Frequently, military members heading to college ask: “Where should I go to school?"
It’s impossible to answer that question without knowing the student and understanding his or her goals first. However, I can share some trends that I’ve witnessed lead to the right decision, and perhaps as important, trends that led to choosing the wrong school.
Choosing a school has a tremendous impact on your success. The “right" college is the school that will help you reach your education and career goals in the timeframe your G.I. Bill allots. The “wrong school" makes you want to transfer (or drop out) at some point, because it’s a bad match.
As a G.I. Bill user, you don’t have time to “test" schools. If you start a semester and you don’t succeed, you will lose that portion of your G.I. Bill. Therefore, evaluating a school ahead of time is a critical step to ensure you reach your goals. As a first look check out the school's accreditation source, graduation rate, and student default rate. VA comparison tool is a valuable resource to accomplish this task.
The most common reason why a veteran chooses a school is location. This usually means the school is in their hometown or near their last duty station. Often times, this isn’t enough to help you succeed. The positive aspects of location is that your family and friends can be a wonderful support network.
You may also be a reservist and need the convenience of staying near your duty station. But, if the school is supposed to pave a path toward your future career goal, program choice is better criteria than location. In other words, it does not matter if you nail it at culinary school if you don’t want to be a chef, right? School selection starts with the end goal.
Evaluating a college’s veterans program is also a major component of consideration when deciding on a school. Being a veteran comes with a powerful advantage: an amazing community support system. We have each other’s back. You should enter a college and already have a support team in place. Here is a list of questions I would ask the veterans director when evaluating a veterans program:
A good answer: Number isn’t as important as activity.
Most veteran centers see a 10-15 percent engagement rate. I don’t recommend being insular with your veterans community but hearing things like: "We have a certifying official/tutoring/career coaching/volunteer groups," etc., means there is community of support which you can lean on and contribute to. Also ask, "Do you have an SVA Chapter (Student Veterans of America)? This is good sign of student leadership.
A good answer: Yes.
Mentorship is crucial to navigating the pathway toward your goals. Connecting with veterans who a bit further down the road than you is an invaluable resource. Mentorship programs which feature peers and alumni lead to job preparation and connection.
A good answer: Yes.
Students veterans often work part-time jobs, have families, and most are commuters. Some students are even mobilized to active duty during their college career. This means that veterans are rarely together under the same roof, and therefore the center should accessible online.
In summary, look for a school with program choices and a school culture that fit your particular needs. These are the most important variables. And, above all else, developing a community, via mentorship from your fellow veterans, supporters, and staff, is the key to a successful college career.