When I first started this blog in October, I covered details on VA education benefits, such as how the Post-9/11 GI Bill compares to the Montgomery GI Bill and VA education benefits for spouses and dependents, but understanding your VA education benefits is only part of what is required to have a successful higher education experience. This week I’m going to cover a few other areas that are critical to maximize your use of your VA education benefits and avoid huge bills for things like out-of-state fees and VA overpayments. I’m going to start with what I call “College IPB,” after the Army’s acronym for Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield. Basically, these are some of the questions you should be asking as you try to determine which college is best for you.
Is the college accredited? The difference between a college that is accredited and one that isn’t is the difference between a combat veteran and a guy dressed in camos – they may look similar on the surface but only one is the real deal. In other words, accreditation is how you can ensure that a college is legitimate. If you don’t check a college’s accreditation before you start your degree, you can end up paying large sums of money to earn your degree and, at the end, find out that it isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. (Note: Just because a college is authorized to receive VA education benefits, such as the GI Bill, or Tuition Assistance, doesn’t mean it is accredited or accredited for the degree you are seeking. Be sure to confirm!)
Accreditation comes in two primary forms – institutional and programmatic. There is no centralized, national accrediting agency. Instead, at the institutional level, agencies across the country, such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, are responsible for ensuring that higher education institutions (colleges, universities, etc.) meet minimum standards. Additionally, specific professional organizations, such as the American Bar Association for lawyers, set standards and verify that individual programs meet those standards.
To check if the college or university you are planning on attending is accredited, you can go to the U.S. Department of Education’s website. Then scroll down to the small gray box on the right and click on “get Data for one accredited institution/campus/site” > type in name of college and select the state in which the school is located > this will pop up the home campus and all of the outlying campuses, you can click on the home campus to see all of their accreditations. A list of acceptable accrediting institutions can be found here.
Does it have your desired major? Just as all restaurants don’t offer the same menu, not all colleges offer the same degree programs. If you know which major you want, or which basic category of major, you can check under the college catalog or sometimes under the “academics” section of its webpage, to determine if the college you are interested in offers the major you are looking for, or a similar one. If you know which major you want but aren’t sure which colleges might offer it, you can use a website like My Next Move.
Does it accept VA education benefits for your major? If you are planning on using your VA education benefits, you will first need to verify that the college you are interested in is approved to accept VA education benefits and that your specific program is approved – even if a college is approved, not all of its programs are necessarily approved. You can check which colleges and programs are approved on the GI Bill Website . Click on Choosing a School and then “Find a VA approved school or program of education.” Here you will have to choose which type of program you are looking for, such as college degree or cosmetology license, and then click on the “search for approved” link under that section. Then you can search by institution or state. Once you narrow down whether the school takes VA education benefits, you will need to click on “programs” to determine if the program you want is covered.
What are the admissions requirements? Just like entering and leaving the military is a process, entering and leaving a college is also a process. The process for entering college can consist of such requirements as: standardized testing, requesting high school transcripts or GED scores, and proving residency. While this process can sometimes take as little as a few days, in some cases in can take months to apply to a program and find out if you have been admitted, so you’ll need to know the admissions requirements so you can know what needs to be accomplished.
Basic admissions requirements for the college and the degree level you are seeking (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, etc.) can generally be found on the “Admissions” page of a college’s website. Some programs will have specific admissions requirements in addition to basic school admission. Also, as many military have attended classes on base or at another institution during their service or will be getting credit for military training, you should read the specifics for “transfer students” as those are often different than the requirements for incoming freshman straight out of high school.
What are the application deadlines? While some colleges allow students to apply for admission and sign up for classes up to one week after classes start, many have cut off dates well before the start of a term. By “well before” I mean between one and three months before the first day of classes starts. Also, some programs with the college have even earlier cut off dates and even others have rolling admissions, where applications are reviewed and approved as they come in, on a first-come, first-served type of basis. Check the application deadlines for the college and program you are interested in to be sure you don’t let a key date pass you by.
What are their residency requirements? I’ll cover this in more detail tomorrow because this was the single largest issue my students had, but, for now, know that residency for tuition purposes is a key part of making sure that your degree program is affordable for you and it isn’t as easy as saying “my home of record is…”.
How much are tuition and fees? Unless you have endless pockets, you probably want to know how much classes are going to cost you. Even if you are using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which pays tuition and fees, there is a cap on how much they will pay (the cap is different for each state) and you are responsible for covering everything your VA benefits don’t cover. Costs are usually expressed in a “cost per credit hour.” Be sure not to mistake this as a “cost per class,
as classes are generally three credit hours or more. Be sure to look for additional fees that may be required for your specific program as well, such a health screening, scrubs, and a background check for medical related programs.
Do they award credit for military training? This is another topic I will talk more in detail about late this week but, again, for now just know that the American Council on Education is working hard to ensure that veterans and servicemembers are being awarded more college credit for their military training than they have been in the past. Some states are even enacting laws to help make sure that this is happening and many colleges have begun posting on their webpages how many credits student veterans can expect to receive for their military training. If their policy isn’t posted, be sure to ask about it – the military spent a lot of money making sure you were a highly training individual and you should receive credit for that training.
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