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Which type of school will meet your needs?

Jun. 25, 2013 - 10:41AM   |  
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Veterans can receive a lot of money via the GI Bill, but the type of school you choose to attend plays a role in how far that money will go — and you definitely don’t want to waste your benefits on a school that turns out to be wrong for you.

Here’s a guide to the types of schools out there to help you understand your options and find the best fit:

Public universities

Offer: Four-year programs, rely on local and state taxes for funding.

Pros: Low-cost tuition; large selection of programs and degrees supported by public funding; well- known and regionally accredited.

Cons: Large class sizes; big campuses; less student-teacher interaction; higher tuition and dormitory fees for out-of-state residents (although efforts are underway in Congress to charge all veterans as in-state residents).

Private colleges

Offer: Four-year programs, rely on tuition, fees and private donations for funding.

Pros: Small class sizes; bigger financial aid packages; more student-teacher interaction; numerous programs; many are well-known and regionally accredited.

Cons: Higher tuition and housing costs; programs dependent on tuition, fees and donations.

Community colleges

Offer: Two-year programs resulting in an associate degree or certificate.

Pros: Low-cost tuition; credits can transfer to other schools; many are affiliated with state universities and private colleges, allowing for extra discounts on tuition; many accept experience credits; offer programs such as adult education and workforce training programs; built to serve all who want to attend school.

Cons: Most have no dormitory options, offer only associate degree and certificates, and continue to carry a stigma that they’re for underachievers — though that’s far from the truth.

Vocational-technical and career colleges

Offer: Associate degrees and certificates.

Pros: Focused more on skills and trades than academics; offer hands-on training that can be applied to a career; take less time to complete; small class sizes; similar to military technical schools.

Cons: Credits may not transfer to other schools; focused only on specific skills; tuition and fees can be expensive.

For-profit colleges

Offer: Many types of programs and degrees.

Pros: Online courses; can work around your schedule; numerous degrees.

Cons: Some have questionable marketing practices and accreditation problems; some have high tuition costs; lack of face-to-face interaction among classmates and with professor.

For many students, including me, deciding what school to attend and what to study takes time. I chose my local community college to begin my education and completed an associate degree in general studies. Choosing this low-cost school not only let me save a lot of GI Bill benefits for my next school, but also allowed me to move forward with my bachelor’s program without having to worry about taking a lot of common core classes.

Choosing the right school will mainly come down to what you want to study, location and tuition. And always remember that your GI Bill benefits may not cover the whole cost of tuition, depending on what school you choose. Graduating from an expensive, well-known, prestigious school may catch the eyes of businesses looking to hire, but nothing is guaranteed.

Just like making the difficult choice to sign up for the military, choosing the right school will be tough, but knowing your options will make it easier to find the best school for you.■

Steven Maieli is the founder of TransitioningVeteran.com, which highlights links to federal, state, for-profit and nonprofit veterans benefits and other resources. He also writes a blog on transitioning veterans’ issues at www.transitioningveteran.com/wordpress. Send questions and comments to tacticalveteran@militarytimes.com.

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