Explore Your Interests
There is a multitude of choices when it comes to post-secondary institutions. Not every institution is going to meet the needs of every person seeking higher education. That's why it's important to know the many options available to you, the types of programs and services you're looking for, what your education path will be and what type of institutions will best meet your needs.
The career path you envision for yourself is an important first step in making the most of your GI Bill benefits. Knowing what you want to do professionally will help determine which institution and degree program is the right fit for you.
Find out what kind of career best fits you
- Identify the skills you currently have and have utilized in the military. Do you want to stay in the same career field? If so, the Army and Navy Credentialing Opportunities Online websites can help you learn what additional education you might need.
- What do you like to do? Take some interest inventories to identify potential occupations, sort them by education level, examine degrees that fit those occupations, and see projected job earnings, salaries, outlooks for those positions etc., visit http://dantes.kuder.com or http://www.onetonline.org/crosswalk/MOC/.
- Learn about the qualifications and education needed for careers that interest you. Are you willing to do the necessary work to fulfill the requirements for a BA, MA, PhD or certificate?
- Where do you want to live? Are the jobs you're interested in attainable in the area where you'd like to live?
- Contact people who work in fields that you are interested. Discuss possible careers with them.
- Meet with an academic counselor. Discuss career paths that take advantage of your background and interests.
Find out more information about career choices
A good resource to help you learn more about the education or training needed for various professions along with their earnings and job placement potential is the U.S. Department of Labor's site, My Next Move. You can learn about projected job openings for a certain career in your area, as well as average wages paid. You'll also be able to learn what education programs you should consider to succeed in your chosen career.
Choose an education program
With a career path in mind, it's time to choose an appropriate education program. College Board allows you to look for institutions that offer the types of degrees you'll need to accomplish your goals in the locations where you're looking to attend school. Sites such as this will help you narrow your college search to those programs best fit your area of study.
When talking with schools about your military transcripts, it's important to communicate the type of degree or education you're interested in pursuing, in order for them to most accurately review them.
Once you have a clear idea of the career and educational direction that's best for you, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that many colleges and universities offer education programs that have been especially designed for learners who, while working full-time, must juggle career, family, military and community responsibilities.
These institutions have introduced accelerated programs that are held on weekends and weeknights. Other programs are offered in distance learning formats, using the Internet, email, video or other distance delivery methods. Still others are offered in a mixed modality format, with some work done on campus and other work for the same course done online or at a distance.
Find out what kind of school is the best match for you and your career goals
First, identify your priorities. Next, carefully research the characteristics of a range of schools. Finally, match the two. Here are some things you should consider:
- What's the right match? The kind of college you choose to attend should reflect your goals and your personality. Whether you choose a public, private, community, technical, trade or even online college, make sure it's the best match for you.
- Big or small? Do you want to attend a big university with more choices of studies and social activities, but also larger lecture classes? Or would you like fewer choices but more personal attention and a better chance to stand out? You decide.
- Home or away? Attending a local college versus boarding out of state - what's better? It depends. For some, residence hall life is an important part of the college experience, but commuting from home is less expensive.
- Which major works? Figuring out what you like doing most, plus what you're best at, can point to the careers you should consider - and what majors will help you reach your career goal.
- Diversity? Think about the geographic, ethnic, racial, and religious diversity of the students at a prospective institution in order to find a campus at which you feel comfortable.
- Requirements for acceptance? Do you meet the requirements for acceptance at your choice institution? If not, what steps do you need to take to do so?
- Cost? Make sure the school gives you a clear statement of its tuition and fees.
- VA benefits? Is the school approved to offer VA benefits?
- Admission requirements? Each institution will have a unique set of admissions criteria you must meet when applying. Prior to submitting all material, double check their list of requirements to confirm you have gathered and are submitting all necessary information.
U.S. News and World Report keeps an updated list of college rankings. As you look to narrow your options, use this site as a resource to find schools that most closely meet the criteria you're looking for.
The importance of selecting an accredited institution
When you're deciding which college to attend, remember to ask these three questions:
- Is the school accredited?
- Who accredits the school?
- Who recognizes the accreditor?
Accreditation is very important, because it can affect your ability to transfer credits from one institution to another. It also may affect your eligibility to enroll in an accredited graduate program once you complete your bachelor's degree.
Before you enroll in an institution, you should not only check to see if it's accredited, but also verify that the agency accrediting it is recognized. Some institutions advertise that they are accredited, but do not indicate the source. Be forewarned that there are dozens of unrecognized accrediting agencies advertising on the Internet and elsewhere.
The quickest and easiest way to check a college's or university's accreditation status is to search the Institutional Database provided by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Every institution accredited by them or the U.S. Department of Education is listed.
Types of Schools
The school you choose needs to fit your interests, career goals, financial situation and other factors. Schools fall into these basic types:
- Public versus private. Public schools are operated by state and local governments. Tuition is often less at a public school. Private schools are not affiliated with a government organization. They may be non-profit, such as colleges run by private foundations or religious denominations. Or, they may be for-profit businesses, such as many career, trade or technical schools.
- Four-year colleges and universities. These can offer bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees, and sometimes include professional schools, like law school or medical school. Universities tend to be larger than colleges.
- Two-year community and junior colleges. These offer two-year associate degrees and often certifications in particular career fields, like nursing. Because their costs are often lower and admission is more open, many students start their college careers here.
- Career, technical, vocational or trade schools. These prepare students for specific careers, such as welding, cosmetology, medical imaging and electronics assembly. Their programs may be two years or less. Many of these schools are for-profit businesses. Do lots of research to make sure they can deliver what they promise.
No matter what kind of school you choose, it's important to make sure the school is accredited. It's also a good idea to check with the Better Business Bureau closest to where the school is located.
|Program or degree||Schools where offered||Typical time to graduate|
|Technical, trade or vocational courses||Career, technical, vocational or trade schools; community and junior colleges||1-2 years of study|
|Associate Degree||Community and junior colleges||2 years of study|
|Bachelor's Degree||Four-year colleges and universities||4 years of study|
|Master's Degree||Four-year colleges and universities||Bachelor's degree + 1-2 years of additional study|
|Doctorate Degree||Four-year colleges and universities||Bachelor's degree + Master's degree + 2-3 years of additional study|
Use the College Navigator to find a school that meets your needs.
You can use the U.S. Department of Education's search tool to find information about schools in all of these categories.
Adult-Oriented Degree Programs
There are many types of degree programs that are oriented toward adults. The information below comes from The College Board's Pocket Guide to College Credits and Degrees.
Degree Completion Programs
Traditional college programs typically offer courses to students who participate in a full-time day program, with classes that meet two or three times a week. Many of those same institutions are now offering alternative degree completion programs such as following:
- Accelerated Degrees: These most often will be year-round programs with courses that meet once or twice a week or on weekends. These programs enable students to complete their degree requirements in a shorter period of time. Courses that meet twice a week often last for only six to eight weeks, which means they are much more focused than non-accelerated programs.
- External Degrees: These programs require little or no on-campus class attendance. Some colleges with external degree programs require that you complete about a quarter of the degree using some video-based, Internet, e-mail, independent study or correspondence courses that typically don't require class attendance. Some colleges even allow students to earn credits entirely through such flexible options as:
Some colleges offer regular courses that allow learners to participate in an intensive weekend format. Students attend classes in a variety of locations on Saturdays and/or Sundays, and leave with reading, research and writing assignments to complete. This format is particularly good for those who can't attend courses during the week.
Distance learning (also referred to as distance education, distance study, independent study, distributed education, external education, home study, online learning and Internet-based or correspondence education) takes a wide variety of formats and makes use of different media, from print to DVDs to web-based media. You can earn credits or a degree through distance-learning courses offered by nationally or regionally accredited institutions.
Are distance-learning courses for you? You should be able to answer "yes" to these questions before launching into a distance-learning program:
- Can you work effectively on your own?
- Do you have the computer equipment required to complete the courses at a distance?
- Are you conformable learning without meeting the faculty member face-to-face?
- Would you be comfortable interacting with faculty and students online?
- Can you continue to stay on track with your learning without scheduled class meetings?
- Is distance learning the only way for you to continue your education, given your work, family and community commitments?
If you answered "yes" to all of these questions, then distance learning may be for you. Several websites offer you the opportunity to learn more about college courses or degrees that you can complete at a distance: