The View from Someone Else’s Boots: Picking the Right 'Yellow-Ribbon College' for Your Post-Military Career

Student Veteran

You have just separated from a career in the military. Now the ultimate transition to the 'civilian world' seems like it is a very daunting, unusual and totally unpredictable task. You naturally question yourself, "am I really ready for such a dramatic paradigm shift?" Considering that every aspect of your life has been significantly ingrained with so many military cultural regimens, you begin to wonder how you will successfully adapt to lifestyle challenges outside of your military experience. This may feel frightening yet, it is an inevitable circumstance for anyone that has 'worn the uniform.'

Making the Transition

Gone or limited, are many of the accustomed benefits and customs such as: every day meals, military comrades, (in some cases) consistent pay checks and most of the regimens of a society that was sternly focused on strict rules, regulations and preparation for any situation that posed a national threat to our country. Many people cannot totally relate to your individual military experience. Instead of heading for the home that you once knew, you almost feel like you have just migrated to a foreign land.

From the perspectives of many transitioning veterans, they must confront this situation whether they feel that they have adequately prepared themselves, or whether they have impromptly been separated for some medical related discharge. Because many military occupations are distinctively 'military-centric', a person may feel that they want to be officially educated, licensed or certified within their chosen career fields. There are many opportunities for a person with education and a military background (particularly with a security clearance.) Whether the person has a no college background, some college credits, or perhaps a college degree(s) - they may feel like pursuing additional education, may be a necessary route to successfully adapting and navigating this new world.

If a veteran has aggregated 90-days of active duty military service after September 10th, 2001, and were honorably discharged (or if the person was discharged with a service related disability after 30-days), they may be eligible to take advantage of benefits under the post 9/11 GI Bill. The post 9/11 GI Bill is distinct from other similar GI Bills because it will pay veterans’ tuition fees for a public school, and or lower the cost for a national maximum of a private institution for all US veterans that are eligible. Active duty veteran spouses are not eligible for this program. Child transferees of active duty veterans may be eligible if the parent is a qualified veteran is at the 100 percent rate.

For all eligible veterans that are wishing to attend college, the cost of tuition could be significantly lowered or discounted to nothing at all for those participating in this program. Colleges and universities participating in the post 9/11 GI Bill are called "Yellow Ribbon" institutions. Any collegiate institution that wishes to participate in the program must first contact the Veterans Administration and choose the amount of tuition fees to be contributed. The VA then matches the amount and issues payments directly to the institution.

Choosing the Right School

Beyond your chosen major, there are many intangibles to carefully consider when choosing the right Yellow Ribbon College. One must consider :

·         Lifestyle on campus

·         Existing military enrollment

·         Support programs (particularly for those with disabilities)

·         Disability accommodations

·         Graduation rates

·         Cost per college credit

·         Affinity groups and other social activities.


Most importantly, many of these Yellow Ribbon Schools accept military training as class credit. One would also want to consider if the school has a veterans counseling and advisement office, if they accept "American College of Education" (ACE) credits and if they have a "Veterans Upward Bound" program. This is a program is designed to measure, motivate and assist veterans in the development of academic and other requisite skills necessary for acceptance and success in a program of postsecondary education. The program also provides assessment and enhancement of basic skills through counseling, mentoring, tutoring and academic instruction in the core subject areas. Lastly, it is very important to consider the campus’ residence policy and make sure that the college has at least a 3-star rating for its academic support.

Yellow Ribbon colleges are typically eager to accept veteran students. Most feel that they are experienced, family oriented, more mature and focused on education more than traditional students. These colleges are also very interested in receiving VA funding for obvious reasons. Yellow Ribbon Colleges are easy to identify with Google and they are also listed in state categories.


The Cultural Differences

Once a transitioning veteran student goes to school, whether they are returning back to college or not, they may find themselves culturally different from other students. Most students (coming straight from home) are generally getting out on their own for the first time. They are interested in socializing, meeting new students and adjusting to their new environment. Contrastingly, many veterans may be older, have established families, are more mature and have traveled the world extensively. It is not out of the ordinary to find these cultural gaps to be disturbing to a veteran.

As an example, many veterans may address teachers and professors with the distinction of "Sir" or "Ma’am." They may find it extremely disrespectful to address these people as casually as "Mr." or" Ms." Many veterans may also feel offended as they would hear all types of questions regarding the number of people that they have killed or assuming that they may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They may also feel annoyed with certain loud environments, drug use and other issues that are commonly associated with collegiate students.

Many transitioning veterans may consider schools that are close to VA hospital facilities for medical treatments and procedures. If you are considering going back to school to get better prepared for the economy, one has a lot to consider.

As a military veteran myself, I was once where you are and I made it through with my educational pursuits. So, I assure you that it can be done. You just have to get used to doing homework, lots of studying and carrying books, opposed to carrying weaponry and obeying orders from your senior command. In the end, veterans have something that traditional students don't have - the military experience and the opportunity to have served your country - priceless!

Good luck to you all!


Ed Crenshaw is a US Navy veteran, diversity practitioner, disability subject matter expert and creator of the innovative “Preparing Employers to Reintegrate Combat Exposed Veterans with Disabilities” (P.E.R.C.E.V.D.) diversity training program. He is also the author of the books, “The P.E.R.C.E.V.D. Principles” and “The Employers Guide to Understanding Hidden Conditions Related to Suicide.” As a well-renown professional speaker, Ed is a passionate champion and respected advocate for people with disabilities.