When trying to find the most military friendly online colleges, it’s encouraging to learn there are plenty of high-quality options. Our list of ranked colleges that cater to the needs of active military members and veterans can help you narrow down your options. We’ve selected accredited schools that offer a quality education with special provisions for military students and ranked each one based on their willingness to let students tailor their learning experiences.
Schools that offer the most learning options in terms of class and degree availability and flexibility of class formats, such as asynchronous class lectures and coursework, received the highest rankings. Discover what makes a college military friendly, find ways to help pay for school, and see which colleges rank the highest in their commitment to military students.
Top Military Friendly Online Colleges
There are many private, public, and for-profit colleges and universities that are welcoming to military members and veteran students. These three military friendly online colleges in particular stand out in terms of how accommodating they are to students who are also members of the U.S. armed forces.
American Military University
With a name like American Military University, it’s no surprise that veterans and current members of the military choose to earn their undergraduate or graduate degree here. Based in Charles Town, West Virginia, AMU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers programs in all degree levels, from associate to doctoral degrees, along with certificates, professional training, and individual courses. Many of the degrees are offered primarily online, with much of the course materials offered asynchronously, making it possible to learn from anywhere and at any time. However, some programs have in-person requirements.
Many of the degrees offered at AMU are oriented to fields of interest to military students, such as a doctorate of global security or a Bachelor of Arts in homeland security. Tuition is affordable, as active-duty members of the U.S. armed forces (and their dependents) are usually eligible for a military grant from AMU that covers the cost of their education that exceeds anything that tuition assistance won’t pay for. AMU has a host of resources to explain how military students can take advantage of their benefits to pay for their education and get through the admission process while also serving their country.
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and is a world-renowned private institution that would make almost anyone’s list of top institutions of higher learning. While USC is well-known for its athletics or popular location in Los Angeles, California, the school offers many benefits to those currently serving in or retired from the U.S. armed forces.
One of the biggest benefits of USC is that it’s located close to several major military bases in the Los Angeles and Southern California area. Another advantage of USC is the sheer selection of programs. For example, there are 20 professional schools to choose from at the graduate level.
Online learning forms an integral part of the USC educational experience. USC Online has more than a dozen schools and programs that are offered primarily online. The school offers a long history of support for military students, and one way USC offers this support is with financial aid. USC is not only a participating school in the Yellow Ribbon program, but it offers an unlimited number of Yellow Ribbon scholarships for an unlimited amount of money to eligible undergraduate students.
Purdue University Global
Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, Purdue University Global is part of the Purdue University system. The school focuses on providing a high-quality education primarily through online methods, and students can choose from almost 175 degrees, certificates, and specializations. However, some courses, such as the clinical training component of the associate degree nursing program, must be completed at campus locations in Iowa, Nebraska, or Maine. Still, the vast majority of the academic requirements for Purdue University Global courses can be completed online, either synchronously or asynchronously.
In the event that military duties interfere with class, students can contact that education advisor and professor to make alternative learning arrangements. Military students can earn academic credit for their training and experience. There are special military rates for veterans, active-duty service members, and their spouses. And of course, Purdue University Global participates in multiple forms of military-based student financial aid, such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, military tuition assistance, and the Yellow Ribbon program.
What Makes a College Military Friendly?
Schools earn the reputation as one of the best military friendly online colleges in several key ways, including making a college or university degree more affordable and flexible for military students. There are several vital student support services that schools can offer to provide these students with advice and academic assistance. Learn more about the traits to look for when researching potential online military friendly schools.
Veteran and Military Programs and Services.
Services tailored to military and veteran students can take several forms. Some school faculty and staff members specialize in helping incoming students with military backgrounds become acclimated to the academic environment. They have specific expertise in the financial aid and benefits that are only available to military students. They should also know the ins and outs of the school’s transfer policies concerning academic credit for military training. For students who are nearing graduation and are beginning to look for jobs in their fields, a school’s career services team members understand the unique challenges military students face and have connections to military friendly employers.
Accepts Military Funding.
Military students have access to forms of financial aid that aren’t available to traditional college students. Many of these come from the U.S. government and help pay for college tuition, such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Another form of financial aid exclusive to military students is the Yellow Ribbon Program, which helps pay for educational costs not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Military friendly online schools are properly accredited and approved to accept these forms of tuition assistance and have experts on hand who understand how these forms of tuition payment should be applied.
Online learning is inherently flexible, yet there are still ways to make it even more accommodating for military students. For instance, online lectures can be offered asynchronously, allowing students to take their classes not just from anywhere, but at any time. Schools can also have special policies in place to make it easier for students to resume their classes where they left off if they have to leave for an extended period of time, such as a deployment.
Acceptance of Transfer Credits.
All students can reduce the amount of time and money needed to earn their degree by having transfer credits accepted by their current school. But many programs and schools place special limits on how many credits they’ll accept through the transfer process. A more generous transfer policy is helpful to military students. They’re often more likely to transfer schools between programs due to the need to switch bases or continue their education while deployed.
Credit for Military Training.
In addition to accepting credits for prior academic learning, the best online colleges for military students will also give credit for certain types of military training. The exact process of how this works will vary with each school, including how many credits for military training are possible. Depending on the school, it’s possible for more than half of graduate or undergraduate degree credits to be met with eligible military training credits.
Student Support Services.
All reputable and accredited colleges and universities will offer support services to their students, whether they are members of the military or civilians. But the services at military friendly online institutions will provide greater support for all students, not just traditional students. The kinds of support that helps military students in particular includes 24/7 tech support, research and writing clinics, and help with finding a job after graduation, are just some of the services you should look for when trying to decide which is the best military friendly college for you.
Member of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC).
The SOC disbanded in 2019, but when it existed it was an alliance of almost 2,000 schools that created a common set of rules to make it easier for military students to meet transfer credit and residency requirements if they had to change schools if military duties disrupted their degree program. There are still groups of schools (usually within a group of neighboring states) that have special agreements with each other to make it easier for any eligible student to automatically have in-state residency status if they’re a member of a neighboring state or to make it easier to get credit for a class taken at another school that’s participating in the program.
Military and Veteran Tuition Assistance Programs
One of the biggest benefits to serving in the military is the college tuition assistance options that aren’t available to regular students. Many of them are similar to conventional grants and scholarships in that they don’t need to be paid back. Military friendly online colleges are well-versed in these tuition payment programs and have a set protocol in place to accept them. The following is a list of the most common types of veteran and military student tuition assistance programs and how they work.
Now known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, this is a military benefit that helps eligible individuals pay school or job training costs. The GI Bill will cover 100% tuition and fees for an in-state school but limits how much you’ll get at a private or foreign institution. To be eligible, you must have served at least 90 days after 9/11; received a Purple Heart after 9/11 and got honorably discharged; served at least 30 days but received an honorable discharge due to a service-connected disability; or be a child that has received transferred GI Bill benefits from a qualifying service member or veteran.
Yellow Ribbon Program
This program is offered through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is similar to the GI Bill in that the benefits help pay for post-secondary education. The Yellow Ribbon Program is different in that it applies to education costs when attending a foreign or out-of-state school and has slightly heightened eligibility requirements, such as 36 months of active-duty service instead of 90 days. Far fewer schools participate in this program compared to the GI Bill.
Branch-Specific Tuition Assistance
In addition to financial assistance available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, active and reserve members of each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces also receive tuition assistance as part of the benefits package that comes with normal military pay. This tuition assistance will usually pay up to 100% of education costs and is limited to $4,500 per fiscal year. This money is sent directly from the military branch to the school.
State University Tuition Discounts
During your in-depth research of online military friendly schools, you’ll probably notice that many schools have tuition rate “tiers.” In-state and out-of-state are the most common at public schools, but another common tuition rate tier is a discount for active duty, reserve, or veteran students. These may be available at not only state schools, but also private institutions. Depending on the tuition discount, a student can easily see a 25% or 50% lower tuition rate as a service member.
Often available at state universities and colleges, these are special tuition discounts for part or all of the tuition. Sometimes the waiver only applies to the out-of-state portion of tuition (if you’re a non-resident attending a public school). Other times the waiver applies to the entire tuition and is also available to dependents, like a child or spouse. Schools may also place other limits on how fee waivers work, such as only applying to a first bachelor’s degree.
Many military scholarships aren’t available to traditional college students. This means greater award amounts are available to military students. In addition, there is less competition when applying for them, at least when compared to a regular scholarship that’s open to far more students.
FAQs About Online College for Military Members and Vets
Aspiring students thinking about going to a military friendly online college are bound to have many questions in how this online learning process works, especially when it comes to special rules or policies in place for military students. Here are some of the most common questions.
Can I serve in the military and attend college at the same time?
Absolutely. But the nature of your service will dictate exactly how practical it might be. For the most part, military friendly online schools must not punish students over military requirements. Still, the practicalities of military service, especially as an active-duty enlistee, may mean that even with the best accommodations, it may not make sense for you to constantly interrupt your learning when you get deployed or called for duty. If you’re in the Reserves or National Guard, this is far less likely to be an issue, and it will probably make sense for you to attend school full-time. If you’re in the ROTC program, you won’t need to worry about extended interruptions from deployment, as they won’t happen until you complete your program and get your commission as an officer.
Can you receive college credit for military experience and/or training?
Yes, although it depends on the school’s specific transfer requirements and procedures. Generally speaking, if a school gives college credit for military training or experience, the training will need to be reviewed by the American Council on Education and meet the requirements of your particular academic program. A school may offer other ways to get academic credit for prior military training, such as special exams or tests.
Is military tuition assistance or the GI Bill accepted at all schools?
No. There are some unscrupulous individuals and organizations preying on prospective military students seeking to use military benefits like the GI Bill to pay for their education. In response, these benefits can only be used at approved schools, such as those approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Going to an approved school ensures that you not only make the most of your tuition assistance military benefits, but receive a quality education, too.
Are there states that allow veterans to go to college for free?
Yes, but eligibility requirements will vary among participating states. For example, in Alabama, Purple Heart recipients may have the tuition and fees waived if they attend any public post-secondary institution, including two-year trade and vocation schools. It’s more common for states to offer a tuition waiver for the dependents of veterans who want to attend a public in-state college or university. Kentucky and California are two such states.
Are military discounts for tuition available to military students?
Yes, but how these discounts work will depend on the particular school. For example, some schools will simply offer a lower per-credit tuition rate for active-duty military students or veterans. Other schools may offer special scholarships for military students. The important point to remember is that military friendly online colleges will try to find ways to make the cost of attendance as low as possible, whether it be with tuition discounts, scholarships, or transfer credits.
Can a child or spouse use military benefits for their education?
In many cases, a child or spouse of a military member can use military benefits to attend college. The two most common ways they can do this are fee waivers and the GI Bill. Both of these allow eligible dependents (usually the child or spouse of a veteran or active-duty member of the military) to get some or all of their tuition and fee costs waived by the school or paid for by the U.S. government. Depending on the benefits, this military-based financial aid is either directly available to the dependent, as is the case with some tuition fee waivers, or must be transferred from the military member or veteran to the child, as is the case with the GI Bill.
Military Life and College Accommodations
One of the biggest questions prospective military students often have about going to a military friendly online college or university is what happens if they’re activated, deployed, or called out for extended training. Federal and state laws provide a variety of rights to minimize the disruption to their education, however, schools have the discretion to create policies to accommodate students when these events arise.
If a military student gets the word that they need to deploy or have been activated, there are usually four potential options to choose from.
If the deployment date is some time away, students can complete the classes early for their current semester. How this is done will depend on the professor from each class and what sort of arrangements they can provide, such as taking exams early.
Another option is that students can withdraw from the classes and get a full refund in tuition and other costs. When they return, they sign up for classes and resume their education.
Students can take an “incomplete” for the class, then pick up where they left off when they return from duty. Not all students are eligible for this third option, as most schools require students to have a passing grade at the time they take the incomplete. Some schools will only allow the incomplete after a certain amount of time has passed in the class.
Students can continue their coursework, but through distance learning methods. Depending on the nature of the deployment, this will only work in certain situations.
Leave of absence policy
The leave of absence policy will be closely tied to what military students need to do when they get deployed. Depending on the length of time the student is away from school or how the student chooses to end classes when they need to take a leave of absence, a different process may be necessary.
For example, if the student fully withdraws from school due to their military obligations lasting more than 30 days, they might choose to take a leave of absence rather than make use of the school’s policy for deployments. These leave of absence policies often allow students to resume schooling without having to reapply for admission to their program.
Flexible or hybrid learning
Flexible, hybrid, or fully online learning makes it possible for students to be deployed or complete their on-base or on-site duties, but still attend school as if they were a civilian student. If a student is attending class on-campus, they may have the option to shift their learning to a remote format. If the student is already in an online class, the professor will provide certain accommodations, like extending deadlines to turn in assignments or waiving the requirement that the student attend a certain number of live online lectures.
Moving to another base is common for active-duty soldiers. But sometimes, even the most understanding and flexible military student policies aren’t enough, and students may be better off switching schools. For these situations, it helps to have generous and considerate credit transfer policies. Schools can tailor their credit transfer rules to help military students by making it easier to get credit for classwork from another school. They can also let military students earn credit for prior military training and experience, although there will usually be limits on how many military experience transfer credits students can count toward their degree.