As a veteran returning to civilian life, the transition can be difficult. Not only does one have to adjust to being a civilian again but also adjust to becoming a student in a classroom. Many veterans plan to attend college soon after their discharge from the military, but where does one start in the process? These eight helpful tips will assist you in the process and give you an idea of the things to look into before you make your next big transition into college life.
- Understand what you are entitled to under the GI
Along with receiving benefits, which can be up to 36 months depending on your benefit percentage, it is essential to understand that you are entitled to a monthly housing allowance and an annual books and supplies stipend. Your Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) is typically the same as the military Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for an E-5 with dependents and depending on where your school is located; your MHA is based on the ZIP code of your school. Your yearly books and supplies stipend can be up to $1,000 and will be paid proportionately based on enrollment. It usually is dispersed before a semester begins. For more information, visit Post-9/11 GI Bill Payment Rates for 2017 Academic Year (August 1, 2017 – July 31, 2018).
- Part-time school or full-time?
Now that we understand our benefits, it is important to understand how many classes are considered part- vs. full-time and the difference it makes in pay. Usually, students must take a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester to be classified as full-time. You must be registered for course credits that constitute at least 51% of full-time status (for undergraduates, this is a minimum of 6.12 credit hours) to receive the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). In addition, avoid a drastic reduction in BAH, at least one credit hour per semester must physically take place on campus. Lastly, payments are paid at the end of the month based on the number of days enrolled, and the first and last payment is always prorated. For additional information on course credits and Basic Housing Allowance, visit How is Housing Allowance Paid.
- Search for colleges with a veteran population
A study shows that 80 percent of student veterans are over the age of 25, and 46 percent of student veterans have children. So, what does this mean? It means that we will stand out in the classroom because the classes will likely be comprised of students who just graduated high school. For some of us, it may be hard to relate and communicate with those students. The best thing to do is search for colleges with a veteran population. Those colleges will have veteran groups you could join and will bring you closer to others whom you can relate to. Become involved by attending veteran events, workshops and seminars. Volunteer to help with those events if you have time; it will be great for networking. Also, you may have professors who will understand you. Make friends with your professors. Ask questions. Let them know you are a veteran and tell them about your unique situation. They will be happy to have you.
- Your military coursework counts as credit
Depending on when you discharged from the military, you may be familiar with the JST (Joint Service Transcript) formally known as the SMART (The Sailor-Marine American Council on Education Registry Transcript). The JST will assist the academic institution you are applying for by awarding credit for the military occupational experience and training you completed while serving in the military. Receiving credit for military experience will enable you to complete your degree program more quickly. Now, the academic institutions establish their policies on transfer credit, so the amount of credit awarded will depend on your school’s administration and your degree program, but it does not hurt to try. There is no limit to the number of JSTs you can request, and they are free. To receive your JST, you can register online using the following link: https://jst.doded.mil/.
- Apply for financial aid and scholarships
You might be asking yourself, “Why apply for financial assistance if I am using my military benefits?” Answer: Because you are almost guaranteed to be eligible for a grant. A grant will be helpful if you are attending a college that will not be fully covered by the GI Bill. To see how much you would qualify for a grant, you can apply for the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). After you apply, they will send you information back on how much assistance you are eligible for. If you are interested in applying for a scholarship, ask your school’s veterans administrator or financial aid office. Some institutions that provide grants are the VFW, The American Legion, DAV, American Veterans, Pat Tillman Foundation, Yellow Ribbon Program and Veterans with Disabilities – Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program.
- Connect with a veteran’s administrator about your benefits
By now, you may be ready to begin applying for colleges. Before you do, there are two things you must remember. 1. Most colleges will waive the application fee because you are a veteran, and 2. Registration deadlines should not apply to you, or you may have your own early and late registration. Because all colleges are different, it is best to communicate with the veteran officer or veteran’s administrator at the college of your choice. Not only will they clarify this information for you, but they will also assist in informing you of all the documents you will need (for example, the JST transcript and DD214).
- Your academic advisor is there to help you
If there is anything we will miss about the military, it’s always having a mentor to go to and ask any question we may have or seek guidance on a subject. That is what an academic advisor is there for. Every college will have an academic advisor, that is, someone who is there to help you make a plan and decide what classes to take that are directed towards your goals. Usually, you’re academic advisor will only work with students in specific degree programs, so they will have a clear understanding of the options you may have as far as figuring out your degree plans from the first semester all the way up until you graduate.
- Take advantage of the career center
As veterans, it is possible that the only work experiences we have ever had were our military experience. For this reason, we may not be familiar with how to create a cover letter or resume or how to prepare for an interview. This is why your college offers a career center. Take advantage of the career center because it is there to help you. The employees will be able to assist with resume writing, interviews and any other job-related questions you may have. Many times, a college will host a resume or LinkedIn workshop as well as job fairs. Also, the career center would be able to assist you in finding an internship. Even if your major does not require an internship, it is recommended that you take as many as you can.
In conclusion, you are not alone. The college of your choice is sure to have many other veterans in your situation. What’s important is to connect with those veterans and ask for help whenever you feel the need to. Follow these tips to ensure your next mission is a successful one.