This article is Part 3 of a three-part series written by Lt. Col. Paul Capicik, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) about finding, maximizing and avoiding the pitfalls of military education benefits. You may also view Lt. Col. Capicik’s webinar on these topics.
Getting an advanced education can be made more difficult, painful and costly for U.S. service members if incidental education disasters pop up. This article is meant to help you navigate through the various minefields that may not be visible to the military student seeking an advanced education.
Knowing the basic rules and policies as well as being aware of the sometimes lesser known nuances that lurk in the details of a school’s operation will greatly help you succeed.
Choosing the right “military-friendly” school
Whether online or traditional, you will want to find an accredited school that will be flexible enough to facilitate you reaching your educational goals. Also, the school should offer relevant programs that are in current demand by industries in which you’re interested in pursuing a career.
From choosing a school that fits your learning needs, schedule requirements and program objectives to understanding the various school policies and nuances of how those policies are implemented, you need to do your homework. Make sure you can make the right decisions at the right time to remain a successful student and experience minimum difficulties and out-of-pocket expenses.
Which kind of school is right for you?
- Traditional (brick & mortar) schools – provide face-to-face peer and instructor interaction. Some students absolutely need this type learning environment. These interactions can offer motivational support for those that need extra hands-on assistance. Be aware that these schools often have residency requirements and may require you to change schools because of moves or drop classes because of deployments
- Online schools – provide greater flexibility for those with missions, jobs and family commitments that limit them from attending school at specific class times and at specific locations. These affordable online degree programs enable course and degree completion even in the face of deployments or moves. But know that online learning requires students who are self-starters and can keep focused on their own.
What makes a degree program right for you?
- Some military members choose a program that will earn them a degree in the quickest timeframe. Usually, this is not the best reason to choose a program. To stay engaged and motivated, choose a degree program that interests you, that will help you advance in your military career, or will lead you into a viable transition career in civilian life.
- Your transfer credit potential can also influence this decision. Don’t be shy about providing transcripts and information about all of your past education and training. This includes military training and career courses, CLEP, DSST, other college courses, and prior learning experiences such as jobs, certifications, etc.
Make sure you know school policy
Once you have chosen a school, make sure you review and understand all of the policies that will affect you. Many of these are not fully presented during the admissions process or you may forget some of the nuances.
- Orientation. If there is an orientation course, make sure you complete and understand what is presented before you start your first class. Orientation is a great way to familiarize yourself with the various forms of support available to you. It also explains your options should the courses you take not go exactly as you had planned.
- Course-drops and extensions. Know the criteria for dropping a course, how to get a course extension and what course parameters allow flexibility. For instance, course-drops and extensions can be requested at various times and have implications depending on circumstances. Various fees can be charged depending on how and when these are requested. In some cases, not following the policies will result in course failures and require repayment of benefits such as TA. Often they result in administrative fees that will most likely be out-of-pocket expenses for you.
- Support. Know what support is available to you when difficulties arise or if unexpected events take place, like high ops tempo or deployments. Coordinating with the instructor, a student academic advisor, or a military advisor and providing appropriate validating information can often result in additional flexibility to complete a course or forgiveness from some fees that would otherwise be charged.
- Extra help. If you are having difficulty with a certain course or subject, don’t be shy about requesting help early on. Extra help from an instructor or even mentoring assistance (often offered at no cost) can help you get through difficult material.
There are many other situations that can cause difficulties for the military student, including those with medical disabilities. The key is to know what policies and options are available and talk to someone who can help you minimize their effect on meeting your objectives.
If you aren’t serious about what it takes to succeed, you likely won’t. You can succeed and many do! Completing a degree can be a long road – it just takes PERSISTANCE.
Additional Military Benefits
Many schools that offer enhanced benefits to service members are called “military-friendly” schools. For instance, more than one-third of enrollments at American Sentinel University are U.S. military, thanks to these special benefits granted in addition to military tuition assistance and veteran benefits:
- Reduced tuition rates, enabling your TA to go farther
- Free books and required course software to active-duty members and spouses
- Transfer credits for military experience or training, DSST and CLEP
- No application and graduation fees
- Severely injured scholarship program
- Approved school for MyCAA military spouse benefits
Look for Part I of this series, “Find Military Benefits that Maximize your Education Options,” and Part II, “Using Military Education Benefits Effectively,” by Lt. Col. Paul Capacik, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) as well as his webinar on military education benefits.
What questions do you have about military-friendly schools and education benefits? Please post your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free 1-800-470-3743.