Veteran’s Guide to Online College Success

While the GI Bill enables service veterans to pay for college, there are several resources available to help ensure academic success of student veterans.

October 19, 2021

Veteran’s Guide to Online College Success

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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.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA). More information about educational benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.

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

Life in College as a Veteran: Challenges and Tips

Understanding educational benefits available under the GI Bill

Since 1944, the GI bill has provided a range of benefits to veterans – including educational support. Benefits vary by type of school, but those who attend public schools may receive enough funding to pay for their entire education. Veteran students are also eligible to receive a monthly housing stipend and up to $1,000 per academic year for books and supplies.

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:

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.

DANTES

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:

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

Troops to Teachers

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

Bell is an academic success coach currently living in Miami, FL. 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.

Q. 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.

Q. 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. 

Q. 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. 

Q. 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

On-Campus

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.

The University of Florida provides this designated space where veterans can study, find on- and off-campus resources, and spend time with fellow veterans. SUNY Oneonta offers this helpful service to veteran students looking to understand how military equivalences factor into required coursework for their chosen degree. 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.

In the Community

Community services for veterans abound, and student veterans are well-served to look beyond the college environment to have their needs met. Below are some examples of community resources for student veterans.

A program operating within of the Department of Veterans Affairs, CWV has offices throughout the country to provide support and resources to female veterans.

Lots of transit authorities and metro governments – including Chicago Transit Authority, provide service passes for free bus rides. This national service provides 24/7 phone, text message, and online counseling services to veterans who need a little extra support.

Online

These online resources are merely the tip of the iceberg for student veterans needing support and assistance.

Student Veterans of America published this handy checklist of ways to ensure student veterans have positive, engaging learning experiences while in college. This comprehensive online publication provides an exhaustive list of resources available to veterans, including educational support services. The George Washington University in Washington D.C. put together this online handbook to help student veterans understand military education benefits, scholarships, and other helpful services. The Online Learning Department of the University of Georgia publishes this annual guide for student veterans enrolling via distance education. Aside from the many services provided by the VA, the department also maintains a wide-ranging list of other governmental or private resources that support student veterans. SF has many Student Veteran Resource Centers on college campuses across America to provide specific services to this population. This national nonprofit gives support to current student veterans and those who have graduated. The group maintains several chapters throughout the country. The University of Washington’s Center for Teaching and Learning offers these educational resources for professors looking to better serve student veterans. The New York Times provides this thoughtful piece that helps student veterans recognize the common experiences connected to returning from a warzone and entering higher education. The VA helps veteran students manage stress, find help, understand the effects of PTSD, and find campus services and benefits.

Financing Your Education

Paying for higher education is a hurdle that countless learners must pass each year, and student veterans are no exception. While the GI Bill has the potential to cover a large share of the cost of college, other financial aid may be needed.

Students qualifying for these waivers receive additional considerations and adjustments to their federal student aid package, provided they meet requirements. The U.S. Department of Education provides these grants, which mirror Pell Grants, to those who fought in either Iraq or Afghanistan in any branch of the military. This nonprofit organization provides interest-free loans, grants, education assistance programs, and scholarships to active service or veteran students. Operating as part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program covers all resident tuition and fees for student veterans attending a public school, or covers either the actual tuition and fees or the national maximum per academic year for a private school – whichever number is lower.

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