Knowing yourself is a deliberate and critical step toward becoming a GI Bill expert. It means opening and maintaining the lines of communication with your GI Bill with school personnel. Most importantly, it means admitting you are responsible for knowing the debts you incur while using the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

How and why to avoid the debt trap.

The greatest danger to your success in higher education is failure to follow through with a class. I’m not talking about failing a class — even I did that a couple times — but withdrawing after the Department of Veterans Affairs has paid the school the GI Bill tuition and fees on your behalf.

Related: How to be a GI bill expert: Know your payment »

I’ve seen students attend an expensive private school only to leave mid-semester saddled with debt in the five-figure range. The frustration is understandable, but the reality of who’s responsible for the debt doesn’t change.

Debt can be avoided if you carefully consider how many credit hours you can afford to take through proper time management. Debt under the Post-9/11 GI Bill is not to be trifled with; it can be collected through future monthly housing payments, disability payments, and even your tax refund. There are mitigating circumstances when something tragic or inopportune happens that’s outside of your control. VA even has a policy to account for failing grades that’s advantageous to you.

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Always keep your school certifying official informed of your enrollment.

The school certifying official, or SCO, is the individual responsible for transmitting your enrollment information to VA. Doing so triggers a payment to be processed on your behalf. Your official should be your battle buddy. He or she should know how long you served on active duty, what benefit program you’re using, and have a copy of your academic plan. A SCO who fails to learn this information about you should be a cause for concern; however, you also need to make an effort to keep this person informed. For example, your SCO may not know you have a kicker or college fund contract from your service. In this case, provide a copy and send a separate copy to VA using our secure email system.

Related: How to be a GI bill expert: Know your surroundings »

Knowing yourself may be the hardest lesson to learn. It takes time to master yourself especially if you’re going to college for the first time with the GI Bill. Recognize before you start classes that you are responsible for any debt incurred while studying. Find your SCO and become his or her ally. Do these and you’ll become a GI Bill expert.