3 Ways to Ensure College Success

The following is taken from my Education Blog. With all the upcoming changes to the GI Bill, I thought it would be good time to dust it off and run it again.

As a veteran there are a few things you can do to help ensure your own success. Veterans who have done the following three things have been able to weather the inevitable barriers to their ability to complete their degrees.

1.  Start with the right goal in mind. Veterans often start college because of the lure of the GI Bill benefits. Focusing on how earning your college degree improves your employment and ability to earn more money can make it easier to stay on track when the courses and scheduling get challenging – especially when the GI Bill payment process causes financial hardships.

Many veterans find that writing down their goals helps them stay focused.

2.  Plan for financial setbacks. Sadly, many vets dropped out of school last year due to the financial burdens caused by late GI Bill payments. It is very important to expect the worst and plan ahead for the inevitable glitches in the GI Bill payment process. Setting aside an emergency fund can help avoid the impact of late or incorrect GI Bill payments.

Some vets find it helpful to apply for Federal Student Aid – federal student loans, grants and scholarships – to help create a buffer in case of financial hardships.

3.  Get help when you need it. Don’t remain silent when things get difficult – over communicate – reach out to your professor, academic advisor, veterans’ program administrator, fellow veterans, or even the VA if you start to fall behind. Everyone at your school has a stake in your success, even if they don’t know it.

Remember your success in education leads to your successful transition to the civilian workforce. You have the most to gain from your education, be sure you don’t let anything keep you from achieving success.

About the Author

Terry Howell
Before becoming the Managing Editor for Military.com, Terry served 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard as an Aviation Electrician’s Mate and aircrewman. In his final role in the Coast Guard, Terry served as a Career Development Advisor, where he provided career, finance, education, and benefits counseling to servicemembers and their families. Since retiring from the Coast Guard, Terry has authored the book, The Military Advantage, managed the content for TurboTap, the DoD's online transition program and VAforVets, the VA's transition assistance website. Terry earned both his Bachelor's and MBA at Corban University using Military Tuition Assistance and his GI Bill benefits to help cover the cost.
  • Matt Thompson

    Read carefully grandson, pleaswe.

  • bob

    No matter what may delay you.Get your degree.You are the future.

  • Stephanie

    I’m back in school, got the ‘ok’ from the VA now I’m on financial hold because the VA hasn’t paid the school. Who do I talk to?

    • Randy Plunkett

      Stephanie, I would start wtih the VA to see if they have an estimated payment time. Your VA certifying official may be able to help. I also would talk with your student affairs office or get an audience with whomever sets policy for the university. Many insitutions have changed their financial policies for veterans as we know it takes the VA a while to get their money machine in gear. This is a bigger issue than just your personal situation. It is an issue that needs advocacy, so if you have a student veteran group, get them involved.

    • mike

      the first semester is teh hardest with the VA. They did not pay me until i had a chance meeting with my congressman.
      I would check with the cashier’s office also. do you have a vet’s group at you school?

  • Jeremy

    I’m in the process of enrolling now. It is a pretty expensive school and I’m not going to be able to come out of pocket if the VA doesn’t pull through when they’re supposed to. Is this an ongoing problem I should take precautions on?

  • don ralph

    I was told that the VA will only cover some of the classes 60% of the 15 credits being taken and will finance only 60% and 60% of the stipend?

    What’s up with that?


  • armyveteran2002

    Sigh. We really need more qualified individuals to help navigate the Financial Aid departments in the college(s) of our choice. Seriously. Maybe it should be mandatory for them to take a class on that as well.

    I have DESPERATELY been trying to finish the Financial Aid requirements for the college I have chosen last year. I am currently located in Arkansas, and I applied for financial aid at a local college-with a great reputation-in January 2010.

    I have been discouraged from the get-go, but I have not given up (veterans aren’t quitters). I finished my online application for admissions in January 2010. I was instructed to contact the Financial Aid department. No one could ever say I didn’t try hard enough.

  • armyveteran2002

    After calling them about 3 days a week, for almost 3 weeks, someone finally returned my phone call. I was informed that the ENTIRE Financial Aid department has been out of the office for the last 3 weeks or so, “conducting Orientation with the high schools interested in helping their students prepare for their futures.”

    Never mind that I might want to better MY future as well.

    I eventually got past that. I was instructed to complete an online application for financial aid. I immediately took care of that. However…….I have completed FOUR additional financial aid applications, and made changes SIX times-at their request-all online. So. What do you do, when you’ve done everything you are supposed to do? Do you sit at home and twiddle your thumbs?

  • armyveteran2002

    Maybe. I didn’t though. I hopped on my little red scooter FIVE different times and mosied on over to the finance department, driving almost 40-45 minutes each time (80-90 minutes round trip, 5 times). I had to take my 3 (4 now) year old daughter each time, because my part-time job did not afford me the liberty of childcare. I love my child to pieces, but she was in the “I JUST have to touch everything” stage.
    After one of the road trips, the financial aid department informed me, that I needed to update my financial information on my online application. How ironic. Did that. Twice more, it was for the same reason. Really people?
    On my 4th road trip, they couldn’t FIND my application. And the 5th and final time, they couldn’t OPEN it. Seriously. Imagine my frustration. Trying to change my life. I don’t receive financial support from my daughter’s father-nor have I ever. I had a part-time job (at that time), but was actively seeking full-time employment. I could NOT afford these phone calls (was on a cheap 2.00 a day plan), and I could not afford these road trips.

  • armyveteran2002

    I made one last attempt, “ah….you’re not a quitter” trip (yes a 6th), in June of this year. I called prior to leaving, to ensure the veteran’s rep for financial aid would be available. I informed the secretary that I would be there in about 45 minutes. She reassured me that it was ok-the V.A. Rep would still be able to speak with me when I arrived. Upon arrival, the same secretary interrupted the V.A. rep to let her know I had arrived. The rep asked me to have a seat, as she was still speaking with another student in her office, but when they left, she would speak with me.
    ONE HOUR later, the student and her mother left, and so did the VA Rep. The VA Rep had to leave for lunch, she told me. Could I stay? Or come back in an hour maybe? Are you kidding me?

  • armyveteran2002

    I am registered as a low-income provider. I am desperately trying to correct my situation and provide a better life for myself and my daughter. I do not receive financial support from my daughter’s father-nor have I ever. I’m a single mother, with a part-time job, trying not to get discouraged, and picking myself up every time when I do, instead of sinking into a “woe is me” frame of mind. I am also actively seeking additional employment.
    As I mentioned earlier, this college has a great-actually it has an excellent-reputation. I really cannot afford to attend another college. Although this college is located 40-45 minutes from my city, it still is the most logical and convenient one-in terms of location, my daughter’s Elementary school, my employment, and my residence.

  • armyveteran2002

    However, I am extremely appalled and disappointed by their actions. I may be an older student (i am 36)-but EVERY person, regardless of age or status, deserves to be treated equally-and as equally as the average high school student.
    When I was younger, my dreams and goals, were just temporary thoughts. As I got older, I realized I was ready-and even more so-after the birth of my daughter. My daughter deserves the best from me.
    I deserve to achieve that.

  • armyveteran2002

    My GI Bill runs out in March 2012. I would love to be compensated for the time I lost. Now, I have to ask for an extension. Now, I have to do EVEN MORE running around on my little red scooter, instead of attending classes. A great thing: my daughter is in Pre-K this year, so that helps alleviate my time.
    So. I ask you this: What hope do we older veterans or older students have with incompetent people such as these? I am not sure who to contact next. I would love a real good sit-down with the Dean of Schools. What should I do? Any advice?
    P.S.: I’m sorry this is so long. It’s been extremely frustrating for me. I welcome any thoughts, ideas, or advice. Thanks to everyone in advance!