One of the premier benefits of serving in the United States Armed Forces is the opportunity to have your college education paid for by the federal government. Since 1944, the GI Bill and its successors have allowed American service members to earn a degree and unlock their collective post-military career potential.
Choosing the right college, however, is a challenge, especially for active-duty men and women who are unable to attend a traditional brick and mortar school. The solution is to find a military-friendly online college.
What Does Military-friendly Mean?
Aside from opening the doors to members of the U.S. Armed Forces, a military-friendly online college will offer a much more inclusive experience that’s tailored to the needs of students with greater responsibilities, such as helping to protect America’s citizens and interests around the world.
“Military-specific orientation, a military resource center, and specialized services are all components of military-friendly schools,” explains Heather Maxson, Military Development and Compliance Manager for the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC). “There’s also a strong focus on developing cultural competencies within staff, so that they can identify the differences between military and non-military students and cater specifically to the needs of both.”
Choosing a College While in the Military
Here’s why military-friendly schools matter and what they offer active duty service members and veterans.
For service members stationed overseas, waking up in the morning and driving to campus is not an option. Online universities allow you to serve in the military and attend college at the same time, and a military-friendly online school will provide accessibility via an advanced mobile classroom, so you can learn anywhere, anytime.
“It would literally be an hour between fighting the Taliban and transitioning to classes,” Smith says.
Ty was able to graduate because his military-friendly school allowed him to access reading materials and the online classroom from every one of his devices – laptop, iPhone, and iPad* – at a time that worked with his schedule.
“It was amazing,” he says. “Once I got into a rhythm, I thought it was perfect and exactly what I needed, especially being on active duty.”
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The GI Bill was enhanced by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which offers a monthly housing allowance, discounts on books and supplies, full tuition for public school students and, as of August 2021, up to $26,042.81 in annual tuition for private or foreign students.
A military-friendly college will offer even more options to help pay for school. Active duty service members, reservists, National Guard members, and even Department of Defense employees can benefit from grants that provide tuition savings and cover the costs of course materials. Military-friendly colleges also offer specific grants for veterans.
When researching military-friendly colleges, you’ll also want to ensure the university participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program. This is a voluntary agreement between the school and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which helps students pay for higher out-of-state, private school, or graduate school tuition that’s not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
An online university can certainly help you earn your degree while serving in the military, but a military-friendly online university will provide the flexibility needed to finish school on your schedule.
“From my perspective, the biggest challenge for service members is time management,” Maxson says. “They have a full-time job, they’re often in training or facing deployment, and without flexibility they have limited time to commit to a degree.”
In your research, you should seek out a school that allows you to balance all of your responsibilities without falling behind. This includes:
Flexible Start Dates
If you’re serving active duty overseas, you can’t be in front of the computer at 9 am every Monday, not when other people are counting on you. Look for a school that offers a variety of start dates – the most military-friendly schools offer flexible start dates – so you can find the one that fits your schedule.
24/7 Access to Everything
It’s one thing to be able to log into the online classroom whenever, wherever. A military-friendly online college like UAGC takes it a step further with 24/7 tutoring assistance, technical support, and access to the school library, as well as writing assistants and digital textbooks with highlighting and notetaking features.
A Non-traditional Class Schedule
Traditional college students will take several classes per day. A military-friendly college will offer you a non-traditional schedule that allows you to focus on a single course. In some cases, like at UAGC, each course lasts 5 to 6 weeks.** The course schedule should be convenient and still allow you to graduate on-time.
Your service time is valuable and should be treated as such. The experience gained as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, including all the hard and soft skills learned, can be worth college credits. A military-friendly college will offer you the chance to apply your training as transfer credits†, helping reduce the cost and time needed to complete your degree.
If you earned community college credits prior to or after enlisting, you should also ask if the university has articulation agreements with your previous school, as those credits can also be applied to your degree.
How Military-friendly Colleges Support You Beyond Graduation
When researching your options, you’ll want to ask what kind of military-specific support system is available to students. A support system includes everything from military student advisors to the Career Services department. The most suitable college destinations will likely have:
Lifetime Career Assistance
First and foremost, you’ll want to choose a university that offers career assistance for life. Just as you will always belong to your branch of service, you will always be a part of your college family, and many universities make an extra effort to ensure that students are supported long after they graduate.
Career assistance after graduation is important because the job you choose after you transition into civilian life will likely not be your “forever job.” Like you, the job market evolves, and you’ll want to stay on top of new trends in technology and human resources, among others, that could impact your job search in the future.
Your university should offer a “military career track” that will assist you during the three stages of your transition:
- Pre-transition: These resources will include self-assessments and goal-planning tutorials, as well as a timeline for your transition and a compensation calculator to help you compare your military pay to a civilian salary.
- Transition: Your Career Services team should offer resume and cover letter assistance, as well as in-field experiences (internships, volunteer work) that will help you get a feel for your new life.
- Post-transition: You’ll want to make sure the university offers help in your job searches, such as mock interview preparation, negotiation tutorials, and networking assistance.
Military Peer-to-Peer Mentors
It’s always easier to relate to someone who’s been in your shoes, which is why you’ll want to choose a university that offers peer mentoring – specifically mentors that have served and can help you navigate the challenges of your transition.
“To have military-specific advisors or faculty that have had their own personal service experience makes a tremendous difference to a student,” Maxson says. “It’s easier to form that connection.”
Military-led Student Organizations
Student organizations have a much wider reach at military-friendly online universities, connecting you with active duty and veteran students around the globe. These groups offer support to current students and can serve as a vital networking component after graduation.
Why a College Degree Complements Your Military Service
As a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, you understand the values of leadership, commitment, and tenacity. These values will serve as motivation, helping you navigate all obstacles so that you can reap the rewards upon graduation.
“It’s easier to show employers that you’ve taken your real-life military experience and applied it to completing a degree program,” Maxson says. “They can then show employers how they’ll do the same thing and apply their experience in the workforce.”
According to Statista, nearly 900,000 active-duty personnel – a vast majority – hold a high school diploma or GED. It’s well documented, however, that a college education increases a person’s earning potential. An analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found college graduates earn 75% more annually than a person with only a high school education.
But earnings aren’t the only reason a degree makes a difference, especially for someone with military experience. Upon graduation, your college degree can lead to:
Better Job Opportunities
Several of today’s fastest-growing career fields, including nursing, accounting, and project management, all require a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A bachelor’s degree is also an entryway to positions in software development, management, and teaching (certification is also required), the agency reports.‡
A 2018 estimate from the College Board and U.S. Census Bureau found that 83% of bachelor’s degree recipients were employed, compared to 68.8% for workers with only a high school diploma. Your chances of remaining employed through good and bad economic times can be greatly improved with a degree under your belt.
Greater Personal Fulfillment
There is a strong sense of accomplishment that comes with earning your college degree, and research shows that the more educated you are, the happier you are in life. This can be attributed to job security and higher earning potential, but researchers found that education gives you purpose, and a brighter outlook on life.
Not only can a college degree change your future, but choosing a military-friendly college can extend that success to your family.
How Spouses Can Benefit from Military-friendly Colleges
If you are a service member with a spouse, you want to ensure they too can reap the rewards of a college education. A 2021 report by the National Military Spouse Network found the unemployment rate for military spouses is an alarming 25%. The Military Spouse Employment Partnership, an organization that connects military spouses with employers, also reports that just 25% of spouses have bachelor’s degrees.
The day-to-day demands of taking care of a home and family are often a barrier to graduation and employment, but a university that extends its support to the entire family can help position both service members and spouses for rewarding careers.
A household with two college graduates can also have a greater impact on children. According to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, children whose parents are college graduates are far more likely to earn college degrees themselves, and “persister” families – in which college attainment has persisted for at least two generations – also see gains in household income and household net worth.
How to Identify a Military-friendly School
In addition to doing your own research, a number of organizations offer specific recognition for military-friendly schools. This includes the Military Times’ “Best for Vets” list of colleges, and the Council of College and Military Educators, which grants membership to schools that serve the military and veteran community.
A Military-friendly School for You
Whether you are currently on active duty or you are a veteran looking to secure your future with a college degree, UAGC has dedicated military resources and advisors to work with you. Reach out to an advisor today.
*As part of the UAGC admissions requirements, students must have access to a computer with an Internet connection for the Web-based programs and meet the minimum technology and minimum computer skills, abilities, features, system configurations, hardware, and software outlined in the Catalog.
**Doctoral capstone, planning and project classes are 9 weeks.
†The transferability of credits is subject to the University of Arizona Global Campus transfer credit policies and requires the submission of official transcripts.
†Successful completion of a UAGC program by itself does not provide licensure or certification in any state, regardless of concentration or specialization. Students seeking licensure or certification in a particular profession are strongly encouraged to carefully research the requirements prior to enrollment.