Three tips for military service members enrolling in higher education
Tracey Thomas, making a difference in military service members’ lives at UACCB since 2003
Understanding VA Educational Benefits
Military service members are often on “information overload” after exiting the military, so they may bypass or misunderstand information given to them. The best thing veterans can do after discharge is talk to a School Certifying Official about the process of accessing VA (Veterans Affairs) Education Benefits. Understanding how to access their benefits, the rules and regulations required for maintaining their benefits and how their benefits payout will help eliminate any misunderstandings and stress. This also allows service members to make informed decisions when presented with options and when deciding how best to juggle school, family, employment, and finances. Active, Reserve, and National Guard members face these same challenges plus a few more because they may qualify for tuition assistance and/or a state funded benefit, so learning the regulations and processes of multiple VA Education Benefits can be especially overwhelming. Navigating this process is not something students should attempt alone.
Don’t rush the process
Trying to jump into school a few weeks after discharge may cause unnecessary stress. It takes time for the Department of Veteran Affairs to process a new application, as well as other types of financial aid, so this will cause a delay in receiving financial assistance. Sometimes it’s better to delay enrollment for one semester, allowing service members adequate time to submit all required documents for college admissions offices; this also ensures all available financial aid is in place when enrolling. This prevents undue stress and frustrations, so service members and veterans can fully concentrate on successfully completing their classes.
Overload of courses
Since VA Education Benefits are limited (36-48 months), some service members try to take an overload of courses to complete their programs quickly. About a month into the semester, service members realize they took on too much when trying to juggle employment, family, and school. If classes are dropped, this may lead to overpayments of financial aid and/or their VA Education Benefits. Service members need to remember it is better to take an extra semester to successfully complete all courses stress-free than to fail or drop courses due to overload and possibly end up in overpayment as well.
Above all, service members should keep in touch with their local School Certifying Official(s) to receive prompt answers to questions, to avoid miscommunication regarding benefits, and to receive support and encouragement while on campus. We’re here to help.
Tracey Thomas, Assistant Registrar/School Certifying Official at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) since 2003, provides daily assistance to service members and their families in accessing their VA Education Benefits, informing them of VA requirements, certifying enrollment to the VA, providing academic advising, tracking attendance and progress, and offering a listening ear when they become frustrated or want to share their stories of success and accomplishment. Tracey also serves as a mentor for the School Certifying Officials in Arkansas. She says the best part of her job is helping service members and their families. “I feel we owe them for their sacrifices, so it’s important for me to give a little back.”