9 Things Veterans Should Consider During the College Search
As a student veteran, your college search is a little different than that of your peers. Unlike traditional students, there is more to worry about than meal plans and dorms. You have a life, work, and possibly a family to take care of on top of all your classwork. These unique challenges make the college search more complicated, but not impossible. That’s why it is important to vet your potential schools so that you are sure of the support and resources that will be made available to you. As you create a list of potential schools, keep in mind the following factors to make sure it’s a place at which you can learn, grow, and succeed.
Staff Who Understand Military and Veteran Students’ Needs
This is the number-one consideration for a reason. A team of informed, dedicated, and experienced professionals can make all the difference in your college experience. As you explore what college might be right for you, make sure there are professionals with a keen understanding of Veteran Affairs to help you. Resources might differ with the size of the school, but there should be someone who is well versed in GI Bill® benefits as well as the social and academic needs of student veterans.
At the University of Montevallo, for example, student veterans have access to an Office of Veteran and Military Affairs that is solely dedicated to serving veterans, current service members, and their families at the University. The Office of Veteran and Military Affairs complements the University’s overall mission to assist students in the pursuit of self-defined success.
The office features a computer lab, lounge area, conference room, and quiet area for studying, plus free printing services and phone charging stations. The office also provides, facilitates, and coordinates programs to meet the needs of the veteran student population. All employees of the Veteran Center on campus have even served in the military themselves! UM employs more than 35 faculty and staff members who have served in the armed forces.
Students should also ensure that the university is committed to supporting their academic and personal success. At the University of the Incarnate Word, President Dr. Thomas Evans has included becoming the premier provider of educational opportunities to active-duty military members, veterans, and their families as one of the University’s eight strategic priorities, ensuring this remains an institutional focal point for now and into the future. UIW is committed to making the higher education journey a smooth and rewarding one and has implemented many programs for veterans to ensure they get the most out of their experience at UIW. The dedicated staff at the Military & Veteran Center are knowledgeable and assist students with the resources needed to be successful every day during their academic journey
A university education is a big investment—of time, effort, and finances—and a big sticker price can deter some military and veteran students from pursuing their academic goals. As a veteran, you have access to education benefits from the government by way of the GI Bill. But that doesn’t mean your school shouldn’t help too. As you navigate your college search, pay attention to what types of financial assistance these schools offer. Some institutions offer in-state tuition to veterans regardless of their out-of-state status, tuition discounts, or military-specific scholarships. Be sure to inquire about other federal partnerships, such as the Yellow Ribbon Program, which allows private schools to enter into an agreement with the VA to fund tuition and fee costs that exceed the annual tuition cap for Chapter 33 Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries.
Since 2011, University of the Incarnate Word has been a proud Yellow Ribbon School. In addition, UIW offers military tuition discounts to undergraduate and graduate students. UIW’s School of Professional Studies (SPS) offers degree programs for busy adults with free undergraduate textbooks, online classes, no academic fees, and reduced tuition.
UM offers several scholarships designated specifically for the University’s military-related students. The Office of Veteran and Military Affairs assists military-related students in identifying scholarship opportunities and filing the appropriate paperwork for veterans benefits, such as the GI Bill and the Alabama GI Dependents’ Scholarship. The UM Office of Veteran and Military Affairs also offers part-time jobs through the Veteran Administration to students receiving federal education benefits in order to assist in funding their education.
Mental/Physical Health Services
The prevalence of mental health issues in veterans and servicemembers is an unfortunate reality on college campuses. A 2017 Study published in Psychiatric Services journal, found that student veterans “are more likely to experience anxiety, stress, depression, suicidal ideation, and hyper-vigilance than their non veteran peers.” These service related mental health issues can impede upon a student’s success in the classroom and their sense of belonging on campus.
That is why it is so important to understand what kind of mental and physical health services are offered at an institution. Your needs as a veteran are different than most traditional students; they should be met by professionals who truly understand. For example, at the University of Montevallo, student veterans have access to support programs offered by the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, military-related students have access to the University’s Office of Counseling Services (of which one of the counselors is a veteran) and Campus Health Services (which is directed by a veteran). Both are on-campus resources with staff members who personally understand the needs of veterans and military-related students.
At the University of the Incarnate Word, the mental and physical well-being of student veterans is a top priority. UIW is fortunate to have a VA Social Worker who visits the UIW campus on a bi-weekly basis and offers online Zoom appointments. Additionally, the VA Social Worker can assist with Veterans Health Administration Enrollment and can connect veterans with supportive veteran organizations. UIW also offers in house counseling through the Counseling Services Offices.
The college experience is so much more than your assignments, exams, and grades. A true college experience is shaped by the connections you make with your professors, your peers, and the surrounding community Yet, you likely have experiences, goals, and a mindset that differs from your non veteran classmates, which can make establishing these meaningful connections a little more challenging. Regardless of your age, experience and, of course, your military service, you should have opportunities to connect with peers, find on-campus networking opportunities, and just have fun! As you search for your right school, make sure there are clubs and organizations for student veterans. Finding a community of like-minded individuals will make your experience on campus so much more enriching.
Student veterans at University of Montevallo can join a Campus Veterans Association on campus. Members of the association are offered group workshop classes on everything from time management skills to course advising and how to fund college. This group also completes community service projects both on and off campus. For example, in the fall of 2020, the association participated in a toiletry drive to benefit homeless veterans, and it regularly holds canned food drives for the UM Food Pantry and Shelby County Emergency Assistance (a local organization that offers aid to individuals facing crisis situations).
Similar opportunities exist for student veterans at the University of the Incarnate Word. Veterans who get involved with student organizations have a smoother transition into college life. Meeting other student veterans and veteran faculty and administrators provides camaraderie, mentorship, and support. Many student veterans find this in UIW’s Student Veterans of America (SVA) organization, which was founded in 2008. This student organization is open to active duty, veterans, spouses, and dependents enrolled at UIW. UIW SVA offers community service opportunities, networking opportunities, and social events. UIW SVA is a thriving organization with more than 200 members, and numerous accomplishments and contributions made to the University.
Many student veterans have busy lives. They work, have families, and pursue their education all at the same time. They need a school that offers the flexibility and school-life balance to pursue their program to achieve their career goals. During your school search, make sure an institution offers flexible scheduling, formatting, and programming. This kind of information can be difficult to glean in online research, so don’t hesitate to call your schools directly and ask.
UM is committed to supporting service men and women of the United States and the State of Alabama, as well as their spouses and children, and offers flexibility to students who are called to active duty or required training during an academic term. Late start, military leave of absence, early completion of course requirements and more are offered to military-related students. In the wake of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, all courses at UM can be completed either online or in-person, further expanding flexibility for military-related students.
UIW offers a great variety of programs to meet the dreams and goals of its students. It has over 90 undergraduate majors, minors, and concentrations, and over 20 graduate and doctoral programs. Classes are held in hybrid and online synchronous and asynchronous course formats to meet the needs of the busy student. The School of Professional Studies (SPS) offers accelerated 8-week terms, online, and evening courses. In this ever-changing world, UIW consistently looks to be innovative and on trend with our options for the busy learner.
Veteran Retention Rates
Retention rates are a great way to see how satisfied the student population is. Of course, there are many factors that affect retention, but generally the higher the rates, the happier the student is. After all, you wouldn’t stay at a school if you didn’t feel inspired and supported right? During your search, take the time to research a school’s retention rates for veterans. A good rule of thumb is to look for at least a 50% retention rate.
Naturally, the University of Montevallo goes above and beyond! As tracked by UM’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, on average, UM retains 94% of its military-related students who are receiving federal or state benefits. This does not include students who graduate or who have exhausted their benefits.
If you can’t find the retention rates, don’t despair! Some Institutional Research departments might not aggregate data specific to veteran retention, and that’s okay. Call the office that serves veterans and inquire about any measures or initiatives they might be taking to improve retention. For instance, veteran retention is a high priority at UIW. There are many veteran programs and resources to support student veterans to ensure they are making progress from semester to semester. For example, UIW launched Peer Advisors for Veterans Education (PAVE) program in the fall of 2020. This program connects new and incoming student veterans to current student veterans who are trained as Peer Advisors. Peer Advisors assist students with resources and are available for support for any challenge’s students may face. UIW is also connected with the Meals for Vets organization, which provides free meals for low-income veterans through their cafeteria. Additionally, the UIW Military and Veteran Center serves as a resource hub to connect student veterans to any other support resources they need, such as tutoring, advising, or career services.
The career services office at your prospective school will be an invaluable resource at every stage in your academic career. Your internship and job search might not differ that greatly from that of a traditional student, but your service is a unique component. As you vet schools, make sure their career services team is ready for you. A veteran ready career services office will have staff that is experienced with translating military service for the workforce, and strong connections throughout the community. Students will have access to services and resources that are designed to help them bridge the gap between their experience, education, and professional goals.
An example of this commitment to student success can be found at the University of the Incarnate Word. UIW recognizes the experiences and skill sets veterans bring to the workforce, and it is dedicated to ensuring that students have the resources they need to achieve their career goals. The Office of Career Services has provided many resources for military and student veterans. UIW has recently partnered with Purepost, an online résumé-building program that translates military experience into easily understandable language for the civilian workforce. Purepost has made the daunting resume writing process quick and easy for service members and veterans. The office also connects with employers who want to hire veterans and disseminate this information to the student veteran population. This service extends past graduation to UIW alumni.
Prestige is a tricky factor to quantify. For over 20 years, Colleges of Distinction has strived to go beyond traditional rankings systems, as they rely on arbitrary and manipulated stats. Thus, a school may seem prestigious, but will not offer a truly well-rounded, student-focused experience. False notions of prestige can do more harm than good, especially to student veterans. Make sure your potential schools have more to show for their commitment to veterans than just a ranking.
UM’s efforts to serve its military-related student population led to the University receiving the Colleges of Distinction Military Support accolade for 2020-2021. UM’s leadership is also recognized for their commitment to students. Traci Crenshaw, the director of the University’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, was named as a Veteran of Influence by the Birmingham Business Journal for the work she does for UM’s military-related students.
Numbers aren’t everything, but the size of the veteran population can give you a sense of how welcoming the campus is. In Spring 2021, 1,774 military affiliated students were enrolled at UIW. This is nearly 25% of the entire student population. Word continues to spread of UIWs commitment to a quality education and rewarding college experience. UIW recognizes its students have many options when choosing their school, and it wants students to feel proud of their degree from UIW.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether a school will be right for you. A school may look great on paper, but if it is not the right fit for you, then you might not be as happy or successful. Travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines make touring a potential school difficult, if not impossible. But check with your school to see if they are offering virtual tours! Social media can be a great tool in your quest to find the right fit. Scroll through a school’s pages to get a sense of the culture and community. You might even engage with some students directly to get their insight on their experience.
By forming the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs specifically to serve military-related students, the University of Montevallo strengthened its already strong track record of serving those who serve our nation. By investing in the office, UM is ensuring that it will continue to offer strong support to all military-related students and their families.
UIW can be a fit for any student. At UIW, each and every student is taken care of thanks to its incredibly dedicated staff, faculty, and administration. Students are not just a number at UIW. With the variety of programs offered, small classroom sizes, flexible schedules, affordable tuition, and veteran-focused programs, students have the resources they need to be successful. The great thing about UIW is that it never stops trying to enhance the services provided to its military-affiliated students. The military and veteran community is a strong presence at UIW. Many students have found UIW to fit their needs and help them accomplish their goals because of the incredible support offered to them. UIW welcomes, honors, and recognizes all of its military-affiliated students. The door is always open.
At the end of the day, your goals and needs will be as unique as you are. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will help you organize your priorities and find that perfect school for you. In your search, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call your schools directly! The officials in the admissions department or the military and veteran affairs office at these schools will be more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Remember, they are on campus to be your advocate. In the meantime, check out our schools that have been hand vetted for their excellence and commitment to student veterans. Start with the two institutions who excel helped shape this article: University of Montevallo and University of the Incarnate Word.