Recently we spoke with Cynthia Rathunde, manager of veterans initiatives and special projects at the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and asked her for tips to help student veterans complete their college degrees and pursue meaningful employment.
Rathunde is an eight-year Air Force veteran who used her GI Bill benefits to earn her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. Most recently, she worked at a higher education institution for six years as the veterans services coordinator, where she focused on veterans benefits, payment issues and streamlining the process for veterans.
Here are some tips from Rathunde to help veterans succeed in college:
1.) Seek advising for guidance on what you really want to pursue for a career. Often the toughest part for a veteran to complete his/her degree is knowing what they want to major in. This important decision needs to be made fairly quickly, as veterans benefits don’t last forever. Veterans have 10-15 years to use 36 months of education benefits. National Louis University offers Career Services to student veterans.
2.) Know your long-term educational goal. Do you want to earn a bachelor’s or a masters’? Attend a pubic or private university? Veterans need to look ahead and then plan backward to puzzle their state and federal benefits together to see if they have enough total benefits to cover their education. Most importantly, veterans need to make sure they maximize their benefits.
3.) Meet with someone at the veterans office and school certifying official at each university you’re considering. Ask them how your benefits work at that particular institution. For example, are you going to need to put down a deposit when you register? What do you need to do to get your benefits certified? If you take other aid (e.g. grants, loans, etc.), how does that process work, and when will you get a refund? Every school operates differently. NLU has a dedicated VA certifying official.
4.) Participate in an orientation session. See if there’s a session tailored to veterans. Tour the entire campus and ask questions. Is there tutoring? How do you go about registering.
5.) Remember that you’re not alone. Reach out to the veterans office, Student Veterans of America chapter at your school, etc. If you’re experiencing a challenge, it’s very likely that others have as well. The veterans services at your institution will guide you in a non-threatening way.
6.) Things don’t happen automatically, like in the military. Benefits, in particular, do not work automatically. You need to take an active role and understand the process to accomplish certification of benefits.
As background on CAEL, everything at the organization supports one goal: making it easier for people to get the education and training they need. They do this by finding practical ways to link people’s education to their jobs or future careers. CAEL also supports ways to link learning from work and life experiences to educational goals — to help students earn their degrees and credentials faster.