What Can Schools Do to Help Vets and What Can Vets Do to Help Themselves? [classic article]

As first seen in GI Money magazine

It’s often the case that veterans returning to school on the GI Bill are given their money and then left to sink or swim. Veterans have special needs. Schools either aren’t recognizing that, or they’re helping on a confusing, piece-meal basis. In this article, we’ll point out the various ways that schools can be helping vets. Also, because we’re realistic about what schools may or may not have in place right now, we have suggestions on how you can put together your own veterans’ assistance academic enhancements.

I have so many skills I learned from the military, but I don’t know if they translate to the classroom

First, see what skills you bring that can get you official college credits. Each school has a certain number of credits you must attain to graduate, as well as specific classes or types of classes that must be completed. The more credits and classes you can “pass out of,” the more money you will save in earning your degree. There are a few ways you can do this.

As suggested by CollegeScholarships.org, a veteran can prepare a detailed “Learning Portfolio” to be assessed by the school for credits. According to Charter Oak State College, an online learning institution based in Connecticut, “All portfolios share three common elements:

  • A college course description that serves as the standard against which students’ knowledge is measured;
  • A personal narrative in which students describe what they did, what they learned, and how they applied their knowledge; and
  • Evidence from a variety of sources that supports students’ claims to knowledge.”

The school hastens to add that this is not a way for a person merely to staple their resume’ to their application and get college credits. The applicant must show specifically how each experience ties to a specific college course and be prepared for an oral interview with professors to defend such knowledge, much like the Dons do at Oxford University in England. Each college has its own criteria for what a Learning Portfolio may be used for. In Charter Oak State College’s case, “Portfolio Assessment cannot be substituted for existing CLEP, DANTES or other standardized tests. You may not write a portfolio to obtain credit in a subject for which a test exists,” and “Portfolio Assessment cannot be used for courses such as practica, internships and field schools whose intent is to apply knowledge learned in other courses.”

Some schools, such as Upper Iowa University, accept and award credit based on the American Council on Education (ACE) recommendations and transcripts these credits at no cost to the student. Upper Iowa University, for example, recognizes the following: 1) ACE Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services, 2) ACE Guide to Educational Credit for Training Programs, 3) ACE Program on Non-collegiate Sponsored Instruction (PONSI), and 4) ACE Guide to Educational Credit by Examination.

What is CLEP, anyway? The College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) helps students receive college credit for what they already know, for a fraction of the cost of a college course. Developed by the College Board, CLEP is the most widely accepted credit-by-examination program, available at more than 2,900 colleges and universities. CLEP has 33 exams.

I might be lacking in some academically necessary skills – I didn’t learn everything I need to know in the military

You have lots of skills, but not everything that a traditional student has. You’re worried about whether you can success in the school environment. There are some institutions with programs in place to prep you to enter more successfully.  One of the oldest prep programs is for the United States Naval Academy, leading to a naval officer commission: the Naval Academy Preparatory School at Naval Station Newport. “NAPS”, as it’s called, enhances midshipman candidates’ moral, mental, and physical foundations to prepare them for success at the U.S. Naval Academy. The ten-month course of instruction at NAPS, lasting from August through May, emphasizes preparation in English Composition, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, and Information Technology. West Point has a similar program for the Army, USMAPS. It serves to prepare candidates selected by the United States Military Academy Admission’s office for the academic, physical, and military challenges of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Selected students (cadet candidates) are high school graduates or enlisted personnel from the Active, Reserve or National Guard force. The Air Force Academy equivalent hastens to note, “Successful completion of the Prep School improves graduates’ chances for appointment as a cadet but does not guarantee admission to the Academy.”  Air Force Cadet candidates also have the opportunity to participate in community service projects, honor and ethics symposiums and distinguished visitor testimonials as part of the continuous character development process.

There are several law schools that have what is called a “conditional admittance program”.  These programs, often held for a few weeks during the summer before first year orientation, are meant to bolster what academics call “weaker” candidates. Don’t be offended, that’s merely a term of art. The types of reports you have written in the military aren’t the same as thesis papers in the academic world; you may need some help transistioning. Though with declining law school application numbers and budget cuts, some schools – such as the University of Baltimore School of Law – have cut such programs, other schools still have them. Widener University School of Law has two campuses—one in Wilmington, Delaware, the corporate and banking center of the United States, and the other in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the state capital and a major center of government and commerce. Each summer, Widener conducts the Trial Admissions Program (TAP) for a small number of carefully selected applicants who show potential for success in law school despite a relatively low score on the LSAT or a lower undergraduate grade-point average. TAP is a conditional admittance program. Participants who successfully complete the six-week program are offered admission to the fall entering class. Other schools offering this type of programs, as of 2012, include:

Appalachian School of Law

Charlotte School of Law

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

University of District of Columbia—David A. Clarke School of Law

Faulkner University, Thomas Goode Jones School of Law

Florida A&M University College of Law

Florida Coastal School of Law

The John Marshall Law School (Chicago)

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

Michigan State University College of Law

North Carolina Central University School of Law

Nova Southeastern University—Shepard Broad Law Center

Oklahoma City University School of Law

Phoenix School of Law

Saint John’s University School of Law

Saint Louis University School of Law

Saint Mary’s University School of Law

St. Thomas University School of Law (Miami)

The University of South Dakota School of Law

Texas Southern University—Thurgood Marshall School of Law

Texas Wesleyan School of Law

The Thomas M. Cooley Law School

Whittier Law School

Who’s out there to help me?

One of your other chief concerns will no doubt be about money. You will need to schedule a meeting with the Financial Aid officer of your school, even if you don’t plan on taking out a loan. Why? Because you won’t know until your meeting if there are scholarships or grants that you may qualify for.  Nobody is likely to tap you on the shoulder to let you know that there’s a veteran, sports or ethnic scholarship you should apply for.  Scholarship money can be used for fees and books, too. Also keep in mind that scholarships are very competitive — you probably won’t be the only veteran at your school applying.

Form your own brigade

It pays to have a whole team working on your behalf. In a large state university, many professors and administrators may not even know each other. Don’t take anything for granted. Set up meetings with your professors and advisor, along with Director of Financial Aid, Director of Career Services and the Dean of Students. You may even want to let the student health center know, in case there are special VA health and counseling benefits you may need during your enrollment. Let all of them know that you’re a vet – don’t be shy, they can’t read minds! – and then, grab a few of their business cards. Distribute a card to each of the others that you meet with. Ask that they keep each other informed with developments that could help you.

Join and if you can’t join, create and lead

Some schools, like Florida State University, have extensive veteran student associations. Again, nobody is going to lead you by the hand and make you join. If your intended school doesn’t have one, form one! Show the leadership and initiative that you learned in the service to help yourself and others coordinate the veterans’ services you need.


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