Military service members and their families are joining the growing number of people who are earning their college degrees through online classes. Military personnel may find that online courses, particularly at military-friendly colleges, give them the flexibility and selection of classes they need to fit college into their busy lives.
In a 2014 study, the Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit organization working to integrate online learning into higher education, reported that more than 7 million students are taking online courses -- 6 percent more than the previous year.
But while the number of courses being offered is increasing, it's still important to do careful research to find military-friendly colleges that are right for you.
Here are the key steps to take:
- After you've decided on what you'd like to study, research colleges to find out who offers the best courses for that field. The federal government offers a couple of online tools that help you research, including the College Finder and the College Matching Wizard.
- Once you've narrowed down your list, find out what kind of online and in-person support is offered to veterans and service members.
- Contact the admissions offices of your top choices and check to find out what standardized tests they will require and what the application deadlines are.
- Before applying, assess how much time it will take to earn your degree. Given your family and work responsibilities, how long will it take you to finish school?
- If your GI Bill benefits have expired, research your payment options. Look for scholarships, student loans and veterans discounts.
Not all schools that advertise themselves as being military-friendly online colleges are better than those who don't advertise. Here are some key questions you might ask about the schools you're interested in:
- How many veterans attend this school?
- Are the online courses they offer accredited and eligible for federal student aid?
- Does the school offer priority scheduling for service members and veterans?
- Will it accept your military education and training credits?
- What is the school's policy for withdrawing due to deployment?
Finally -- and this is true for students taking brick-and-mortar classes as well as online classes at military friendly colleges -- assess your earning potential. Research your career and college choices carefully. Even if you benefit from the GI Bill, college requires a big investment. So ask yourself: What can I expect to earn after I graduate? If the amount you're investing in college is more than what you'll be able to earn, you may want to consider a different course of study at a military-friendly college.
1. What Exactly Is A "Military-Friendly" School?, http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/13871/what-exactly-is-a-military-friendly-school/
2. National Institutes of Health: science education, https://science.education.nih.gov/lifeWorks.nsf/Information/Preparing+for+College+-+Introduction3. 2013 Survey of Online Learning Report, http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/grade-change-20134. "Not sure what college or career school might be right for you?", https://studentaid.ed.gov/prepare-for-college/choosing-schools5. Inside Higher Ed: Growth for Online Learning, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/01/08/survey-finds-online-enrollments-slow-continue-grow#sthash.UHb7banx.dG1DwME0.dpbs6. Federal Student Aid: Things to Consider, https://studentaid.ed.gov/prepare-for-college/choosing-schools/consider#distance-learning