It's easy to search for "The Top Military-Friendly Colleges" and find lists that claim to have all the metrics thought out for you when you are considering which colleges are best for veterans. They post methodology and even boast copyrights of the term "Military Friendly."
Of course, ultimately, no metrics can really provide the best possible choice for you. You have to investigate specific programs, and the best way to do that is to talk to Veterans Services at a possible college. Is it difficult to find the veteran's services site? That's a red flag.
Speaking of red flags, you also have to consider the academic environment and the prevalence of fraudulent programs. While you'd imagine it unthinkable (not to mention unconscionable) that universities would try to take advantage of veterans, schools are still businesses, and the post-9/11 G.I. Bill represents over $9 billion in government benefits. Everyone is looking for their piece of that pie, whether their programs are deserving or not. There is no doubt that post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits make you a target for these scam programs, but there are ways to avoid being sucked in.
7 Red Flags of Scam Programs
- When you apply, ask about academic counseling and career placement services. If these are hard to come by, that is bad news.
- Check accreditation! Legitimate schools will be properly accredited. Without accreditation, your degree could be worthless (or at least, worth less). Some schools will even create faux accreditations. To avoid being a sucker, make sure you check accreditations (the U.S. Department of Education is a good place to start).
- If your school is (in)conveniently located in a small foreign country, but is only available to students in the U.S., be wary.
- Check testimonials, but remember that disreputable schools may provide falsified testimonials from "alums" or "students" who claim everything is fantastic. If you see multiple complaints online, that is a bad sign.
- Don't be fooled by a name: There are instances of schools using misspellings or changing University to College to try to scam students. Oxford University and Oxford College are not the same, for example (the latter is a scam). Along with this, be wary: Some organizations use names, seals and logos that look or sound like respected, legitimate military or educational institutions. Don't fall for it!
- If a school is super pushy, particularly about financial aid packages that they "offer," or if their overly engaging financial aid counselors are hounding you, that's a very bad sign. Real financial aid counselors just don't act that way.
- Is it possible to get a full bachelor's degree in just one year? Nope. If it sounds too good to be true, it almost definitely is.
So Who Can You Trust? To cut through the chaff of information and possible scams, it's usually best to go straight to the government site, which will have checked and re-checked the facts when it comes to this kind of thing. The VA's GI Bill Comparison Tool is a good place to start, it lists all schools that are approved for GI Bill beneifts.
Important Questions to Ask
While investigating a specific program, there are a few questions you'll want to get answers to right away:
- How much credit can I get for my military training? Inquire about their credit allowances not only for what is on your Joint Services Transcript provided by the American Council on Education, but possibly for occupational service as well. In addition, it is possible to take tests in place of some courses in order to move forward in your academic career more quickly. The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) includes 33 standardized tests in many subjects, and many veterans and their families can take these tests for free. The DSST exam process is another way that veterans have the chance to earn college credit. Before you apply to take these exams, however, make sure the institutions that interest you will take the credits. There are some other schools including Excelsior College, Thomas Edison State College and a few others that offer their own exams for students to take for credit.
- What KIND of credit? Make sure to ask not only how much credit you will receive, but also what kind of credit. Often schools will allow you to transfer "general" credits that will not apply to specific disciplines in a degree track. If possible, try to get your engineering experience (for example) to count as engineering credit and not just elective credit.
- How is the school committed to helping veterans? Are there services on campus for housing, family and personal counseling, and/or job placement? Of course, you'll want to know exactly what the school will give you for the G.I. Bill and find out about priority registration policies, which are used to help veterans earn their degrees before education benefits run out. Also, ask if the institution participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program or is a public school that charges in-state tuition to all out-of-state veterans. If they do participate in Yellow Ribbon, find out how competitive that is and if they are limited to only a certain number of students. A Veterans Services representative should be able to give you an idea of what to expect.
- Who can I talk to? The best way to really learn about veteran experience on campus is to talk to alumni. The Student Veterans of America has chapters on nearly 300 campuses and their Connect Alumni program can put you in touch with veterans from the school you're considering. In addition, 3,600 institutions have agreed to follow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Principles of Excellence program, which means providing a veteran's point of contact for academic and financial counseling and being on hand to prevent veterans from being exploited by dishonest recruiting practices.
Protecting yourself from scams will allow you to have the best possible academic experience at the school of your choice. Remember that as a veteran, you are a desired commodity for schools today—do not sell yourself short or downplay your experience. You served with pride, now show the college what that means for them.
About the Author Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL; editing essays and personal statements; and consulting directly with applicants.