For many prospective college students, finding the right school means locating the institution offering the best mix of challenging academics, a pleasant campus and a variety of socially enriching activities. For those in the military, whether active duty, reserves or recently discharged from service though, their concerns go beyond a desire for small class sizes or large dorm rooms. Because more military members are taking advantage of their military-sponsored tuition benefits — and more colleges are seeking to attract students with military experience — becoming a military-friendly college is a growing trend. Although many schools are perfectly adequate for service members and provide an excellent education, a school that is military-friendly offers an environment that is well-suited to current and former soldiers as well as the services and resources they need.
Why a Military-Friendly School Is Right for You
“I just want to take classes,” you might be thinking. “I’m not concerned about the other stuff.” The thing is, you should be concerned, because choosing a military-friendly school will make your educational experience more fulfilling and successful — and possibly less expensive.
Reintegrating into the academic environment after serving in the armed forces is not always an easy transition, but a military-friendly college will offer resources and support to make that process easier. A school that’s committed to the education of military members will also offer flexibility to current service members, allowing them to take distance courses or suspend their studies during deployment.
And military-friendly schools can save you money, allowing you to maximize the funds you’ve earned for your service. The training and education you received in the service is often equivalent to introductory courses, and by receiving credit for that experience, you can skip over those courses and finish your degree more quickly and for less money. Colleges catering to service members also offer additional funding in the form of military scholarships, grants and even discounts for your spouse and dependents.
What Makes a School Military Friendly?
Although almost any school can call itself military friendly — and is likely to welcome service members with open arms — there are some characteristics to look for when you’re comparing colleges on the basis of their military friendliness.
- Veteran’s services. A military-friendly college will have a wide array of services available to those who have served, generally consolidated into a veteran’s center or office. Ideally, these centers should be staffed by advisors who have an intimate understanding of everything from GI Bills and tuition assistance to transitioning from military to civilian life. Other services that are valuable to vets include networking and career assistance, as well as mentoring programs that help service members get the most out of their college experience.
- Generous transfer policies. Although most colleges will accept transfer credit from other schools, not all accept military experience for credit through programs like ACE. Getting credit for your experience, though, can save you time and money, so look for a school that grants credit for all your accomplishments. If you aren’t planning to transfer credit, finding a school that would allow you to do so is still a good idea, as it indicates a commitment to students who have served.
- Reintegration help. Some colleges with a high percentage of students who have served offer courses or workshops in reintegration, helping make the transition to civilian life and school easier. Schools might offer free tutoring services, for example, or accelerated basic courses to help students get up to speed.
- Financial support. Military-friendly schools offer additional funding options specifically for veterans and extend those options to other members of the family. For example, a military spouse can earn a degree at a discounted rate while her husband is deployed.
When you’re looking at any college, it’s important to ask questions and assess whether the school’s programs and policies fall in line with your goals and limitations. Develop a checklist of requirements, ask questions and look critically at each school to determine whether it’s a good fit for your needs. Doing so before you enroll will help ensure you successfully earn your degree and move into a satisfying post-military career.
Jeff Boden is a career counselor who specializes in working with veterans and recently discharged soldiers. He’s a veteran himself, having served as an enlisted soldier in the mid-1980s.