Thinking About College? Be Ready Before You Enroll

In the last few years, far too many veterans have learned the hard way that it takes quite a bit of work to be successful in college.  This has been reflected in the national graduation rates and drop-out statistics. Veterans and servicemembers can learn to avoid the pitfalls and college scams by doing some homework before they enroll in school.

In the first entry in this series I addressed the fact that “Military Friendly” is nothing more than a marketing phrase that means virtually nothing on its own. I offered some ways veterans can identify the schools that offer real support programs and policies designed to help them achieve their education goals.

This series of blog entries addresses three BIG issues veterans should be aware of before they start college.

  1. Military Friendly is not what it is chalked up to be.
  2. Most veterans need some remedial training to prepare academically for college rigor.
  3. Vets need to have a career plan and goals before jumping in to college.

The point of addressing these issues is to equip college bound vets and provide resources and opportunities to help ensure they get the most from their GI Bill and tuition assistance benefits.

Today’s focus is on issue number two – the fact that nearly every adult student needs remedial courses to prepare for the rigors of higher education, and veterans are no different.

Veterans who need refresher courses have nothing to be ashamed of. Think about it this way, how long has it been since you had to do any algebra or geometry homework? Or, write a double spaced 20 page APA styled essay?

The point is that jumping into college without being academically ready is a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully, there are resources to help vets prepare for school. My favorite program is a Department of Education program known as Veterans Upward Bound. I attended VUB before I went back to school and I can honestly say that if I hadn’t, I likely wouldn’t have finished my associate’s degree, let alone my MBA.

VUB normally starts by giving vets (and servicemembers) a test to assess their current skill levels. Then they provide courses and counseling to help fill the gaps. In addition, VUB provides one-on-one counseling on GI Bill benefits and they can help vets get connected to local resources.

Unfortunately, the VUB program is underfunded and is currently only available on 47 college campuses around the U.S. (including Guam and Puerto Rico). Visit the National Veterans Upward Bound website to learn more about the program and find out if they are at a location near you.

The VA offers similar assistance through the VetSuccess program. VetSuccess offers the following services:

  • Comprehensive rehabilitation evaluation to determine abilities, skills, and interests for employment.
  • Vocational counseling and rehabilitation planning for employment services.
  • Employment services such as job-training, job-seeking skills, resume development, and other work readiness assistance.
  • Assistance finding and keeping a job, including the use of special employer incentives and job accommodations.
  • On the Job Training (OJT), apprenticeships, and non-paid work experiences.
  • Post-secondary training at a college, vocational, technical or business school.
  • Supportive rehabilitation services including case management, counseling, and medical referrals.
  • Independent living services for Veterans unable to work due to the severity of their disabilities.

Veterans can visit the VA website to get started

Veterans can also request tutorial assistance through the GI Bill. Tutorial assistance helps the student pay for necessary tutoring and is a supplement to the student’s regular education benefit. Tutorial assistance is available if you are receiving VA educational assistance at the half-time or greater rate and have a deficiency in a subject making tutoring necessary. Learn more about Tutorial Assistance.

Many public and private universities and colleges also offer tutorial assistance and remedial courses. The only drawback is that most remedial course work is not eligible for GI Bill benefits. However, it is better to take the time to complete these course and be successful than to dive right in and drop right out.

About the Author

Terry Howell
Before becoming the Managing Editor for, 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.
  • USMC Vet

    Hey Vets/Active Duty —

    I joined the Marines for 4 years straight out of High School. I received some college credit by taking a few exams while in the Marines. After my tour, I attended University and earned my Bachelors degree with One Major and Two Minors in 2 years and 3 months. I used the GI Bill and went non-stop and overloaded courses as well. I had enough GI Bill left over to pick up an MBA evenings and weekends while working full-time. That took a year and a half.

    Your advantage over other students is you are older, more mature, can focus and get the job done. You will find school a lot easier as a result.

    You have background, experience and energy corporations look for. Just get in there and do it. It is a great deal. I also bought my home with no money down.

    You spent your time in the military serving your country. These are some ways to help you when you get out. Take advantage of them. It is worth it. You earned it!!

    Semper Fi

  • Ruby

    Been there, done that. If you have finished your lower level undergraduate courses, or undergraduate courses altogether, Veterans Upward Bound is not going to help. The Tutorial service is worth looking into. But students who are more senior academically are more on their own. For those Veterans RETURNING to school after a hiatus, I will give this advice: don’t bite off more than you can chew, your first semester back on campus. You are out of practice and you will need time to readjust to being out of uniform – it’s disorienting at first. Also, take advantage of your professors’ office hours, ask for help if you need it. Finally, reach out and make connections with your classmates. You will find you have more in common with the older “non-traditional” students than younger ones. They’ve also experienced what you’re experiencing, rediscovering student-hood. So seek them out, form casual groups, and work on your coursework together.

    Good luck, guys! Take advantage of the GI Bill and to steal an Air Force recruiting motto (are Army Vets allowed to do that??) aim high!

    • tdhowell

      Great advice.

  • Steve

    Ruby & USMC, your comments where great. Thanks

  • EngineerParatrooper

    Going back to school after the military can be tough. You’re used to knowing where to be, when to be there and what to wear. When you get out, suddenly there’s no one telling you what needs to be done and it can be a weird experience. I recommend taking 12 or so credit hours to get started and be aware of the commitment that you actually need to put into online classes. Keep a schedule of due dates (the course syllabus actually has a purpose) for all your classes and as Ruby said, utilize the professor’s office hours.

    Going to school is probably the best transition from the military back to civilian life. At my school there are tons of veterans and we have the same camaraderie that we had in the Army and it helps to have people that understand your background. Not to mention the sense of humor that civilians normally don’t have :)

    Make sure to use the GI BIll. Do your research on schools and majors but go for something that you envision yourself doing. As USMC Vet stated, you served our country and you deserve to have these benefits. Use all of them! They are there for you!

    Airborne!!!!!! All the way!

  • Pure Salt

    If college seemed like a huge mountain to over come when you were in high school. After the service it was more or less a mole mound. I worked the summers out smashing highways for the DOT, I finished in 3 1/2 with dual business degress… Employers love vets, especially the ones that are driven…

  • Sven

    I particularly enjoy this excerpt: “The point is that jumping into college without being academically ready, is recipe for disaster.” Unnecessary punctuation and missing ‘a’.

    • tdhowell

      Nice catch, thank you.

      • Cpt obvious

        Actually the excerpt was correct. Maybe we should consider proof reading classes as well.


    Thank you, everyone that has posted a comment one here,
    just 2 days ago i decided not to enlist.
    You all give me high hopes.

  • USAF Veteran

    I would suggest addressing your combat issues. Primarily PTSD. I am a United States Air Force veteran and a student. I have spent 20 years in pursuit of a two-year degree. I suffered from the 1980s until 2011 with undiagnosed and untreated PTSD. This created a lot of inconsistencies and prolonged my ability to obtain an Associates degree. Since I started the treatment for PTSD I have been able to achieve some of my goals. I hope you don’t take these suggestions lightly. Good luck to all of you in your future pursuits in civilian life. I turn 50 years old in July and I’ll be starting my junior year of college at American public University online.
    So Aim High, drive on and stay motivated; No Matter What! You are not alone. ASK for help!!

  • BobHollis

    I agree with Semper Fi: You have earned what you get for serving our Country. Semper Fi is right. Have a plan and remember that going back to school is work, but you can do it. So give it the same kind of attention you gave to your military duty. Thanks for your service. Respectfully, Bob Hollis, Vet2Vet.