As members of the military return from Iraq and Afghanistan, many are looking to take advantage of the new GI Bill, which pays all resident tuition and fees for a public school or $17,500 per academic year at a private school.
Many find the transition difficult and don’t know where to begin choosing a school.
“It’s just really hard leaving the military and making the transition from military life to civilian life. You really don’t know how your military job is going to correlate to the outside world,” says Tahitia, who is studying to be an archaeologist, in a video on the GI Bill website.
Student Veterans of America (SVA) is available to help with that transition by offering support and resources to military veterans. According to the SVA website, 500 chapters have been started since 2008 at colleges across the country.
“More and more schools are not just saying they are vet-friendly, but really are trying to be helpful,” Brett Morris, a retired lieutenant colonel and now associate director of veterans affairs at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) in Richmond, told The Christian Science Monitor. Military Times EDGE magazine ranked the school No. 2 for vets this year in its Best for Vets: Colleges 2011 list behind Concord University in West Virginia. Last year, the magazine ranked EKU first.
To ease the transition from military life to college life, some colleges waive application fees, offer in-state tuition regardless of state of residency, give priority registration, give credits for learning in the military or have a veterans center.
Aside from finding out what services colleges offer veterans and checking how the schools rank, how do veterans choose the school that is right for them?
Veterans can start with the Factors to Consider When Choosing a School fact sheet on the GI Bill website, or with the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges Consortium, which has put together a list of 1,900 member schools that enroll high numbers of veterans every year.
Native American veterans will even find some tribal colleges on that list including Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Minnesota and Blackfeet Community College, Fort Belknap College, Fort Peck Community College, Salish Kootenai College and Stone Child College, all in Montana.
Consortium president Kathy Snead told The Christian Science Monitor that veterans should also ask questions that are important to them, which could include how alumni fare in the job market and how easy it is to transfer credits.
Veterans may also want to inquire about peer support for veterans while looking for the college that is right for them.
The University of Maine at Augusta has a lounge where veterans can connect and support each other through the difficult transition, and Craig Jackson, a 22-year Navy veteran, is a peer mentor there. He says the support of other veterans can be the deciding factor between giving up and dropping out or sticking it out and graduating.
“If a guy says, ‘One of the students said something about the war and I didn’t like it,’ I’ll say, ‘That’s what you fought for. You want to thank them for using that right [to free speech] so that you didn’t do it in vain.’ That makes them feel better,” Jackson told The Christian Science Monitor.