Education can make all the difference for veterans transitioning from the military to a civilian career. Yet many do not know how best to leverage GI education benefits they earned or how to use the skills they gained during military service to earn a degree or career credential. Veterans thinking about college can improve their chances for success with the following steps:

1. Start the way you want to finish

In the military, your work was defined by the mission. Now the mission is you and your future. Begin by having a clear civilian career goal in mind. Do you want to pursue a career similar to what you did in the military or something completely different? Either way, the first step is to create a solid plan.

First, confirm that your desired field is in demand in your region. Next, explore whether a degree, an industry-recognized certificate, or an apprenticeship is the best route to success.

2. Be an informed college consumer

Student veterans are busy adult learners, juggling school, work and family. Look for a college that values and supports its student veteran community. Below are some questions to ask admissions representatives when researching colleges:

Do you have a dedicated leader to support military students? A single point of contact who is knowledgeable about military students can help you navigate your way through the college experience.

Do you have military education discounts and scholarships? Do you waive the application fee for military students? Military discounts, scholarships and fee waivers can signal that the school values student veterans.

Do you give college credit for military learning? The knowledge and skills you obtained in the military may qualify for college credit. To find out, order a copy of your Joint Services Transcript (JST). The JST lists credit recommendations from the American Council on Education (ACE). If you served in the Air Force, request your Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) transcript. Before you enroll, ask how ACE credit recommendations or CCAF transfer credits will be applied.

What services do you have for military students to help them achieve their career goals? Check to see if the school has career counselors who are knowledgeable about the translation of military skills into the civilian workforce. Ask about job placement rates and salary data for graduates in your program.

How do you assist veterans in accessing available GI education benefits and financial aid to defray costs of tuition, housing and books? You want to start the process of applying for available GI benefits as soon as possible. Commonly-used VA education benefits include the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33), Montgomery GI Bill — Active Duty (Chapter 30) and Montgomery GI Bill — Selected Reserve (Chapter 1606). You also want to complete a FAFSA form to determine if you are eligible for federal financial aid.

3. Allow yourself time to adjust to your new mission

The transition from the military to civilian, academic culture can take adjustment, and various resources can help ease the process. Introduce yourself to your colleges veterans services team. Reach out to the student veterans organization on campus. If there is a veterans' lounge or resource center, spend some time there and get to know other student veterans. These resources can help position you for success. Here's to you achieving your academic and career goals!