10 Tips for Veterans at College

A visiting blogger offers advice for returning veterans looking to head to college.

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Just two days ago, in his Labor Day speech, President Obama had this to say about veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan: "On the day I announced the end to our combat mission in Iraq, I spent some time, as I often do, with our soldiers and veterans. This new generation of troops coming home from Iraq has earned its place alongside that greatest generation. Like them, they have the skills and training and drive to move America's economy forward once more. And from the time I took office, we've been investing in new care, new opportunity, and a new commitment to their service that's worthy of their sacrifice." A central part of this new opportunity is the chance to attend college under the new GI Bill.

We were interested in what advice could be given to returning veterans embarking on a college career. We asked visiting blogger Dorothy Gillman, vice president of the National Association of Veterans' Programs Administrators (NAVPA) and veterans administrator at Ramapo College of New Jersey, for her 10 best suggestions. Here's what she advises:

1. Start by applying. Whether you are a first time college student or a transfer student, you must fill out an application. Go to the school's website to find the requirements and deadlines. Provide transcripts and test scores as needed and your DD-214 for credits you might have earned while in the service. Take a tour of the campus—either on the web or in person. If you don't know where you want to go, one of the places to help you decide what college or university best suits your needs is www.military.com.

[Read about questions to ask on campus tours.]

2. Meet the Veterans Administrator. You are entitled to GI Bill Education Benefits. You want to use them … now what? Find the Veterans Office on campus and introduce yourself. Staff at this office will explain and guide you through the give-and-take process to receive your benefits. You will be asked to provide various documents and complete different forms so your enrollment can be certified to the VA.

3. Get your GI benefits. There is a wide a variety of education benefits offered by the Veterans Administration, including the new Post 9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program, Transfer of Benefits, and Veterans Vocational Rehab, to name a few. Additionally, individual states offer varying opportunities to National Guardsmen (some of the benefits come with different levels of eligibility). Whether you are a reservist, in the National Guard, or on active duty, you should check the VA website or discuss your benefits with the school's Veteran's Administrator. You can find a wealth of information -- as well as the application for benefits -- at the GI Bill website.

4. Apply for financial aid. All students can apply for financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by going to www.fafsa.gov. This aid can be for grants, loans and/or work-study. While you are eligible for GI Benefits, some colleges and universities look to have bills "resolved" or "covered" while waiting for the VA to send the school the tuition and fees if you are eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

[Watch video tips on filling out the FAFSA.]

5. Apply for scholarships. There are many types of scholarships available, including based on merit, academics, athletic, private, and general by area of interest. Some schools offer scholarships specifically for veterans. You have to look. Check the school's website and always remember: Do not pay for any scholarship application.

[Find out how to build your own scholarship.]

6. Find a place to live. The key to being placed in housing is making sure you indicate you are a veteran on all forms. By doing so you may be able to select a roommate from the onset. Otherwise you might be assigned to a room with traditional students (just out of high school), which could be awkward with your recent military experience. Many colleges have housing set aside for veterans; make use of it.

7. Get an adviser. Every student is assigned to an adviser. Some schools have advisers specifically for veterans; smaller schools may not, but curriculum is standard for majors at each school. Interaction with the adviser will assist you to develop a suitable educational plan, make your course selections, and determine your major. This person will get to know you and empower you in decision-making skills in education, career, and life choices.

8. Take the CLEP. The College Level Examination Program is a series of exams you can take to test your college-level knowledge on what you have learned through on-the-job training, professional development, etc. There are a wide range of exams both general and subjective, worth up to six credits. The cost of a CLEP exam is fractional compared to the cost of tuition and fees. It could assist in skipping general introductory courses, general education classes or could even demonstrate your ability in a foreign language.

9. Connect with other veterans on campus. Veterans Centers are popping up on many campuses. They are the place to meet other veterans, to do peer-to-peer networking, to connect student veterans with resources, and to help you to get involved—or simply hang out. If there is no center on campus, start one. Student Veterans of America can assist you in forming a chapter at your school.

10. Get career training and develop skills. Career services and job placement are available for you while getting your education. Résumé writing and mock interviews are offered. You can be placed in an internship or co-op related to your career goal and earn college credits as well as a stipend or small paycheck.

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