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5 Steps to Prepare for Higher Education5 minute read • Oct. 25, 2021
Perhaps you’ve decided to pick up some new skills or helpful knowledge. Maybe you’re leaving the service and want to re-create yourself or redefine your career. No matter why you’re pursuing higher education, you need a game plan — a course of action to get you from today to that moment you walk across the stage holding your diploma in hand. Here are some practical steps to take.
Step 1: Contact the Voluntary Education Program
Before you get buried in college brochures, speak with an education professional through the Voluntary Education Program. An education professional can help guide you through planning and paying for your education, as well as eligibility requirements. Find your service-specific contact information below:
- ArmyIgnitED or 210-466-0470
- Marine Corps Voluntary Education Program or 703-784-3340
- Navy College Program or 877-838-1659
- Air Force Education Programs
- Coast Guard Voluntary Education
- Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, or DANTES
Step 2: Choose a college
Deciding which college to attend is much easier when you have the right information. As a service member, you have access to useful resources such as College Navigator, a free online tool from the National Center for Education Statistics. College Navigator provides information on more than 7,000 postsecondary education institutions so you can compare schools’ tuition, financial aid, accreditation information, graduation and retention rates and more.
TA DECIDE is another helpful tool for comparing schools and programs. Designed for participants of the Department of Defense Military Tuition Assistance Program, it provides education costs and outcomes, as well as information about other military students who are participating in the tuition assistance program.
Still have questions about selecting a college or program? Contact your service-specific Voluntary Education Program listed above or contact your installation’s education center. Education counselors can help you decide which programs are the best fit based on your goals and help you find:
- Contact information for military-friendly schools and institutions that allow you to transfer previous college credits
- How to get your credentials converted and diplomas translated to meet state- or country-specific requirements
- Profiles on specific colleges and their credentials
Step 3: Take your college admission exams
Get ready for some studying even before college begins. Most colleges and universities require admission exams with your application, such as the SAT Reasoning Test, the SAT Subject Tests, the American College Testing, or ACT, Readiness Assessment, Graduate Record Examinations or GRE, Graduate Management Admission Test or GMAT, and the General Education Development Test.
The Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, or DANTES, can help you prepare for registration and cover the cost of some academic tests. DANTES also offers college prep resources that can help you prepare for these admission exams, sharpen study skills and identify your interests and aptitudes in choosing an area of study or career path. Visit DANTES to learn more or to contact an education counselor.
Step 4: Convert your military experience to college credit
The tests you endured in combat can count just as much as quizzes in a classroom. The Joint Services Transcript converts your military experience into civilian college credit, providing documented evidence to colleges and universities of professional military education, training and occupation experiences. The Joint Services Transcript is a collaborative transcript program that replaces previous transcript programs, making it easier for colleges to read and recommend credits.
Step 5: Understand your financing options
As a service member, you have several options that can help fund your schooling — so that you can concentrate on studying rather than paying the bills. Contact your installation’s education center for assistance with your college financial plan. Department of Defense education counselors can help you identify grants and other kinds of assistance for which you are eligible. Here is a sampling of programs and loans available:
- Military tuition assistance — provided by each service branch, offering up to $4,500 of assistance per fiscal year
- Montgomery GI Bill® and MGIB Tuition Top-Up Programs — funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs
- Tax credits and deductions — such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit
- Federal grants and loans — such as the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Perkins Loans, Stafford Loans and Federal Supplemental Education Opportunities Grant
Take the next step toward your education. Find education resources, consult voluntary education websites, read up on preparing for higher education and reach out to get the assistance you need. Your service’s Voluntary Education Program and your installation’s military education center are also available to help you achieve your education goals.