THIRD EDITION | EDUCATION SERVICE
As an eligible Servicemember, Veteran, dependent, Guard member or Reservist planning to use the GI Bill, you are a consumer about to make one of the most important decisions of your life. Where you begin your post-secondary education is critical. Would you buy a car before considering your needs or before checking available resources for ratings and prices? The answer of course is "no" and that’s why you owe it to yourself to thoroughly consider your needs before choosing a school or program.
Making informed decisions about how to use your benefits and how they can best meet your needs means doing a little homework before classes start. This guide presents six important factors you should consider towards becoming an informed consumer first and a GI Bill user second.
Choosing the right career means considering many important factors. The Department of Labor’s (DOL) career search tool My Next Move for Vets is the nation's primary source of occupational information. You can review information about careers for hundreds of standardized and industry-specific descriptors such as “Retail” and “Manufacturing”. DOL updates the tool by surveying a broad range of workers from each occupation. There is also a search engine to find careers similar to your military job and it has assessment instruments for workers and students looking to find or change careers.
You might also want to research the projected demand for career fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook provides information on the expected job prospects for different types of jobs, the education needed, earnings, what workers do on the job and working conditions.
Finally, be sure to explore your vocational interests in depth. The self-assessment tool CareerScope® is designed to help you determine your vocational and aptitude needs as well as academic readiness. CareerScope® is self-administered and offered at no cost by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It will provide an assessment of your interests and aptitudes, give recommendations about which careers you may enjoy and be successful doing, and help you decide which courses or training programs you should focus on to pursue those careers.
Reviewing the chart below, the data shows that people who graduate with a bachelor’s degree on average earn about $500 more per week and are significantly more likely to be employed than someone with a high school diploma. Want more information on potential earnings? Take a look at Payscale.com. Review their College Salary report to learn which majors pay you back.
Choosing the right school involves more than just completing the school’s application process. Make sure the school you attend meets your standards and expectations. In the military, you demonstrated the commitment, discipline and desire to succeed. These qualities are highly sought after by colleges and universities. Leverage those qualities and attend the school that best provides what you need and maximizes your investment
For more information on what your GI Bill benefits will cover, visit our GI Bill Comparison Tool to start researching schools. The GI Bill Comparison Tool shows key measures of affordability and value for each school including graduation rates, median borrowing amounts, and student load default rates. You should carefully consider the wisdom of attending a school with a low graduation rate or high median borrowing amount.
The Federal Trade Commission also has some helpful information to help you decide. Their "Choosing a College" guide has eight questions to ask yourself and your potential school before making any decisions.
What’s the point of a degree if it doesn’t lead to employment? Employers have a good idea about which colleges and universities have good standing in their professional field and which don’t. Choosing the right school for your particular discipline is crucial. Accreditation matters if you plan to start school at one institution and transfer to another to complete your degree. Be sure to ask any potential school about their credit transfer policy.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) maintains a database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs. Accreditation is a recognized credential for schools and some programs. As stated by the ED, the goal of accreditation is to ensure that the education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.
Another helpful way to discover the respectability of a degree is to check the national ranking of the school and the program you’re considering. Visit College Factual, an authoritative college choice resource, to create customized selection lists based on the criteria you feel are most important..
Be careful about “Military/Veteran Friendly” claims and make sure your prospective school is friendly to your needs. There are objective sources to help you determine your needs.
The American Council on Education (ACE) has developed a toolkit for how schools can create or enhance policies and programs to better serve Veterans. It has examples of many successful programs that are available to you.
Other things to check for:
Given your GI Bill education benefit level and choice of school, you may not need student loans. Depending upon your time in service, your tuition and fees charges could be completely or mostly covered, depending upon your choice of a school or program. If you do take out loans, make sure you fully understand capitalized interest and the repayment terms or you may become heavily indebted. Other questions to ask yourself:
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and ED, there are currently more than 40 million student loan borrowers with over $1.1 trillion in outstanding debt, surpassing credit card debt. If you assume a large amount of student loan debt you may not qualify for home or auto loans and may have to delay saving for retirement, starting a family, or starting a business. The authoritative guide to help you determine how much college will cost and help you through the application process is VA's GI Bill Comparison tool.
If you must take out loans to help pay for school, consider a Federal Direct Loan from the U.S. Department of Education as repayment terms are generally more flexible and there are greater consumer protections. Check the online tools available through the Department of Education at studentaid.ed.gov and the Department of Education’s Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.
Choosing the right school is the first step in not only readjusting to civilian life, but to succeeding in civilian life. The GI Bill is a great program and you’ve already earned it. Use your benefits wisely, finish school, and become the leader in the civilian world you have already demonstrated you can be in the military.
1. Department of Labor’s My Next Move for Vets
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook
3. VA’s CareerScope® Interest Inventory
5. VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool
6. FTC’s "Choosing a College" Guide
7. Department of Education’s database of accredited institutions and programs
8. College Factual
9. ACE’s Toolkit for Veteran Friendly Institutions
10. ACE’s Military Guide for College Credit
11. Student Veterans of America Organization Directory
12. Overview of the President's Principles of Excellence
13. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Paying for College Tool
14. Department of Education’s Federal Direct Loan Program
15. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Overview
16. Department of Education's Financial Aid Shopping Sheet