We want your college experience to be a rewarding one, full of possibilities and new opportunities! The application and enrollment process is the crucial first step of your journey. It involves understanding requirements, meeting deadlines and discerning which options are best—all skills you’ve developed throughout your military career. To simplify the process, we’ve broken this document down into the areas you’ll need to focus on. We’ll cover:
At the end of each section, you’ll find a checklist. Throughout the document, we’ve also highlighted links to resources that you may find valuable as you make your way through the process of researching and applying to schools.
Career choice should play a large role in helping you determine the college or university program you wish to pursue. If you are unsure of your career choice, the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop website offers useful resources to help you make your decision, such as self-assessments, a skills profiler and occupation information. As you refine your career goals, investigate the local labor market outlook for your field. Data such as the expected number of job openings and median salary can be helpful in guiding you to your goals. You will also need to determine what credentials (possibly including licenses) are necessary to advance in your chosen field in order to identify schools that offer the relevant certificate or degree programs.
Finally, find out what national tests are required to be employed in your field. It might be helpful to know things like the pass rate (both nationally and at the institutions you’re considering) and the frequency in which the test is offered. You may also ask if the the institution offers specific preparations for the test. Just as the Department of Veterans Affairs GI Bill® provides for reimbursement of many national applications exams, it also covers the costs for many licensing certification exams.
Career Choice Checklist:
- Explore career options to determine the best fit for your interests, skills and goals.
- Determine what the local labor market is like for your particular field.
- Identify what credentials you need to succeed in your field of choice.
- Find out what national tests are required for your field.
- Check to see if you can get reimbursed by the VA for any required tests.
Every higher education institution has its own set of admission requirements—applications, the tests you may need to take and deadlines you must meet. The requirements may differ if you are a first-time student, an adult with prior college experience or an adult without prior experience, and there may be different requirements for active duty military and/or veterans.
Start with the institution’s admissions page. You can contact the admissions office directly or, if there is one the institution’s veterans’ services office. Make sure that you have handy your official high school transcripts, military transcripts (e.g., the Joint Services Transcript) and results of entrance exams like ACCUPLACER or entrance exams like the SAT or ACT. In addition, you may want to consider College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, which give you college credit for what you already know and place you in higher level courses where appropriate.
A few things to keep in mind about tests:
- Although most schools that require standardized test scores will accept either the ACT or SAT, a few will only accept one or the other. They may also have an overall score needed to gain acceptance, as well as minimum subject score requirements. If it has been a while since you took the test, ask about rules on dates.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs GI Bill® provides for reimbursement of fees for many national application tests.
- Taking practice assessments can help you build confidence and identify areas you may need to brush up on before the test.
- Determine if you need to take the ACT, SAT or other admissions tests.
- Consider whether you have sufficient knowledge in certain subject areas to pass a CLEP placement test.
- Check the VA website to see which tests are reimbursed.
- Search the institution’s website or contact the institution about other items you need to submit to demonstrate college readiness.
Veteran Coordinators at Illinois public universities and colleges are the central point of contact for all veterans, service members and dependents. To obtain a list with contact information for the 2015-2016 academic year, follow this link. If you served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, your transcript is provided through the Joint Services Transcript and may be obtained here. If you served in the Air Force you may order your transcript here.
Find out if your test is approved for reimbursement by going to the VA’s National Testing Program page. Fees may be required for other placement testing and if the test is through a national service, such as CLEP, the VA may reimburse your costs. Once you learn which placement exam you are required to take, visit this page for a full listing of exams that are applicable for reimbursement.
While some colleges have an application specific to their institution (most of which can be accessed online), others require the standardized application known as the Common Application, which is available online and can be used for multiple institutions.
Some other things to keep in mind about applications:
- If schools require supplemental information or essays, you will be prompted for that information before you can submit the application.
- Most institutions charge an application fee, but these fees may be waived for veterans, so be sure to check if that’s true for the institutions you apply to.
If you don’t meet the admissions requirements of your school of choice, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story! Consider reapplying at a later date. For example, if you don’t have high enough ACT scores to meet an institution’s requirements, taking courses at a community college may prepare you to improve your score next time and make you a better candidate. If that’s your goal, be sure to find about the school’s transfer policies.
Some four-year institutions allow certain courses to transfer back for credit; some may guarantee that your entire program will transfer for credit into their institution; and others may even guarantee admissions into their school once certain hurdles are cleared in specific ways or if you earn a specific degree/credential from a partner institution.
- Check if the schools you are interested in accept the Common Application.
- Determine if the application requires you to complete supplemental information.
- Find out if there is an application fee and if it is waived for military/veteran applicants.
- Ask about the school’s transfer policies.
Accreditation and Degrees
Accreditation means that a third party has certified that a school or program is meeting standards for academic quality. There are two types of accrediting bodies, regional and national, and both of which grant two types of accreditation, institutional or programmatic/specialized.
It’s important that you ensure that your desired school or program has the right accreditations; without them, you may have trouble transferring to another school and, future employers may pass you over. This is especially important for healthcare careers.
Also, if you want to use your veterans’ benefits, make sure to find out whether the federal government has approved your particular program. It’s also a good idea to ask if the school has signed the Principles of Excellence, designed to ensure service members, veterans and their dependents have the information needed to make informed decisions concerning their military and veterans’ educational benefits.
The type of degree or credential that you’re able to earn at a particular school (or in a particular program) may influence the kinds of jobs available to you after graduation. Here is a list of types of degrees, and the typical time it takes to earn (attending full-time):
- Certification: 6 months to 2 years
- Associate degree: 2 years, typically at a community college
- Bachelor’s degree: 4 years at a university without earning an associate degree or 2 years after earning an associate degree, if the degree transfers into the bachelor’s program you select
- Master’s degree: 2 – 3 years after earning a Bachelor’s degree, depending on the degree sought
- Doctorate: 3 – 8 years and after earning a Master’s degree, depending on the degree sought
Finally, review the program’s educational plan. The plan breaks down courses you need to take, how long it will take you to earn the degree and the order in which you have to take those courses. The order is important, because some courses are only offered once per calendar year, and you’ll want to know the required sequencing beforehand.
Accreditation & Degree Checklist:
- Make sure the school and/or program is properly accredited to meet your transfer needs.
- Investigate whether you can use your veterans’ benefits to fund your education at this particular school/program.
- Review the GI Bill® Comparison Tool to see if the institution has signed The Principles of Excellence.
- Determine how long it will take to earn the degree/certification by speaking with your advisor.
Regional accrediting bodies recognize institutions that meet specific educational quality standards. You can find a list of accredited institutions in your region of choice by visiting the following links:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission (Northern and Central U.S.)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
ExploreHealthCareers.org and CAAHEP Accredited Program Search are great resources to help you understand accreditation requirements and accredited programs. If you want to use your veterans benefits to help fund your education, see if your program is approved by searching for the school of choice at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs webpage and then clicking “Programs” in the upper right corner the school page. If you do not see your program listed, please contact your school of choice to learn more.
When researching schools and programs, don’t forget to explore the school’s environment and services to students—such as faculty-to-student ratios, advising and tutoring services, disability services, and job placement services. All are important for your academic life and ensure future career success.
Faculty-to-student ratios can vary greatly from class to class within a single institution. However, these numbers—especially in core program classes—may help you understand what your academic life will be like. With smaller ratios, you may be better able to access your program instructors and receive greater personalized attention. If a clinical rotation is part of your program, you may also want to understand who supervises the clinical.
Advising and tutoring
You may need help when deciding which courses to take. Learn what kind of advising the school or program offers. If you need help with coursework, find out what kind of assistance the school offers, such as one-on-one tutoring, group tutoring sessions, and/or computerized services.
Student support services
Illinois public universities and colleges have a designated central point of contact for all veterans, service members and dependents. If you attend a private school, be sure to seek out their central point of contact to learn about eligibility for education benefits, benefit application processes, academic counseling, financial aid counseling and student support services. In addition, all institutions participating in the Principles of Excellence program must “designate a point of contact to provide academic and financial advice.”
Academic accommodations for disabilities
If you have a service-connected disability or any other need for an accommodation, meet with the designated office for students with disabilities. You may qualify for academic accommodations such as additional time for testing and/or use of adaptive equipment. Make sure you know what documentation is required and how long it can take to get that information. Explore accommodation options for a disability—they are intended to even the playing field, not to give you an unfair advantage.
Job placement services
How does the school connect students with employment opportunities? Do they offer assistance with military skills translation and resume writing, internship/job placement services, and/or interviewing skills workshops? What are their statistics around job placement and average salary after graduation? Either call or visit the school’s career services office as well as the veterans’ services office.
- See if the student-to-faculty ratio fits your needs.
- Find out what tutoring and advising services are offered.
- Determine what documentation is needed to get accommodations for a disability.
- Look at the specific ways the school helps with job placement.
- Visit the designated office for student veterans.