How To Decide On The Right College As A Student Vet

A solid gold ring baring the Marine Corps emblem, which was purchased by Cpl. Kyle Lichtenberger's great-grandfather in 1918, rests on top of his acceptance letter from Columbia University in New York, at his home in Jacksonville, N.C., July 15.
Marine Corp photo by Sgt. Richard Blumenstein

After transition, many veterans choose to take advantage of Department of Veterans Affairs education benefits. What comes after pursuing higher education is deciding which school will best suit your academic and professional goals.

Colleges and universities can have a big impact, and where you choose to go will likely play a role in your post-military career. Task & Purpose sat down with three student veteran ambassadors with the Service 2 School organization, which helps transitioning service members seeking higher education.

“I don't think there is one particular thing which will ensure acceptance to a school, but I think one of the first and perhaps biggest hurdles is identifying your dream school,” said Reagan Odhner, who served in the Marine Corps but now attends Stanford University and studies economics.

People often spend more time worrying about getting into a school than where they’re actually going.

Related: What makes a college veteran friendly? »

“Don’t sell yourself short, that’s priority number one,” said former special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman Anthony Bunkley, in an interview with Task & Purpose. “Be fully involved and invested in whatever your dream is.”

Admissions counselors may be seeking students with particular career goals, skills, or scores. Sometimes veterans can apply immediately after transitioning, while others need to spend time building up their grades at a state or community college. According to Bunkley, who currently attends Columbia University, the best way to get a clear picture of what a school wants is to contact the admissions office.

He added, “Call the school, whatever school it be. Talk to an admissions counselor and find out what it is that they’re looking for.”

But it’s also important to look beyond what the college wants. As a student, your goals are equally if not more important than an institution’s standards. While the prestige of certain schools can seem all-important, sometimes even the most elite institutions may not have the programs or environment you’re looking for.

Odhner explained, “I don't think beating the odds of a competitive admissions cycle is always an indicator the school is a good fit. If you can find a school with programs which support your goals, you will have an easier time showing why you are a good fit and that will help you gain admission.”

Veterans looking to become students should have a plan, said both Odhner and Bunkley.

According to Jared Smith, who served with the 75th Ranger Battalion, “The thing that was key was reaching out to people who had already gone through the transition and were already in schools I was interested in attending.”

Smith attended the University of Oregon for a year before transferring to Yale and said that he chose his end goal first — working backward to take the necessary steps to get there.

Schools are often very accommodating when veterans are looking to apply. There are also numerous organizations that help transitioning service members find the right education programs.

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