"It's important to have somebody like a Gene Clark on your campus, who has walked in [veterans'] shoes and who has seen the potential potholes along the way and helps them to steer clear of them—or certainly to know where they are so they don't step in them," Hartman says, stressing that "it all starts with the institution having the will and the way to create a learning environment that accommodates veterans."
[Read about challenges veterans face in college.]
In addition to university support, a robust community of fellow veterans at a college is also a critical factor to look for, both Hartman and Szoldra say. E-mail heads of student veteran organizations at schools you're considering to gauge quality of life and support for former service members, Hartman recommends. Investigate whether there are options to easily meet other veterans, such as the University of Tampa's special orientation program and one-credit class exclusively for former service members.
"A lot of the time, the people that you recognize and want to deal with most are other veterans," Szoldra notes. "It's definitely a good thing to meet other people who are going through the same situation as you, and also see that your university is interested in helping you and making sure that you're successful there."
Finding reputable schools in an information-saturated market can be tough but is not impossible, says Mike Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America, an organization that helps former service members go to college.
"I'm not going to sugarcoat this: It's not going be easy," he says. "The one piece of advice I have is to research. If you know what program you want to go into, and you know, at the end of the day, what career you want, you can reverse-engineer the process. Do research and find the institution of higher learning that can best serve you."
Searching for a college? Access our complete rankings of Best Colleges.