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How to Choose a College After the Military

Kristin Byerly
By Kristin Byerly

If you are like many servicemembers transitioning from the military, you may find that higher education can be a useful path for a smoother transition and help you achieve your goals. When choosing a college that aligns with your values and goals, consider the following tips.

Choose a School That Understands Your Needs

If you realize that higher education would help you on your career path, choose the right institution for your goals. It is important to know and understand your benefits through working with Veterans Affairs (VA). When choosing a school, consider the different formats of learning. Online learning may offer the flexibility you need, while hybrid learning may help with housing benefits by allowing you to take some courses on-site. Also, consider the time you will need for studies, the learning environment that best fits your learning style, and how the commitment will shape your day-to-day life.

Turn Your Military Experience into College Credit and a New Career

Remember, you choose the career you pursue now. Keith Hauk, associate vice president of Stateside Military Operations at the University of Maryland Global Campus says the transition out of the military provides a critical opportunity to make a change in your direction and profession if you want to.

“A bias exists that veterans would automatically want to go into contract security work or criminal justice, regardless of your military occupational specialty,” Hauk says. “The world is your oyster. With the post 9/11 GI Bill®1 and access to vocational benefits under chapter benefits, there are all kinds of things you can do.”

If you want to pursue the same type of job that you performed in the military, you have a great opportunity to maximize the college credit you receive for your military skills and training. To translate your experience into credits, choose a college that can use your joint service transcript (JST), credit by exam, and/or other non-traditional credit-earning pathways.

Regardless of whether you want to stay in the same type of field or change careers entirely, you can find ways to apply your military experience to your learning.

“Everything I needed to know about marketing in a business context, I learned in the military through the target identification and target prosecution process,” Hauk says. "Any competent E5 team leader in the military knows the targeting process, and they are ready-made marketing analysts. It’s learning to apply what you have learned in a different way.”

With the many opportunities before you, you may want to know a little bit more about how to translate your military experience into a new career. The connection between military experience, college credit, and your future career goals is stronger than you think.

Understand Chapter Benefits and Pay for College Using the GI Bill®1

It is important to choose a college whose faculty and staff have a deep understanding of all aspects of transitioning. While a lot of information about healthcare considerations, VA disability compensation, and housing is shared as part of out-processing, higher education benefits beyond the GI Bill®1 are often overlooked. Make sure you do the research to determine which chapter benefits best suit your needs.

“Many students need help understanding their chapter benefits and how funding works,” says Nicole DeRamus, assistant vice president of Veterans Programs at UMGC.

Students may be eligible for various VA education benefits and need assistance navigating which best suits their situation. Knowing your options with chapter benefits and your responsibilities are key to maximizing your benefits, avoiding pitfalls, and finding the best opportunity.

“It is important to seek support from the right source and shop the different benefits you may be eligible for, from GI Bill®1 Chapters 30 to 35,” says Christy Bobsein, Director of Veteran Certification and Veterans Initiatives at UMGC. A good college advisor can help navigate your options.

In many cases, students are not limited to choosing one chapter. Your length of service, the course load you choose, and your eligibility are all factors in determining your choice. If you are still active-duty, the on-base education center counselor should provide you with the best guidance.

The VA Education website, the GI Bill Comparison Tool, and’s article, “Top 10 Things to Know About Using Your GI Bill in 2021” are also great resources.

Consider UMGC

UMGC was one of the first institutions to teach college classes to overseas servicemembers in 1949 and has served them ever since. For many students around the world, UMGC is a great choice for their higher education needs. UMGC is the largest online university in the United States, and its quality and affordability are key advantages for students.

“Over half of our students are military-affiliated, adult learners who like seeing themselves as a part of this important group,” Hauk says. “About half of our faculty and staff transitioned from the military successfully. Students know we understand their challenges and goals because we have faced, overcome, and met them.”

At UMGC, you can translate military experience to as many as 90 credits, without ever taking a college course when pursuing bachelor’s degrees such as management studies or computer networks and cybersecurity. This can shorten your time to graduation and save you money. Plus, the credits you receive can help you choose a degree program. And, if you are an active duty servicemember preparing to transition to civilian life, UMGC offers a military tuition rate for servicemembers and their families.

1 GI Bill is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. More information about education benefits offered by VA is available on the U.S. government GI Bill website.

Reference on this webpage to any third-party entity or product does not constitute or imply endorsement by UMGC nor does it constitute or imply endorsement of UMGC by the third party.