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2.2. Research... Research... Research

Think about buying a car.  Would you buy the first car you saw because it looked the shiniest?  Or would you give it a test drive . . . maybe kick the tires . . . check out some online reviews . . .maybe talk to some friends?  Deciding on a university, community college, or technical school should be no different.  There are a number of schools that might "look shiny" on the outside, but once you check under the hood, you may find out that it's a lemon.  There are a number of different strategies you can and should consider while looking for a school.  Don't be swayed by a designation of "military or veteran friendly." Use the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA's) GI Bill Comparison Tool to help you make an informed decision. Whether you choose a community college, an online school, or a member of the Ivy League, take the time to make sure that you're making the best decision for you, your needs, and if you have a family, the needs of your family. 

a. Create Your Own Definition of "Veteran-Friendly"

The definition of "veteran-friendly" is as diverse as today's higher education community.  Factors such as campus culture, academic environment, student body size and composition, location, and more all play a role in what programs and services might characterize "veteran-friendly."  While there are a number of different resources that list "military- or veteran- friendly" institutions, you will need to determine if a particular school is right for you.  After all, all veterans have different needs – and what might be "veteran-friendly" to one, might be "not-so-veteran-friendly" to another.  What really matters is what matters to you as an incoming student, a student veteran, and a student with a disability.

b. Carefully Examine the School's Website

Check out the school's website to see if they provide additional assistance to student veterans.  If it's not clearly labeled on the main page, search for "veterans" in the search bar.  If you cannot find anything, it is likely that the institution does not provide special services for student veterans.  If you are using your VA benefits to return to school, it will be critical that you connect with a VA Certifying Official.  Without this individual and the knowledge they bring, your chances of using your benefits efficiently and effectively will be hampered greatly.

c. Find Out How Your Military Transcripts Translate to Coursework

Your official military transcripts are a key element to your admission package.  In many cases, veterans may have academic credits to transfer from military transcripts and the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) that can affect admissions decisions, class status, and more.  Look for the school's policy for evaluating military credits.  If you are not sure if and how your credits will transfer, you can check out the American Council on Education's (ACE) online Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services.  This document will help you to better understand how college credit for military training is awarded.  If you are deciding between schools, find out which school can offer you the most credits, because this will vary.

d. Review the School's Policies

There are a number of policy issues that relate specifically to student veterans.  These include, but are not limited to: entrance exams, transcript review, deferral and readmission (most notably for National Guard and Reserve Members), transfer, residency, early registration, and withdrawal.  Be certain to review the school's written policies, which should clearly articulate how these policies may affect you as a student veteran in general. 

If you are continuing your service in the National Guard or Reserves, this information will be especially important to you (related to monthly drills or a possible deployment).  You want to be certain you know the school's policies and procedures so you don't lose time or credit for military leave.  

Think about buying a car.  Would you buy the first car you saw because it looked the shiniest?  Or would you give it a test drive . . . maybe kick the tires . . . check out some online reviews . . .maybe talk to some friends?  Deciding on a university, community college, or technical school should be no different.  There are a number of schools that might "look shiny" on the outside, but once you check under the hood, you may find out that it's a lemon.  There are a number of different strategies you can and should consider while looking for a school.  Don't be swayed by a designation of "military or veteran friendly."  In 2012, Student Veterans of America (SVA) suspended chapters at 40 for-profit colleges, alleging that the colleges set them up as "shell organizations to help them appeal to veteran students who carry lucrative government tuition benefits."  Whether you choose a community college, an online school, or a member of the Ivy League, take the time to make sure that you're making the best decision for you, your needs, and if you have a family, the needs of your family. 

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