Going to College as a Veteran? Here’s What You Need to Know

Going to College as a Veteran? Here's What You Need to Know

by Sarah Landrum, Guest Contributor

The military provides an intense sense of community that’s difficult to convey to someone that hasn’t experienced it. There’s the military discipline, of course, but there’s also a support structure in place for families. In the military, families help other families. Even when your spouse is on deployment, you’re never completely alone unless you want to be.

Going to College as a Veteran? Here's What You Need to Know

When a service member decides not to reenlist, it’s time to start the next chapter of your lives–and it’s important to do it as a team because you’ll be leaving much of that support structure behind.

Military to Civilian Transition

By now you’re more than aware of how difficult the military to civilian transition can be on you and your spouse. You might be concerned about relocating or how to help with issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health issues and physical disabilities. Losing your military community–should you choose to move away from the base– can make these big issues seem insurmountable.

Don’t panic, though; this isn’t an impossible change. The good news is that the right college program can help your spouse adjust to these changes.

Many colleges offer clubs or even private sections of the campus for military students to gather, making it possible for a veteran to connect with other students. Think Animal House with (hopefully) less high jinks. Having other former military members as students can be a big help to making this transition less stressful.

If you want to make sure that there is a firm support structure available for a veteran, start looking for a college based on what type of veteran services they offer. There are colleges that cater to veterans and their spouses and are clearly arranged to help veterans and sometimes even spouses succeed in academia.

Look into the Student Veterans of America and see if one of their chapters is housed at a campus that your spouse might be interested in attending.

How to Choose a College

Does your spouse know what he or she wants to go to school for? What about the decision between a two-year college or four-year university?

A traditional four-year university is a good fit because it provides complete immersion in college life. A two-year college is a decent way to go to school part time, but the odds of your veteran gathering and maintaining a network of peers decreases.

Before you narrow your list down, make sure that the college is approved by the VA.

You’d think all colleges would have equal benefits for vets, but that’s not the case. Use a comparison tool to make sure you’re getting the most out of your military benefits.

Comparing VA-approved colleges is also a useful way to keep out of debt. Just because a veteran can use a GI Bill to go to school doesn’t mean that they can’t wind up with student loans.

Related: 3 Signs That Your For-Profit College or University Is Shady

Once a college is selected, ask your spouse to attend an orientation to learn more about the college, including financial aid and housing. Some colleges have unique housing options that can help prevent a live version of Road Trip.

Military Transcripts and College Credit

As your other half moves through the proper channels to access the GI Bill remember to check on additional sources of aid, such as transferring military transcripts and experience to college credit.

Even if your veteran has never taken a college class, he or she might still be able to transfer some of their military experience as college credit. This can be a difficult process, so proceed with patience.

First, ask the veteran to locate the necessary military transcripts. These can be requested from:

  • Army/American Council on Education Registry Transcript System (AARTS)
  • Sailor/Marine American Council on Education Registry Transcript (SMART)
  • Community College of the Air Force Transcript Request Forms (CCAR)
  • Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES)

Another way to transition military skills to college credit is to sign up for the College Level Examination Program, better known as a CLEP exam. Depending on your veteran’s background, he or she might already be qualified to take language, math or one of 33 exams offered. There is a cost to take the exam, but if a veteran was stationed in Germany for 10 years, it’d be financially worthwhile to pay for the exam and skip two college classes.

Join the Civilians

Finally, do your own part to help your spouse to adjust to college and civilian life by mixing with new people. You should both spend time with nonmilitary people to help you adjust.

Part of college is expanding the way you view the world. You’ve both been embroiled in a way of life far removed from the beer-pounding, book-reading lifestyle that is college. Just keep in mind the lesson from Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne in Neighbors– don’t try to be the cool older neighbors to a fraternity. Just say no.

You’ve been the homefront cheerleader for years and now it’s finally your time to spend time together as a family. College is an excellent way for a veteran to transition back to civilian life because of the programs and peers available to help. Encourage your vet to reach out to his or her new community and learn how to enter the civilian workforce.

College is a safe, fun environment that encourages personal growth. So relax, order some textbooks and move together into this next exciting chapter of your lives.

Sarah Landrum Sarah Landrum is a writer and founder of Punched Clocks, a site dedicated to helping readers navigate the work world. Growing up with military family, she is passionate about supporting those who serve our country. Follow @SarahLandrum on Twitter for more great tips.

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