Avoid These Mistakes if You're Going Back to School After Military Service

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  Updated: February 6, 2022

The military offers a pathway to education for millions who serve. But despite the excellent educational benefits offered under the GI Bill, earning a college degree is a path far more precarious than you might expect.

Some of the challenges you’ll face as a veteran going back to school are to be expected: figuring out how to apply your military skills in the civilian world, finding a sense of belonging as a nontraditional student, and juggling educational goals alongside other responsibilities. Others catch veterans off guard and can even derail your degree.

How can you make the most of your GI Bill benefits and start civilian life on the right foot? These are the mistakes to avoid when applying to college as a military veteran.

1. Focusing on the what, not the why

It’s true that a college degree opens a lot of doors. But if you treat college simply as a box to check, you’re at risk of investing time and money into a degree you won’t use — or worse, one you never finish.

Understand your priorities in going to college. Do you want to graduate career-ready as quickly as possible, avoid student debt, or build your professional network? Once you know why you’re going to college, you’ll understand how to maximize your time there.

2. Not having an end goal

A check-in-the-box mentality also makes vets more likely to choose their college major without knowing how they’ll put it to use.

Take computer science for example. It’s one of the most popular degrees for veterans, thanks to high pay and military-friendly employers like Boeing and Salesforce. However, there’s a vast range of careers available within tech, from cybersecurity to software development, and each career track has its own coursework and certifications.

Business is another degree that veterans jump into without a plan. It’s true that an MBA prepares you for a variety of lucrative careers whether you want to work in business administration, facilities management, or operations. However, the most successful MBA students go beyond basic coursework in leadership, finance, accounting, and law to earn graduate certificates that prepare them for specific tracks within business management.

3. Underestimating your skills

Are you struggling to settle on a career path? If you can’t decide where your military skills fit into the civilian workforce, it may be because you’re underestimating what you have to offer.

The military confers many skills valued by civilian employers. Most of a veteran’s transferable skills are soft skills like leadership, organization, management, and teamwork. Companies also appreciate that military veterans are resilient, adaptable, and dedicated. Try CareerOneStop’s self-assessment tools to identify your transferable skills.

4. Choosing the wrong school

Not all colleges are created equal. That’s especially true for student veterans. You need a college that supports its veterans through campus veterans centers and services, including disability and mental health services. Pay attention to a college’s retention rates, graduation rates, and accreditation to ensure you’re choosing a quality school.

A veteran’s college choice also needs to be GI Bill approved. Approximately 3,600 higher education institutions participate in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Principles of Excellence Program. These schools agree to follow certain guidelines including giving veterans a full summary of their educational costs and timeline.

5. Not applying for financial aid

Although veterans are eligible for generous benefits under the GI Bill, it’s not always enough to cover the full costs of going to college. Make sure you submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you’re eligible for additional financial aid in the form of low-interest loans and grants.

Eligible veterans can also take advantage of the Yellow Ribbon Program to cover the higher costs of attending a private or out-of-state public university or going to graduate school. Your school must offer the Yellow Ribbon Program in order to participate.

As a military veteran, you’re no stranger to overcoming obstacles in the pursuit of a mission. However, many veterans are surprised at just how daunting the college application process can be. Take time to weigh your options and how they fit into your long-term plan so you get the most out of your college education.

REACH Educational Services connect teachers, parents and students by creating interest-based, one-on-one and small-group learning experiences via tutoring and numerous educational support. For educational support, you can contact us at 803-757-0156.

Meet The Author

My name is Jenny Wise. I am a Special Educator. I am a stay-at-home parent to 4 beautiful children. My husband and I made the decision to home-educate when our oldest was four years old. During this journey, we have expanded our family, and faced many challenges along the way. With every challenge, we have experienced great rewards.

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