There are literally hundreds of great schools that offer military servicemembers and veterans the opportunity to get their degree with little to no out-of-pocket expenses. The challenge is finding the right school.
Start by speaking to a college admissions advisor, and when you do, ask smart questions. This will help you to quickly determine if the school will fit your needs. Your questions should fall into four main categories: Tuition and Fees, Accreditation and Associations, Non-Traditional Credit Options, and General Course Information.
Tuition and Fees
Ask the advisor for an exact breakdown of the per-credit tuition cost, lab fees, administrative fees, and any other special fees. This is especially important if you are planning to use military tuition assistance. Tuition Assistance programs often have limits to the types of fees that are covered. In addition tuition assistance may pay up to 100% of the tuition costs, however in most cases TA is capped at $250 per semester credit hour and $4,500 per year.
Ask if the school offers scholarships, discounts, fee waivers, or book and tuition vouchers. Many schools offer these special programs to help military and veteran students take advantage of their benefits.
Accreditation and Associations
Ask about the school's accreditation. A school must be either regionally or nationally accredited to be eligible for the GI Bill and Tuition Assistance. Accreditation also helps to assure you that the degree you earn is valid. Schools that are not accredited are generally referred to as "Diploma Mills."
Ask if the school belongs to the Servicemembers Opportunities Colleges or is listed in the DANTES distance learning catalogs. These associations show a commitment to serving servicemembers and veterans. If you are planning to use your GI Bill be sure to ask if the VA has certified the program you want for GI Bill eligibility. You can confirm this by visiting the VA's GI Bill Comparison Tool.
Non-Traditional Credit Options
Ask about the school's policy on granting the American Council on Education recommended academic credits for military experience and the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) credit-by-exam tests. These programs can save you time and money, but not every school offers you full credit for these programs and some limit how the credits can be applied toward your degree.
General Course Information
Ask the advisor the following general questions about the course and delivery methods:
What degree programs does the school offer? How long are the courses? Are the courses back to back or do students take several at a time? Are courses offered online, in a classroom or both? How are the online courses delivered? How do students interact with the instructor and each other? What are the admissions deadlines? How many credits are required for a degree? Are course grades based on test scores, essays, or both?
With these questions answered you are well on your way to choosing the right school and using your education benefits to earn your degree!
Finding the school that fits your needs isn't impossible, but it does take some homework. Fortunately the Military.com School Finder has done much of this homework for you by eliminating the unaccredited schools and partnering with schools that are experienced in helping servicemembers and veterans reach their education goals.
You should verify what you are told by the admissions counselor. You can do this by asking for written confirmation or other references. Don't be rushed into enrolling - take your time - your school choice will impact your future.