How Veterans Should Search for Best-Fit Colleges
Choosing where to attend college is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. As a veteran who may be planning to use the GI Bill, you have even more factors to consider than the average college student.
To search for the right-fit colleges, you should start by considering your personal interests, goals, and preferences. Then, see which schools accept the GI Bill and which will be most supportive of your needs as a veteran.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this big decision, start by asking the questions in this helpful guide.
What are your interests? How would you like to make a living?
When deciding on the right college for you, the first consideration is whether it paves a path to a career you’d enjoy. Perhaps you’ve already decided on your future career. If so, research what you should major in to jumpstart your dream job. Then, look for schools with solid, reputable programs in that major.
If you aren’t set on a career yet, consider questions like:
- What are my hobbies and interests?
- What do I enjoy learning about?
- How would I like to make a living?
- What salary would I want/need to earn?
At first, brainstorm as many ideas as possible. Don’t overthink or second guess yourself. Simply start making a list, then do your research to find careers that relate to your interests and goals. You may also ask family members or friends who know you well for suggestions.
Plus, check out My Next Move for Veterans. You can find information about specific careers, browse careers by industry, or even find careers similar to your military job.
Where do you want to attend school?
Location is another consideration. Now that you have more control over your location, you might like to pick a place that truly appeals to you.
The school you choose will be your home for about four years. But that’s not all: You may also land an internship and, eventually, a job in the same city you attend school. Choose a place you can see yourself living long-term.
What qualities do you care about in a college?
Next, think about the qualities that are important to you in a college. Potential factors to consider include:
- Do you want to attend a large school or a small school? Would you rather have 50,000 classmates or 5,000? Somewhere in between?
- Would you prefer to go to a public school or a private school? (Public schools are more affordable and may be fully covered by the GI Bill. However, some private schools are willing to offset costs through the Yellow Ribbon Program.)
- What activities would you like to be involved in at school? What kind of social life are you looking for? (For instance, does the school have good sports teams if that’s important to you? Greek life? Volunteer organizations?)
- What is the student-faculty ratio?
- Are there nearby internships and career opportunities? What about entertainment that you enjoy?
- Does the school have a career center, a writing center, and/or other tutoring programs?
Search colleges on Niche and dig deep into the profile pages of the schools that interest you. Much of this information is available there.
Some of these factors may be unimportant to you. But if you have strong opinions about any of the questions listed above, be sure to keep them in mind as you look for colleges that are right for you.
Does the school have a good reputation for job placement?
Ultimately, the purpose of attending college isn’t just to earn a degree. It’s to end up in a satisfying career.
Check statistics on job placement for the schools you’re considering. What percentage of students are working two years after graduation? What kind of salaries are they earning? This information is also available on college profile pages on Niche, under the “After College” tab.
You should also see whether the school has a career resource center that helps students with writing resumes, preparing for interviews, and making connections with potential employers.
Does the school provide solid internship opportunities? What else does the school do to ensure that students are career-ready? Ideally, the right school will support you in building job skills and finding employment.
Which schools are GI Bill approved?
While many of the questions above can apply to any prospective college student, these remaining two are specifically for veterans. One extremely important consideration for you is how to make the best use of your GI Bill benefits.
If you’ve served a minimum of 90 days of active duty in the military, the GI Bill will pay for at least a portion of your college education. You’re also eligible for a monthly housing allowance and an annual stipend for textbooks and school supplies.
There’s a catch, however: The GI Bill is not accepted at every college. Luckily, the VA offers a search tool to help you look for GI Bill approved schools. You can also call a school’s admissions department and ask if the school accepts the GI Bill.
In addition, keep in mind that the GI Bill will pay up to full tuition at an in-state public school (if you qualify for full benefits). The national maximum for a private or for-profit school for the 2019-2020 school year is $24,476.79. This amount tends to slightly increase each year.
So, it obviously makes sense to find a school that accepts the GI Bill. If your tuition won’t be fully covered, you may also want to look for a school that participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program. Schools in the Yellow Ribbon Program have an agreement with the VA to waive some or all of the costs not covered by the GI Bill. Use the VA’s interactive map to see which schools participate in the program.
How well does the school support veterans?
Finally, it’s a good idea to find a school that’s supportive of veterans. Many schools claim to be “military friendly,” but do your research to find a college that truly means this statement.
To find a school that’s genuinely friendly to your needs, the VA recommends looking for:
- Acceptance of transfer credits from other schools and/or credit for military training
- Access to mental health and medical support, academic accommodations, disability services, etc.
- Veteran programs such as a Student Veterans of America organization
- A hands-on, central point of contact to help veterans navigate the educational experience
- A designated location for student veterans offering a supportive, dependable environment
- Principles of Excellence participant (You can view the VA’s list of participants in the President’s Principles of Excellence Program using the GI Bill Comparison Tool.)
- Expanded housing options to accommodate the unique needs and preferences of student veterans
The VA explains that you should find a school where you’re a face, not just a number. An administration that listens to your needs and gives veterans a voice may help you feel more comfortable and supported throughout your college experience.
Final Thoughts: How Veterans Should Search for Best-Fit Colleges
Hopefully, this guide has helped you feel more confident about your search for the best-fit colleges. To find the ideal school for you, remember to consider:
- Your interests and goals
- Other personal preferences (e.g. public vs. private, size of the school, student activities, etc.)
- The school’s reputation for job placement
- Whether the school is GI Bill approved
- How well the school supports student veterans
By using the criteria listed here, you’re sure to find a college that meets your needs, provides you with an excellent education, and helps you land a career you’ll enjoy.
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