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.

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.

  • 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

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.

Learn More About Making College Affordable For Veterans

Veteran benefits administration

Aside from seeking information from the Veterans’ Administration, schools such as Vassar College have an entire portion of their website dedicated to understanding educational benefits for veterans and also have a veterans’ benefits administrator on staff to help students walk through this process.

Returning from a war zone

Military veteran students who experienced active fighting in a war zone may need extra counseling and support services to understand those experiences and be fully engaged in the classroom.

Online student mental health services

In addition to traditional campus-based counseling services, more colleges are ensuring online students have access to the same quality mental health resources. Drexel University’s online arm of the Office of Counseling and Health Services gives students a sense of what to look for in prospective schools.

Making friends as a nontraditional student

Veteran students are older than traditional, first-time freshmen, and oftentimes they elect to live off campus or in different types of housing. Making friends can be tricky at first, but plenty of schools offer social, cultural and academic groups that provide community.

General and military-specific student groups

Joining student organizations is a great path to community for campus-based learners, but what if you’re studying at a distance? Student Veterans of America offers ideas to online student veterans looking to get engaged and has online chapters at colleges throughout the country.

Managing time and being in charge of each day

Student veterans are used to being told exactly what they will and won’t be doing each day, and acclimating to the independent mindset of college can be difficult. In addition to picking classes, managing schedules and being responsible for showing up at a specific time, students must also learn how to plan in advance and juggle assignment deadlines and testing times.

Online and paper-based planners.

Tools like iCal and GoogleCalendar are great, free solutions for student veterans who need to instill some discipline and order in their days. Aside from running on desktops and laptops, both are available as apps via iTunes and GooglePlay.

Finding a community of shared experiences

Making civilian friends is important to student veterans, but perhaps even more important – especially during the transition phase – is finding other student veterans who have had similar experiences.

Military-connected organizations

Colleges like Georgetown University and American University understand that student veterans need avenues for connecting with others who had similar experiences in the military and are facing similar experiences adjusting to college. Both provide intentional services to help student veterans meet learners with similar experiences.

Female student veterans can face unique obstacles

Women service members make up approximately 15 percent of the military, yet services are often still man-centric. Issues surrounding sexual harassment and/or assault can be carried over after leaving the military, and female veterans need specific support mechanisms when transitioning from soldier to student.

Women’s Veteran Alliance

WVA offers myriad services to active and veteran female service members, including a full complement of educational and training resources to help them transition to and thrive in college.

Finding a career path can feel overwhelming

While serving their country, members of the military gain valuable knowledge and skills that can translate to civilian careers – if they are harnessed correctly. Student veterans sometimes need help assessing their skills, finding a career that interests them and deciding how previous experiences can benefit them during college.

Military-to-civilian translators

Military.com offers a free military skills translator and a free resume translator to help student veterans understand how to use their existing skills and knowledge when deciding on a major and pursuing a career.

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.


  • 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:

    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.


  • 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

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


  • 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.

    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.


  • 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.

    Center for Women 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.

    Military Service Buss Pass
    Lots of transit authorities and metro governments – including Chicago Transit Authority, provide service passes for free bus rides.

    Veterans Crisis Line
    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.

    7 Tips for Student Veterans Success
    Student Veterans of America published this handy checklist of ways to ensure student veterans have positive, engaging learning experiences while in college.

    California Veterans Resource Book
    This comprehensive online publication provides an exhaustive list of resources available to veterans, including educational support services.

    Dog Tags Handbook
    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.

    Helping Student Veterans Succeed
    The Online Learning Department of the University of Georgia publishes this annual guide for student veterans enrolling via distance education.

    Non-VA Resources for Student Veterans
    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.

    Sentinels of Freedom
    SF has many Student Veteran Resource Centers on college campuses across America to provide specific services to this population.

    Student Veterans of America
    This national nonprofit gives support to current student veterans and those who have graduated. The group maintains several chapters throughout the country.

    Teaching Student Veterans: Resources for Instructors
    The University of Washington’s Center for Teaching and Learning offers these educational resources for professors looking to better serve student veterans.

    The Hard Path from Afghanistan to the Classroom
    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.

    Veterans Administration Campus Toolkit
    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.

    Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act (HEROES) of 2003
    Students qualifying for these waivers receive additional considerations and adjustments to their federal student aid package, provided they meet requirements.

    Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
    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.

    Military Officers Association of America
    This nonprofit organization provides interest-free loans, grants, education assistance programs, and scholarships to active service or veteran students.

    Yellow Ribbon Program
    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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