Editor’s note: The following article was contributed by Jim Lorraine of America’s Warrior Partnership. The content may be edited for clarity, style and length. Find more at https://americaswarriorpartnership.org/.
There are many things that you have to consider as you transition to civilian life, but deciding whether to pursue higher education is one of the most important. Our work at America’s Warrior Partnership focuses on empowering communites to better meet veteran needs from a holistic perspective, and we’ve seen how educational pursuits can significantly impact other areas of a veteran’s life. Education can lead to broader job offers and opportunities for economic mobility, which in turn can greatly benefit your overall lifestyle as well as prospects for your family. Your education impacts many other decisions, so it’s critical to understand the benefits and resources that can help you navigate your options.
There is a wide range of financial benefits that you may be able to use to help pay for higher education. Start by researching the programs you can apply for, and determine your potential eligibility. Resources available through the Veterans Affairs Department, Student Veterans of America or elsewhere can provide you with overviews of the GI Bill and other financial assistance programs, including advice on how to apply for and use the benefits you’ve earned. Certain veterans, such as those who were non-combatants, might believe these programs do not apply to them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. These are benefits that you’ve rightfully earned, so don’t sell yourself short without properly researching your eligibility.
Once you understand the benefits available to you and have determined your eligibility under the GI Bill and other programs, you should start thinking about how you will use your financial assistance. Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Start planning now – As you begin your transition to civilian life, you may be bombarded with information about career and education options. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to start developing a plan. Think about how your interests and strengths could translate into a career. With a professional goal in mind, you can more easily focus on the benefits and resources that will help you accomplish it.
2. Don’t limit yourself – A trap that many veterans fall into is believing that they have to continue doing the same job they performed while on active duty. One of the great things about returning to school is that you have the ability to explore different professions. Just because you were a mechanic doesn’t mean you can’t pursue a business or communications degree. Consider a path that you’re interested in or passionate about, and don’t limit yourself to past experience.
3. Research vocational schools and certifications – Many veterans think GI Bill benefits must be used to attend a four-year university, but there are many types of programs that this financial assistance can apply towards. If a university doesn’t seem like the right fit, then you can look into various vocational programs, apprenticeships, certifications and other on-the-job training opportunities.
4. Consider curriculum and course options – If you’re concerned about fitting school into a busy work or family routine, make sure to research the different types of courses that the GI Bill programs cover. For example, you don’t have to limit yourself to attending a conventional four-year university. You may also be able to use your benefits to pay for online courses or night-school programs that will more easily fit into your lifestyle.
5. Consult with veteran resource groups – Many communities and universities host organizations that can direct you towards additional resources to help with your educational pursuits. For example, at America’s Warrior Partnership, we work with affiliate organizations and military bases to brief service members on how they can use GI Bill benefits. Don’t hesitate to visit your local veteran center or contact a student veteran organization for additional guidance.
One of our goals at America’s Warrior Partnership is to empower communities with the knowledge and resources they need to help you and your fellow veterans navigate your educational options. As we work to facilitate more robust resources for service members as they transition to civilian life, we hope you’ll take these tips to heart as you plan your educational pursuits.