Exploring college as a military-connected student
Common App has a strong presence of military-connected students. In fact, in 2021-2022, over 32,700 military-connected students (19,896 dependents, 7,407 active-duty, 5,453 veterans) used the Common App to start or continue their journey to higher education. For many of them, the process of finding and enrolling in college presents challenges beyond those faced by civilian students. These challenges can include requesting transcripts from several colleges, obtaining the documentation required to certify military benefits, and petitioning to receive credit for prior learning. And, as adults with worldly and at times difficult experiences, some active duty military and veteran students feel out of place in a classroom with traditional-aged students.
As we commemorate Veterans Day, it is important to share with military-connected students what to look for in a college suited to their needs. Below are some features military-connected students should look for in a college and how to approach attaining a degree.
First, ensure any college you consider is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Colleges accredited by these agencies must meet ED regulatory criteria. Accreditation is especially important for military-connected students who transfer frequently, since colleges often consider the accreditation of the sending institution when evaluating coursework for acceptance in transfer. All Common App member colleges are required to be non-profit degree granting institutions accredited by a regional or national accrediting authority recognized by ED.
When choosing a college, it is important to understand factors that indicate student success, such as the colleges’ retention and graduation rates and the average earnings of a college graduate. In addition, you should consider the amount of debt you will incur at one college compared to others. You can find this information and more on the U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard website.
Always be vigilant in determining which colleges are focused on helping you achieve your ultimate higher education goal. The guarantee of money from military tuition assistance and veteran’s education benefits can entice some unscrupulous schools to prey on military-connected students.
Did you know that not all colleges are automatically authorized to accept military tuition assistance or GI Bill and not every school has every military benefit program? If you plan to use GI Bill benefits to pay for your education, a good place to start is the Veterans Affairs (VA) “Choosing GI Bill approved schools” or the Department of Defense College Comparison Tool (TA DECIDE) for active duty using military tuition assistance.
Many colleges demonstrate their commitment to military-connected student success by providing dedicated staff, resources, and services. These can take the form of military centers, dedicated personnel, and military-focused programs. Military-connected students should determine what types of services are available to them when exploring colleges, including:
- Dedicated advisors: Schools supportive of military-connected students may have advisors who, many times, are military-connected themselves. They are equipped to help you cut through military jargon and identify a degree program that fits your needs. They can also help review your academic and joint services transcripts to see if there is an opportunity to apply your prior coursework, military education, training, and experience to your degree.
- VA Certifying representatives: Whether active duty, veteran, or dependent, navigating military education benefits can be daunting for students. Your college VA certifying representatives are there to help guide you through the process to request and submit your documentation and address any issues you may encounter along the way.
- Accessibility services: Some service members and veterans have service-related challenges that can be a barrier to their academic success. These students may seek out colleges with staff trained to connect them with internal and external resources to assist.
- Student engagement programs: Military-connected students can feel isolated on campus. Organizations such as Student Veterans of America, dedicated veteran’s lounges, and other support can make a difference. Military-connected students may seek schools that offer these and other opportunities to engage, connect, and support one another.
As Common App works to be the trusted source to access, afford, and attain opportunity for all, we recognize the importance of military-connected students to achieving that vision. Common App will continue working to ensure we meet the needs of military-connected students exploring their college options and applying to their chosen school. For now, you can get started on your path to higher education with Common App’s “Your Path to College” planning guide for service members and veterans.