The college application process can feel overwhelming. Instead of waiting until the last minute to gather information, start early. Most schools will require similar information.
Here’s a checklist of documents you’ll need:
Every school you apply to will require official transcripts from any schools you have attended. If transcripts are sent directly to you, do not to open them. Opening them immediately makes them unofficial and you will need to order another set.
- High school transcripts/GED: For high school transcripts, contact the school you attended. If you took the GED, you can request a transcript here.
- Transcripts from any schools you attended outside of high school: Even if you did not complete the courses, had bad grades, etc., schools will need all official transcripts from any institute you attended.
- Military transcripts: While transferability of recommended military credit is up to the discretion of the institution, many schools will accept some of that credit and apply it toward required credits, helping you complete your degree in a faster timeframe. Prior to choosing a school, talk to them about their policy regarding acceptance of military credit. Click here to request a transcript.
Letters of recommendation
Sometimes it’s difficult to think of people who can write you a letter of recommendation, but here are some ideas:
- A teacher from high school
- Commanding officers and NCOs
- Other fellow service members
- Any individual you worked with in a professional manner
If you have previously taken tests such as the ACT or SAT, order them and have them sent directly to the schools you are planning on applying to.
Translating military experience into a civilian resume may be difficult. Here are some tools to help:
- The American Council on Education has worked to translate some of the MOs and occupations they have reviewed into applicable civilian language for resumes:
- Military.com has an interactive database that will help translate the skills you developed in the armed forces into the civilian job sector.
Copies of DD214 and GI Bill acceptance letter
- Click here to request a copy of your DD214.
- Click here to apply for and get your GI Bill acceptance letter.
Even if a school says it doesn’t require an essay, submit one. Most reputable institutions will require one, so they can get to know you a little better and see your writing skills.
An essay should be approximately 1-1 ½ pages long. Start with something you know. Talk about life in the service. Answer questions such as: Why did you originally choose not to go to school? Why do you want to go now? What types of life experiences led to the decision to pursue higher education? What did you learn in the military and how will that help you in your academic pursuit? Make sure to use proper grammar, be concise, write about something that makes you stand out, be “likeable”, etc. Have someone edit your essay prior to submitting it.
For more tips, visit: Writing the college application essay
Create a Record
If you have never gone to college, start taking some courses now. Doing so will begin building a history that demonstrates your academic ability. It’ll also help you ease your way back into school. Here are some ideas on how to build an academic record:
- Community college: Take some courses at a local community college. Attending a community college is a cost-effective way of allowing you to complete some general education and elective requirements as you build your academic record. It also allows you to demonstrate your ability to successfully complete college courses, and explore your long-term goals.
- Online courses: Look to see if the school you’re interested in attending offers online courses. If not, look at other institutions that provide this form of service.
- Apply as a student-at-large: Applying as a student-at-large or non-degree-seeking student allows you to take a few general education and/or elective courses you may be interested in without going through the entire application process. Such applications have fewer steps and requirements, and allow you to build your academic experience as you explore your long-term goals.
- Transferability of courses: Prior to registering for classes, contact the school you’d like to attend to make sure the courses you’re interested in taking are transferable to your institution of choice and will meet the requirements for completing a degree.
Demonstrate academic capability: Work hard to maintain a solid GPA. The higher the GPA, the more likely you’ll be accepted into the school of your choice.
Many schools require competency assessments to place you in the proper level courses. Even if you did well in math or English in the past, prepare for these assessments in order to avoid taking non-degree applicable courses. A good place to start in preparing for these tests is to look at the sample questions on the College Board site.
Once you have a good idea of what types of questions are asked, start studying. Look online for study guides such as Khan Academy, get connected with Veterans Upward Bound programs or hire a tutor. Taking competency assessments can be less expensive and less time-consuming than taking courses that do not fulfill degree requirements. Time spent studying and practicing will ultimately save you time and money.
Look at Alternative Ways to Earn Credit
On top of working to establish a strong GPA, look to see what other type of credit you may already have earned. Many colleges offer degree programs that allow students to earn college credit in a variety of ways outside the traditional classroom. Veterans are often pleasantly surprised by the many ways they may be earning college credits and by the number of credits they may already have earned. Additionally, there are many other alternatives available to earn new credits, including the following:
- Credit earned at colleges and universities: If you attended a college or university in the past, see what credits you might be able to transfer to your new degree program.
- Credit earned by examination: You may have the opportunity to earn college credit for what you’ve learned on your own through a number of examination options, the most widely accepted of which are the College-Level Examination Program, the Excelsior College Examination Program and the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests.
- Credit earned for learning in the military: Active duty service members, reservists and veterans of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps are strongly encouraged to have the American Council on Education’s Military Evaluations Program evaluate their military transcripts for academic credit. More than 2,300 accredited colleges and universities have policies in place to award academic credit for military training experiences.
- Credit earned at service members opportunity colleges: Taking courses at SOC institutions while in the military can help minimize loss of credit and avoid duplication of coursework.
- Credit earned for workplace learning: Today, thousands of training courses offered by business and industry carry possible college transfer credit. Check with the College Credit Recommendation Service to see what counts.
As you’re learning about schools, start to develop relationships with key contacts at institutions. This includes people such as admissions counselors, veteran coordinators and school certifying officials. Developing relationships with these individuals will personalize the process and help you stand out among other applicants. They can be your biggest advocate during the application and acceptance process, as well as throughout the duration of your academic career.
Try to schedule a site visit and request an informational interview and campus tour. If a site visit is not an option, still set up an informational interview via telephone. Prior to your meeting, make a list of appropriate questions to help you learn more about the school. For example:
- What are the major fields-politics, social justice, economy, environment, etc.-that students focus on in this school?
- What is the school’s retention rate? This is the percentage of entering first-year undergraduate students who continue their studies the following year.
- What is the school’s graduation rate? This is the percentage of first year full-time undergraduate students who complete their program in at least 150 percent of the length of the program. For example, for a one-year certificate program, the graduation rate measures the percentage of students who completed the program within 18 months.
- What kind of job placement services does the school offer students and graduates?
- How many students get jobs because of the training they received?
- What other types of services does the school offer student veterans? The Toolkit for Veteran Friendly Institutions has examples of the various types of support services available for student veterans.
After speaking with someone, get their name and email address. Send a quick thank you note for the time they took to help you.