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Veteran’s Guide to Online College Success

Helping Veterans Reach Their Academic Goals with Resources, Tips & Expert Advice

Two million World War II veterans took advantage of the newly established GI Bill in the aftermath of battle, gaining degrees and moving into meaningful professional roles after service. Yet today’s student veterans are dropping out at alarming rates – a 2012 study found that 88 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans left school after their freshman year. This guide is for student veterans looking for extra support and resources to gain a college degree.

Meet the Experts

As of 2013, there were approximately one million student veterans using their GI Bill benefits for education, with this number expected to grow by 20 percent in the coming years.

62 percent of student veterans are the first in their families to attend college.

Student veterans account for approximately 4 percent of all undergraduates.

61 percent of student veterans take class online, during the weekend, or at night.

Of the 89 percent of student veterans who applied for financial aid, 85 percent received funding – the average amount being $9,900.

Sources: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs; American Council on Education

Life in College as a Veteran: Challenges & Tips

Help for Veterans Choosing a School

Looking for the perfect school involves ensuring the college chosen is military-friendly, while also finding majors and degree paths that cater to current interests and future career goals. Tips for students just starting the process include:

  • Look for a properly-accredited school.

    Finding a school with proper and current accreditation is the first critical step, as attending an institution that hasn’t successfully completed this process can cause severe trouble for students and alumni later. Examples include trouble being hired, difficulties transferring, or rejection from advanced degree programs. The U.S. Department of Education maintains an up-to-date list of accredited schools in America.

  • Look at the VA’s list of approved schools.

    Before committing to a particular college or program, prospective student veterans need to use the VA’s WEAMS Institution Search tool to ensure that schools they’re considering are approved for GI Bill funding.

  • Compare benefits available at different schools.

    The Veterans’ Administration offers a GI Bill comparison tool to see how attending public versus private, or campus versus online can affect the disbursement of GI Bill funding.

  • Find out if credit is available for prior military training.

    Colleges and universities following the American Council on Education Military Guide frequently offer credits for courses taken or occupations held while in the military. Depending on their years of service, some student veterans may be able to gain credits and graduate early.

  • Review the VA’s list of considerations before selecting a school.

    The VA makes available a comprehensive online guide discussing factors to consider when choosing a college and how to use the GI bill most effectively.

Special Programs for Vets

In addition to traditional GI Bill benefits, lots of other governmental and private institution programs offer support systems to student veterans. The key to accessing these services is doing research, speaking to knowledgeable administrators, and starting early.

Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Educational Support, or DANTES, is a program that funds subject standardized tests at military bases and college campuses throughout the United States. Based off the belief that active and veteran college students possess knowledge and skills from their time in the military, DANTES operates similar to CLEP programs that allow students to gain college credits for existing knowledge. Rather than taking a full class, eligible students can pass a subject examination and gain credit. Examinations are available for 150 different subject areas at present time, with most allowing three credits per test passed. Examples include:

  • College Algebra

  • Business

  • Management Information Systems

  • Personal Finance

  • Statistics

  • Technical Writing

  • Cybersecurity

  • World Religions

  • Organizational Behavior

  • Public Speaking

  • Supervision

  • Human Resource Management

Aside from DSST opportunities, DANTES provides numerous other college-related benefits for individuals transitioning out of the military and into higher education, including:

  • Distance Learning Readiness

    DANTES Distance Learning Readiness Self-Assessment (DLRSA) helps student veterans ascertain whether they are prepared for the rigors of online education.

  • Joint Services Transcript

    In partnership with the American Council on Education, DANTES provides college credit recommendations based on previous military experience, training, and education.

  • Kuder Journey

    This service is available to service members transitioning to civilian life who need specific career planning and guidance in taking their next steps.

  • MyVolEdPath

    This app, available via iTunes and GooglePlay, provides easy access to a wealth of resources related to taking advantage of military education benefits.

  • Servicemembers Opportunity College

    Some servicemembers may elect to begin work on their college education while still active, but it can be difficult given mobility issues. DANTES’ SOC program works to ensure that educational policies and practices work to make it easier for servicemembers to gain college credits.

  • SOC Career and Technical Education

    Through this program, DANTES maintains an active list of certificate programs that accentuate existing skills gained in the military and have bright outlooks for job growth and stability in the coming years.

Established in 1994 as a Department of Defense initiative, the program is now run by DANTES and the National Defense Authorization Act. The purpose of Troops to Teachers is three-fold: to help student veterans become teachers, to provide role models in schools and to help schools address teacher shortages in critical subjects. All current and former members of the Armed Forces are eligible to participate in this program, provided their last period of service was characterized as honorable and they have an interest in pre-K through high school education employment.

Once approved for the program, participants are eligible to receive a range of counseling services, including assistance in understanding certification requirements, finding appropriate programs and identifying opportunities that best fit individual needs. Participants also receive help in preparing for interviews and finding a teaching job upon graduation.

Schools available to graduates of TTT include public, charter and Bureau of Indian Affairs school centers. To be eligible, TTT applicants must plan to teach one of the critical subjects. These currently include math, science, foreign language, career-technical or special education.

Expert Advice for Student Veterans

Tracey Bowen Bell is an academic success coach currently living in Miami, Florida. With over 18 years of experience teaching student life skills courses, as well as advising college students, she is well-equipped to effectively provide personal, academic and career counseling for veterans in need of assistance in these areas. Her passion is working with high school and college students.

What are you top five tips for former members of the military who are transitioning to college?

  • Establish a support system on and off campus.

    Identifying key people in offices such as financial aid, academic advisement, disabilities services is critical to student support, especially for a veteran. It is better to have relationships established before a need arises so that when the need for help arises, these individuals are seen as allies rather than strangers.

  • Keep things as simple as possible.

    If you are going to school full-time, work part-time or not at all. Use your benefits to keep expenses low so that the need for high work hours is decreased. Focus on the joy of being a student.

  • Get engaged in campus activities. 

    As a non-traditional student, the urge to “stay to yourself” can be high. Resist the urge, don’t do it. Getting involved creates ownership and a sense of community. Visit the office of Student Life for information on clubs and campus organizations. If there is an office dedicated to serving veterans, they may have a schedule of activities designed to engage veterans.

  • Maintain proper self-care.

    College is stressful. Being a veteran can be stressful. Maintaining healthy habits that keep you at your best will go a long way towards alleviating stress and increasing productivity. Activities such as working out, meditation, attending support groups and enjoying planned down time are all very important.

  • Look for alternative methods to obtain credits for graduation.

    redits from military courses and CLEP exams can give you needed credits towards your degree, allowing you to complete earlier and move on to the higher degree.

How and where can students best find support when applying to and attending college? 

Many schools have an office or designated staff person who is there to assist veterans. These individuals are there to make the admissions and registration process easier as well as serving a liaison between the student and the VA. During the initial contact with a school, veterans should ask about the existence of such services. 

What are some resources that student veterans may not think ofon their own? 

Many veterans may not realize that there is a designated office for students with disabilities. In addition to physical conditions, services such as tutoring, additional time on time on test and being able to rest in a quiet room may be available for veterans with challenged with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Even those in addiction recovery can get assistance. 

What encouragement can you provide to student veterans who feel overwhelmed by all that comes from transitioning from service to higher education?

Do not give up and do not stop asking for help. Help is available through people who consider it a privilege to serve those who have served our country. As I shared with a young veteran who was apologetic about how much he did not know about going to college, “Do not apologize for choosing to give of yourself and time to serve our country. You have earned the right to be here and I sincerely thank you for your sacrifice.”

Resources for Student Veterans

The resources listed below are examples of the help available to student veterans on college campuses. When researching schools, be sure to ask if there are similar accommodations and programs available to veterans.

  • Collegiate Veterans Success Center

    The University of Florida provides this designated space where veterans can study, find on- and off-campus resources, and spend time with fellow veterans.

  • Course Equivalency Tool

    SUNY Oneonta offers this helpful service to veteran students looking to understand how military equivalences factor into required coursework for their chosen degree.

  • Veterans Legal Clinic

    The University of San Diego offers this free service to veterans who are in a legal dispute with an educational institution regarding their GI Bill funds or other educational loans. The clinic also provides support with VA disability claims and military service discharge characterizations.