to get together and form a sense of community on campus.
Get Financial Aid and Scholarship
Although you may be using your military benefits, you are almost guaranteed to get a grant. A grant will be beneficial when attending any school, as the GI Bill might not fully cover tuition for certain educational institutions. You can check how much you would qualify for, and if you want to apply for a scholarship, ask the college’s veterans administrator or financial aid office to help you. Many organizations provide grants specifically for vets, including the VFW, American Veterans, DAV, Pat Tillman Foundation, The American Legion, Yellow Ribbon Program, and more.
Take Advantage of the Career Center
Being ex-military, you may have no prior work experience. Because of this, you may not know how to create a cover letter or put together your resume. Most colleges offer a career center, so take advantage of it because the experts there are ready to help you in whatever you need related to your career.
Your Next Mission
You are not alone. The college you choose is sure to have numerous other veterans in your situation. What’s important is to connect with fellow ex-military servicemen and women, and ask for help whenever you need it. Using the tips mentioned above will ensure your next mission is a successful one.