In an earlier post, I wrote about what to consider when thinking about your career path. Now it’s time to figure out what school will help put you on that path.
Below are some questions to think about when you begin to consider schools.
Question 1: Would my professional field respect a degree from the university or college I’m considering?
The life lessons learned while going to college are valuable, but what’s the point of a degree if it doesn’t lead to employment? Employers have a good idea about which colleges and universities have good standing in their professional field and which don’t. Therefore, choosing the right school for your particular discipline is crucial.
One thing employers look for is the kind of accreditations the school holds. The goal of accreditation is to ensure that the education provided by institutions of higher learning meets acceptable levels of quality. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs you can check out.
Another way to determine the respectability of a degree is to check the national ranking of the school and the program you’re considering. US News and World Report, one of the leading college and program ranking sources, can help you decide which schools make the grade.
Question 2: How well does the school support Veterans? Does it have a special support program for Veterans?
Many schools claim they are “Military Friendly” or “Veteran Friendly.” Look beyond the flashy advertising. Under no circumstances should you ever feel pressured, forced, misled or otherwise coerced into attending a school. If you feel you are, we want to know about it. You can tell us your concerns by contacting your State Approving Agency (SAA). SAAs are state employees who represent VA in these matters and you can find their contact info here.
The American Council on Education (ACE) has developed recommendations for schools to better serve Veterans. Ask your prospective schools about these points:
Transfer of credits from other schools or for military training. Your school should recognize your past coursework and transfer prior credit.
- Support from the surrounding community. Look for access to mental health and medical support, as well as support from the community in general, and involvement with service organizations or mentoring programs.
- A strong Veteran voice. An administration that listens to and involves Veterans in Veteran programs will serve you better.
- Veteran-specific points of contact. Individuals who specifically assist Veterans can cut through red tape and bureaucracy.
- A strong web presence. An area of the school’s website just for Veterans allows you to stay better informed regarding the issues important to you.
- Expanded housing options: Student Veterans may prefer to live with peers and shouldn’t be placed in dorms with students significantly younger than them.
Question 3: Will I get credit for my military training?
Policies concerning credit for military experience vary by school. Some colleges will award credit for military training courses but not for military occupational specialties. Ask your school if they follow the ACE guide to understanding how military training equals credit.
Question 4: If I transfer to another school later, will the credits from my first school be accepted at the new school?
This is a critically important issue and one where the answer varies. Remember, you have 36 months of GI Bill benefits. That equals four academic years of nine months each. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. In order to graduate, you can’t afford to take classes that don’t end up counting toward your degree.
When transferring from one school to another, students often find they don’t receive as many credits as they expected. This is especially common when a student is enrolling in a program at a new school that’s different from what they were previously pursuing. It is also very common when attempting to transfer courses taken online. Many schools simply do not accept transfer credit from another school’s online program.
If you are considering enrolling in a particular school but feel you may need to transfer to another school later, please think this through carefully. It is unlikely all of your prior credits will transfer. It’s possible very few, if any, will. If you have an idea of where you may be going, ask what schools accept transfer credits from them, and ask schools you may transfer to later if they accept credits from the school you are currently considering.
Question 5: What is the school’s graduation rate?
National graduation rates are calculated by determining the percentage of first-time students who attend school full-time, never withdraw, never transfer to another school and graduate within six years. These figures are calculated by the Department of Education for three broad categories of schools: Public schools, Private For-Profit schools, and Private Non-Profit schools. The overall graduation rates for each of these categories are:
Source: National Center for Educational Statistics
At first glance, “graduation rates” would appear a pretty straightforward indicator of students’ success at a school. However, graduation rates are more complex than that.
Areas within control of the school that can impact graduation rates can include the admissions standards for the school, difficulty of the programs offered and the services a school provides to help students stay in school. If a school is extremely selective about admissions, they may only take students who are very likely to graduate. If a school has “open enrollment” and allows all applicants to attend regardless of demonstrated ability, there may be more students that are less likely to graduate.
The difficulty of programs offered by a school also impact graduation rates. If a program is not properly challenging, students may graduate but may not have the skill set needed to succeed in the job market.
School mission can affect the graduation rate. For example, if a school’s primary mission is to be a feeder-school, students may not “graduate” but still receive what they desired. For example, students often start college at a local community college or an online school and then transfer to a four-year school to finish their degree.
Question 6: What is the school’s retention rate?
Retention rates measure students who first attend a school and continue attendance during following semesters. Perhaps more than graduation rates, retention rates can demonstrate student satisfaction with their experiences at a school. As with graduation rates, many factors impact retention rates:
- Strong academic advising programs
- Special orientation programs
- Establishment of early warning systems to identify struggling students
- Innovative programs of education that meet the needs of students
- Freshman seminar/university intro course for credit
- Tutoring programs
- Advising interventions with selected student populations
- Mandated course placement testing programs
- Comprehensive learning assistance center/lab
Your education is important to you and to us at VA. Choosing the right school is the first step in readjusting to and finding success in civilian life.
The GI Bill is a great program and you’ve earned it. Use your benefits wisely, finish school and become the leader in the civilian workplace as you have already demonstrated in the military.
Keith Wilson was appointed Director of VA’s Education Service on February 22, 2006. He provides executive level oversight in the development of policy, planning, and integration of Education programs administered by the Veterans Benefits Administration. Over 500,000 Veterans, service members and their families pursue education opportunities under these programs. Mr. Wilson is a Navy Veteran, serving aboard the USS Cushing (DD-985) as well as serving tours of duty in Iceland and Italy. He and his wife, Mary, have three children: Kaleigh, Noah, and Ian.