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Thinking about enrolling in school while in the military? By serving your country, you already have the dedication and motivation needed to pursue a degree program—even while you're actively serving. But when it comes to the unique nuances and challenges of tackling coursework while on active duty, not all schools are created equal.

By understanding the importance of choosing the right college while you're in the military and what to look for in a military-friendly school, you can enroll with confidence.

Why Choosing the Right College Is So Important

Let's face it: higher education isn't cheap. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), tuition and fees at a public university cost about $9,400 per year. The last thing you want is to spend your hard-earned money (or waste your financial aid) attending a school that isn't right for you. Instead, you'll get the most out of your experience by selecting a college that will support and empower you every step of the way.

Different Challenges You'll Face

You'll run into a few challenges as you begin researching colleges. Perhaps the first thing you'll notice is the sheer number of options available to you. Whether you're looking for something entirely online or prefer to attend classes in person, you'll need to sift through dozens (and possibly hundreds) of options. One of the best ways to narrow things down? Start with an idea of what field of study you want to pursue, then focus on schools that offer programs in that field of study.

How It Impacts Your Success

Taking classes toward a degree or certificate while you're in the military is a unique situation. Whether you're active duty or not, you'll have some unique needs and challenges that "traditional" college students don't face. Ultimately, your success in your program will depend greatly on how much support you receive from your school. Enrolling in a college that supports the military and has staff and faculty who understand your lifestyle will make all the difference.

What Factors Should You Consider?

There are many factors to consider when choosing a college, ranging from its location and support offered to the types of programs available. By keeping these considerations in mind, you'll have an easier time narrowing things down.

What's the Distance Between the School and Base?

If you prefer to take a program with at least some in-person classes, then you'll want to explore school options near your military base. This way, you'll be able to attend classes throughout the week and spend some actual time on campus—which can enrich your overall experience. Make sure that the commute between base and your school will be realistic, and consider what mode of transportation you'll use to get there.

The Different Types of Support

Ideally, the college you select should also offer some specific support for active-duty military students and veterans. You can get a better feel for this by asking whether the school has a veteran center, military support network, or other resources specific to military students.

Finding Flexible Programs

Last but not least, make sure the school you're considering has plenty of flexible program options to suit your schedule. For many military students, a "traditional" college program with in-person classes five days per week just isn't viable. Likewise, classes that are only offered twice per year may not work for a military student. Instead, explore colleges that offer weekend, evening, or online classes so you can more easily balance the demands of military life and academia. You may also want to look for schools that offer programs with start dates throughout the year—not just a couple of times yearly.

What You Should Look for When Picking a College

So, what are some of the most important things you can do and look for when exploring colleges that support the military?
Campus Visits

Start by taking advantage of the opportunity to visit campuses in person whenever possible—especially if you plan to attend classes on campus during your program. Visiting a campus for yourself is a great way to learn more about the school and determine whether it's a good fit for you. Many schools offer guided tours for prospective students, which is a great opportunity for you to ask questions about the campus and the school itself. Consider scheduling one before you enroll.

Online Resources

If you plan to take any online classes, make sure the school you choose offers resources to help you succeed outside of the classroom as well. For example, consider asking about the nature of online classes within your program. Are the classes synchronous (where students and teachers meet live), asynchronous (where there is less real-time interaction), or some combination of the two?

What Are the Financial Resources?

If you plan on using military educational benefits to help pay for college, make sure that the school you select will accept these benefits. The military offers a number of tuition assistance programs that can help offset the costs of paying for school while serving as a veteran. Some examples of these programs include:

  • The Post-9/11 GI Bill
  • The Montgomery GI Bill for Active Duty and Veterans
  • The Montgomery GI Bill for Selected Reserves
  • The Spouse and Dependents Education Assistance Program

These programs can significantly lessen the financial burden of paying for school while you're in the military, saving you potentially thousands of dollars over the course of your program. However, you'll want to reach out to your school and find out exactly how to apply your benefits before you enroll. Again, this is where exploring military-supportive colleges can make all the difference, as these schools will have the staffing, knowledge, and experience needed to handle tuition assistance requests for military students.

What Support Is Offered Outside of the Classroom?

Attending college as a military student can feel somewhat isolating, so having some support through your school can make all the difference. In addition to looking for a school that caters to military students, you may also want to look for support in the form of adaptive instruction, tutoring programs for military students, counseling, or other resources that can help you succeed both inside and outside the classroom.

University of the Cumberlands: A Top 10 Military-Friendly School

"How do I choose a college while I'm in the military?"

This is an extremely common question—and it's not one to be taken lightly. The school that you end up choosing will ultimately have a major impact on your future success, so it's important to select a college that will support you as a military student.

At University of the Cumberlands, we're proud to have earned the designation of being a Top 10 Military Friendly School. We first earned this status in 2018, and we've worked hard to maintain it by offering flexible programs and plenty of support to our valued military students. Learn more about the many programs we have to offer (including special resources and military discounts for service members). Then, feel free to reach out to learn more or schedule a campus tour at your convenience.