Two of the common education incentives to join the military are:
- Paid college tuition assistance while on Active Duty
- The Montgomery and Post 9/11 GI Bills, which can be used to pay for school while serving or, more commonly, after the Servicemember separates. As a bonus, the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill can often be passed to a spouse or children for their educational use, too!
Universities, colleges, and trade schools are very familiar with the Tuition Assistance (TA) and GI Bill programs. Many schools often feature dedicated on-site staff to make it as easy as possible for military students to use those educational benefits. However, a few schools sling the term “military-friendly college” around to simply hook naïve students.
So, what qualifies a school to earn that prized moniker, and how can you pick one that’s right for your needs? We’re here to answer those questions below!
What Makes a College Military-Friendly?
Obviously, just wanting a military student’s money (via a check from Uncle Sam) does not make a college military-friendly. Offering convenient online classes doesn’t qualify a school for that designation, either. And yet, some institutions merely pay lip service to military and veteran students simply to get those TA and GI Bill funds with the least amount of effort on their part.
With the rise of distance learning programs, many non-accredited and for-profit colleges popped up overnight after the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill was passed. And to protect our prospective military students and to Protect the GI Bill Act (under the larger Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020), more oversight rules were passed, as well the banning of deceptive recruiting practices.
This has helped students become savvier to find true military-friendly colleges for them. After all, our military members, veterans, and their benefit-eligible spouses and children deserve to attend higher learning institutions that will go above and beyond to take care of them!
How To Measure the Military-Friendliness of a College
The VA posted an insightful article on how to measure a college’s genuine military-friendliness. Here are a few considerations they use when evaluating schools:
- Accepts military education and training as credits
- Flexible policy for withdrawal in the event of a student’s military deployment or mobilization
- Financial aid staff who are trained in the nuances of military and VA tuition policies
- Strong military/veteran demographics
- A dedicated military/veterans center
- Priority scheduling for military and veteran students
Let’s break these checklist items down to understand what each means and why they are important.
Military training, such as basic or technical training, can translate into transferable college credits. However, each college sets its own policies on what credits it will or will not accept for transfer. A military-friendly college is more apt to count as many of these credits as possible, which means students will have fewer classes to take for their degree program and can thus graduate faster!
You’ll need to provide your school with a transcript from your branch of service. These military transcripts let your school know how many credits the American Council on Education suggests for each course or training situation completed.
A fact of life in the military is that you never know for certain when you could get tagged to deploy or mobilize. Servicemembers may be on a cycle and know their anticipated window to deploy, but all too often something comes up and suddenly you’re packing your bags! Meanwhile, Guard members could get called up to respond to unexpected national emergencies at any time.
A military-friendly school understands these realities and has built-in protections for students with such obligations. For example, deployed/mobilized students:
- Should not have to reapply for admission after a deployment
- Should get tuition reimbursement
- Should receive graduate timeline extensions when applicable
- Should be allowed to do makeup work when feasible
- Should not get penalized by having to redo coursework or give up credits
All schools have a financial aid section, but not all of them have qualified staff trained to assist students with the complexities of military tuition benefits. These benefits generally come in the form of either Tuition Assistance, which is relatively straightforward and only available to Active-Duty members, or the GI Bill, which is more complicated.
While on Active Duty, members can get help from their base education office for TA. However, once a member separates and is using GI Bill benefits, they must go through the VA for help. Having a liaison at the school is a huge comfort and can save our servicemember students a ton of time and potentially money, too.
It is virtually impossible for someone who has never served in the military to relate to “military life,” a modest term that represents the vast array of immersive experiences, feelings, and shared values one encounters during their time in service. The longer the person stays in the military, the more ingrained the culture and mindset becomes inside them.
Separating from the military and returning to the “civilian world” can be awkward and uncomfortable for some. Military and veteran students often feel more at home surrounded by those who’ve also served and can relate to the unique challenges and struggles. This is especially important during the early stages of military-to-civilian transition, when students may experience the dreaded imposter syndrome.
Completing a degree is hard work for any student, but military students face unique obstacles due to the nature of their employment. For instance, Active-Duty members are frequently reassigned from one geographic location to another, meaning they may have to switch colleges more than once and then cobble together credits from multiple institutions.
When such a student needs to fit in a critical core class in order to graduate, priority enrollment becomes…well, a priority for them! Meanwhile, dependents (i.e., a spouse or child of a military member) receiving transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill entitlements may also be subject to frequent moves, if they still reside with an Active-Duty military parent.
Additional Military-Friendly College Considerations
Waived Tuition Deadlines
The above are the main criteria used to assess how military-friendly a college is, but there are a few additional considerations. For instance, students using the GI Bill might not always have the luxury of payments being sent by the VA to their school in time to meet a tuition deadline. However, schools can waive these deadlines and not impose costly late penalties or boot these students from the classes they already enrolled in.
Scholarships and Tuition Discounts for Military Students
Nothing says military-friendly like free money for school in the form of scholarships or discounts! This includes providing in-state tuition rates for qualified students under the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.
Participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program
We’re pretty surprised the VA didn’t put this one on their list, considering how military-friendly a school must be to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Not to be confused with the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, the Yellow Ribbon Program, as Post University writes, “is powered by partnerships between the VA and participating colleges. Students who qualify receive financial support from the schools at which they’re enrolled, often in the form of scholarships or grants. This amount is then matched by the VA.”
School participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program is completely voluntary and definitely helps to cover tuition and fees, especially for students who want to go to a private, foreign, or out-of-state college versus an in-state public one (since the Post-9/11 GI Bill usually covers in-state public school tuition). To find out if a school participates, check out the VA’s Yellow Ribbon page or its GI Bill Comparison Tool.
Note, not every military or veteran student is eligible to receive Yellow Ribbon benefits, even if the school they go to does participate in the program. Also, colleges that participate may pick a maximum number of students they’re willing to provide this funding for, and recipients are chosen on a first-come, first-serve basis.
10 Military-Friendly Colleges Around the Country
Below is a sampling of some of the most popular military-friendly colleges and universities around the country. Please note, this is not a “top ten” ranking and there are many more options out there, which you can find using the search bar on our website.
Founded in 1890, Illinois’ University of Chicago is as acclaimed as it is tough to get into. The school has a “strong legacy of accomplished alumni veterans” and “supports a range of benefits, military-affiliated groups, recognized student-organizations (RSO) and programming for military-affiliated students seeking education.” UChicago participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program and features an impactful Office for Military-Affiliated Communities.
An Ivy League school in New Hampshire, Dartmouth is one of the oldest colleges in the nation. Its President Emeritus James Wright, who served in the Marine Corps for three years, helped create the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Dartmouth is a Yellow Ribbon school with no limit to how many students it accepts under the program. It’s also a partner of Service To School’s VetLink and home to the Student Veterans Association of Dartmouth College and the Tuck Veterans Club.
Located in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown is an esteemed private Ivy institution that’s been around since 1764 and ranks consistently high among global universities. It features a supportive Office of Military-Affiliated Students and a “plan to double the number of student veterans enrolled as undergraduates by 2024.” In 2020, Brown received a $20 million gift to use for military scholarships. It’s a proud partner with local Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC units, too.
Part of the 10-school University of California system, UCLA has a superb Veteran Resource Center that provides “guidance on educational benefits, academic support, career development, and community building opportunities for military-connected students.” There are also helpful Veteran Services with the Registrar with staff who make it easy to understand and apply for VA benefits and in-state tuition rate waivers.
Highly competitive, the private Stanford University in California enjoys a massive $28.9 billion endowment and a stellar reputation for producing successful alum. Its Office for Military-Affiliated Communities aids student veterans, dependents, and ROTC cadets with applicable VA benefits while supporting “educational opportunities for military-affiliated communities” and “outreach to faculty regarding engagement and support for faculty grants or other funding specifically identified for military and veteran communities.”
Virginia loves its veterans, and it shows at UVA, with ~10% of students being vets or dependents! UVA offers reduced tuition rates in many classes for Active Duty personnel and hosts engaged student organizations such as Virginia Law Veterans, the Darden Military Association, and a Student Veterans of America chapter. The financial aid office features helpful resources for students using military educational benefits, including the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program.
Sunny Gainesville is home to the University of Florida, a popular destination for military and veteran students. A Yellow Ribbon school, UF has a supportive Office of Student Veteran Services that works closely with federal, state, and local agencies to “ensure that our veterans and dependents are set up for success.” There’s a new Collegiate Veterans Success Center built for military-affiliated students to meet up and study together on campus.
Considered a Public Ivy, UNC was established in 1789 and has a sprawling 729-acre campus at Chapel Hill. The school has always maintained strong connections with the military and waives application fees for Active Duty members, along with providing other money-saving benefits. UNC participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, hosts Warrior-Scholar Project workshops, and features a Veterans Resource Center plus three military-related student organizations.
Known for its rigorous academics, Georgia Tech actually posted a humorous list of reasons NOT to apply, but being a active duty or a veteran wasn’t one of them. Those up for the challenge will greatly benefit from the registrar’s Veterans Services office, which helps with GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon application processes. The school offers exciting degree and certificate programs that are perfect for active duty and veteran students, as well as a hybrid-model Veterans Education Training and Transition program.
It’s no secret the state of Texas is military-friendly, but many don’t realize Texas A&M was originally established as a military institution accessible only to those who’d serve in the Corps of Cadets. Today, the acclaimed university continues to support the troops through its Veterans Services Office and Veteran Resources and Support Center, both of which offer an extensive range of admissions and other services. The campus also hosts Army, Navy/Marine, and Air Force ROTC units.
If you’re looking for other schools that offer military-friendly programs, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!
More Resources for Military and Veteran Students
- Community College of the Air Force website
- GI Bill Comparison Tool
- Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020
- Joint Services Transcript website
- Service To School’s VetLink
- Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014
- Yellow Ribbon Program