Going to College After (or While In) The Military: What You Should Know

Going to college is a major milestone for many individuals. A college education can lead to a number of benefits, including high salary potential, job marketability, increased employment opportunities, and economic stability down the line. This is true for everyone, no matter your age, background, or experience. Unfortunately, many veterans and members of the U.S. Military question their ability to go to college during – or even after – their service. Many feel they are not ready or able to go to school due to the unique obstacles or other commitments they are facing at the time. Some simply fear they will not fit in with other college students.

It is true that military students, whether on active duty or veterans, do not fit the mold of the traditional college student. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, military students are more likely to be older, with careers off-campus, and have considerably more life experience than the traditional 18 to 22 year old student. Many of these individuals also have a family at home to provide for, and therefore must find a way to balance work and school.

Right now, you may be thinking these are hurdles that will make it tough to go to college. This is not the case. If you are a veteran or currently in the military, you can pursue a college degree. There are many military-friendly colleges out there that can accommodate your needs as a non-traditional student. And being a service member, you are likely to thrive in a college environment. You know what you want in life, which skills you are looking to grow, and have a mission to accomplish your goals. The right college can get you there.

Below, we answer common questions about going to college while in the military, or after the military, and what you should know as you start exploring schools.

Can You Go to College While in the Military, on Active Duty?

Yes! Many individuals worry that they have to choose between the military and college, when deciding their future path. The truth is, you can pursue both—and there are even benefits to doing so. First, it is important to find a school that can cater to your schedule and military obligations. This might mean finding a college where you can take classes online, for example, so that you have full flexibility in terms of where you are based or traveling.

One benefit of going to college while in the military, on active duty, is the tuition assistance available. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Defense provides eligible, active duty members of the military with tuition assistance if they enroll in college. While each military branch has the ability to set its own requirements and rates for tuition assistance, most will offer up to $4,500 annually for students. This makes going to college while in active duty much more attainable.

Can You Go to College After the Military, as a Veteran?

Yes! Going to college as a veteran is entirely possible for you, even though you may feel intimidated at the thought. In fact, many military veterans choose to go to school after their service, and most are first-generation students. In the year 2018, an estimated 75 percent of veterans were enrolled as full-time students in a postsecondary institution. Most were pursuing undergraduate degrees, while some were earning certificates, diplomas, or even graduate awards.

In addition to active duty tuition assistance, there is financial support for veterans attending college, as well. GI benefits, for example, can be used to help pay for tuition, books, and on-campus housing if needed. Some schools, like Goodwin University, participate in the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program. This means that these schools provide additional funds for veterans’ college education, without an additional charge to their GI Bill entitlement. Some veteran students can have the cost of tuition funded in its entirety.

You can learn more about Yellow Ribbon schools here.

Why Go to College While in (or After) the Military?

Tuition assistance is one benefit provided to active and retired members of the Service. However, the benefits of college extend beyond the financial support. Military service members also consider enrolling into a college program to:

  • Expand their career opportunities.
  • Increase their job marketability and salary potential.
  • Develop new skills to ease the transition to civilian life.
  • Learn to apply military skills in civilian life.
  • Improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.

Through your experience in the military, you already know that you are hard-working, dedicated, and driven to succeed. While you may feel out of place in a college classroom, know that these qualities will work to your advantage. You will be ready and motivated to succeed. You likely already have goals in place that you want to achieve. This will put you at an advantage as you work towards your degree.

What are the Challenges of Going to School as an Active or Former Member of the Military?

Veteran and active duty military students do not fit the typical mold of the “traditional student,” and this is because of their progress in life. As a member of the U.S. Military, you have experience. You have responsibilities outside of school, whether that be a job or family or both. This can seem like a challenge, but it can also put you at a unique advantage for the road ahead. Still, it is important to keep in mind the challenges you might face as a new college student. These include:

  • The need to balance school with parenting, career, and military responsibilities
  • Transitioning from technical, military-style learning to a university learning environment
  • Transitioning from a regular military regime to a different college culture, which requires an adjustment for some
  • Relocation or deployment while in school, affecting the academic school year
  • Potential mental health challenges, related to post-traumatic stress

With all of these potential hurdles in mind, finding a college or university that caters to service members – a military-friendly college – can help ease the transition from one environment to another. Military-friendly colleges are well-versed in the unique challenges faced by veterans and active duty service members, and have resources and support systems available to you.

What to Look for in a Military-Friendly College

As noted above, attending a military-friendly college is key to having a successful educational experience outside the Service. Military-friendly colleges have dedicated services available to military students, and also are able to create flexible schedules for students that are balancing obligations. As you explore potential schools to earn your college degree or certificate, look for the following qualities:

  • Flexibility in scheduling. Part-time and full-time degree programs are available, so that you can earn your degree on a pace that works for you. Part-time degree programs enable you to balance life and your education, so you do not have to put either one on hold.
  • Online course offerings. Especially when on active duty, the ability to take classes online is critical. Online classes, or hybrid, on-campus/online programs, provide you more freedom in terms of when and where you need to be for class.
  • Veteran services. The right college will offer specific benefits for military members and veterans. This includes financial assistance, flexible scheduling options, as well as resources for service members and their families. At Goodwin, for example, we offer a Veterans OASIS for military students to network, find support, and relax while on campus.
  • A nontraditional student body. While not an essential factor in choosing your school, many Service members are comforted to know that they will be attending classes with like-minded peers, from similar walks of life. When researching colleges, ask admissions about their student population and how many veterans or active duty military personnel are attending classes. You may also ask about the average age of their students, and if you’ll be alongside other adults. At Goodwin, most students are over age 25 and the median age of our students is 29 years old.

Goodwin University is a Military-Friendly School in Connecticut

In 2021-2022, Goodwin University was awarded the Gold Level status as a Military Friendly School and Military Friendly Spouse School in Connecticut. We are listed among the top colleges and universities for Service members, due to the educational benefits, financial assistance, flexible scheduling, resources and services provided to our military students. We celebrate you and your service, and seek to provide you with an attainable, affordable pathway towards your next major milestone.

We welcome all veterans, service members, and their families.

Learn more about Goodwin University’s services for military service members and veterans today. Call 800-889-3282 to learn more, or visit us online to request more information.