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From Combat to the Classroom

by Madison Linnihan

Going back to college after serving in the military can be a difficult decision to make. There are a lot of different factors to consider. Oftentimes, people don’t know where they should begin in the process.

However, college campuses all over the country are becoming increasingly more veteran-friendly. While you may have a lot of questions regarding veteran programs at colleges, there are many resources available to help ease your transition.

Where do I start?

First things first, before you start applying to schools, do your research. The Post-9/11 GI Bill can help pay for your school, so check to see if you meet the qualifications. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “For approved programs, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits, generally payable for 15 years following your release from active duty.” Additionally, the Post-9/11 GI Bill also includes different types of training, such as tutoring, flight training, and vocational and technical training, to name a few.

Sandra Henry, an administrator at the Troy for Troops Center at Troy University, explains that veterans need to take advantage of their benefits before they lose them. She encourages all veterans considering attending college to contact a certifying VA official and inquire about their financial aid options.

Joshua Mendez, an incoming freshman at Northwest Florida State College and Air Force veteran, encourages veterans considering a college career to be inquisitive. “There are more programs for veterans than just the Post-9/11 GI Bill, so do what you need to do and find the right school for you,” he says. He also advises veterans thinking about college not to get discouraged throughout the process. “People want to help you and answer your questions,” he explains.

Sonja Griffin, the head of the VA Work Study Program at Troy University on the Dothan Campus, also has experience as a student veteran. Like Mendez, Griffin also admits that she wishes she knew how much support was available for veterans before she started her college process. She explains that she’d already decided to attend Troy University before even talking to a VA official, and she wishes she knew how willing they were to help her along the way.

Should I Go Back to School?

Mendez explains that he’s grateful that he made the decision to further his education. Mendez also works in the Veterans Affairs office at Northwest Florida State College, and he says that watching other veterans pursue a college career is what gave him the push to do it as well. He admits that he feels like he owes it to his family to get a college education and there are far too many veteran benefits for him not to pursue a degree. “You sacrifice a lot for Uncle Sam when you’re in the military, so take advantage of the educational benefits that he gives you in return,” says Mendez.

Like Mendez, Griffin explains that her family influenced her decision to return to school as well. She chose to go back to school when her son was about to graduate high school. “I wanted to set an example for my son and show him how a college education could benefit him as well,” Griffin says, “Your mind just opens up when you attend a university. It’s the best thing that you could ever do for yourself. Don’t be afraid to embrace it.”

Administrators at VA offices all over the country agree that veterans are some of the best students on campus. “Veterans have combattested hearts for service, and when they engage on campus they are a huge asset,” Davis says. Veterans are extremely diligent, hard workers and every university wants students like that. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and take the next step in your education.

What are Things I Should Consider When Choosing a School?

While everyone loves to have options, it can be challenging to choose the right program for you if you have too many. Luckily, there are many people involved in Veterans Affairs who will gladly support you throughout this process. Many schools have thriving programs for active and retired military members.

Military-Friendly Universities

Sarah Terry, Military and Veterans Resource Center Assistant Director of Campus Engagement at UWMilwaukee, has advice for veterans searching for the right program. She encourages veterans to look at the rankings for the best colleges for veterans on sites like US News & World Report if they are looking nationally. However, if they have a certain geographical region in mind, she advises veterans to check out local colleges’ Veterans Affairs pages. She also strongly recommends is checking to see which schools have Student Veteran organizations on campus, like Student Veterans of America (SVA).

Academic Resources

Like UW-Milwaukee, many other universities offer similar assistance and aid for veterans. Troy University, a Yellow Ribbon Program, for example, has a renowned program for both active duty military members and veterans, called Troy for Troops. The Troy for Troops Center is an area on campus that provides resources for VA students and allows them to socialize with one another. “Military members don’t always like to be a part of the mainstream, so this center allows them to meet people with similar backgrounds and ease the transition,” Henry explains.

Opportunities for Family Involvement

The VETS Program Manager at Baylor University, Kevin Davis, encourages veterans to look into how VA programs include families. Oftentimes, military members already have families of their own by the time they retire from service, so it’s important to look at programs that will allow you to incorporate your family into your education. For example, Baylor University, another Yellow Ribbon Program, has a family outreach program for VA students. This past year they held a variety of family friendly events, like Halloween Mask Making and a trip to Urban Air Trampoline Park. Childcare opportunities are also something that perspective VA students should research before choosing a school.

“There are more programs for veterans than just the Post-9/11 GI Bill, so do what you need to do and find the right school for you.” Joshua Mendez, Northwest Florida State College

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