18 Best military-friendly online colleges

    Brandes Gress
    Brandes Gress

    Brandes Gress assists the content team with the management of daily operational activities, ensures content is published on a timely and accurate basis, and works on content-related projects.

    18 Best military-friendly online colleges

      In 2015-2016, only 52% of veterans used the GI Bill® to pay for college; unfortunately, some of these continue to get burned by for-profit universities.

      We analyzed 18,286 approved schools to find the 18 best military friendly online colleges.

      Florida State University, Indiana University Bloomington, and Arizona State University had the best military friendly colleges for online students. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

      Don’t wait to maximize your military experience

      Enroll in an online college today and seize the opportunity to excel beyond the battlefield.

      Despite the robust financial aid opportunities for veterans, data shows that 27% of undergraduate student veterans took out federal or private student loans during the 2015-16 academic year, and only 52% used the GI Bill® to pay for college.

      Although the GI Bill® helps veterans to lower the cost of a degree, many of them still fall into the trap of paying off hefty student loans after earning a degree that didn’t land them a well-paying job.

      Attending a military-friendly college offers networking opportunities, a sense of community, and financial resources to mitigate these risks. Investing in one of the best military friendly online colleges can reduce debt, secure a higher paying job, and lock in a financially secure future.

      What makes a college military friendly?

      If a university can put a check mark next to most or all the following categories, it’s considered military friendly:

      Accepts VA education benefits

      Offers academic and career advising services

      Awards college credits for military experience

      Provides counseling and support services for veterans

      Offers scholarship and grant money for veterans and service members

      Adheres to VA Principles of Excellence

      Embraces the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program

      The Principles of Excellence Program

      Executive Order 13607, The Principles of Excellence Program, was signed into law by former president Obama on April 27, 2012. The goal was to protect student-veterans from post-secondary institutions’ “abusive and deceptive recruiting practices”.

      Because the Post-9/11 GI Bill® expanded federal funds to pay for college, institutions are unfairly targeting service members and veterans to leech off their federal funding.

      According to the Executive Order these practices included:

      • “Recruited veterans with serious brain injuries and emotional vulnerabilities without providing academic support and counseling.”
      • “Encouraged service members and veterans to take out costly institutional loans rather than encouraging them to apply for federal student loans first.”
      • “Engaged in misleading recruiting practices on military installations”
      • “Failed to disclose meaningful information that allows potential students to determine whether the institution has a good record of graduating service members, veterans, and their families.”

      To avoid these deceptive practices, students are now entitled to more transparency about cost, what is and isn’t covered by their federal educational benefits, and estimated student loan debt at the time of graduation before enrolling.

      To find out if a school complies with the Principles of Excellence program, use the Department of Veterans Affairs’ GI Bill ® Comparison Tool.

       How we made this list

      To make this list of the best military friendly online colleges, we used the GI Bill® comparison tool, analyzing 18,286 approved schools and narrowing down the list by only looking at online schools with the following characteristics:

      • Regionally accredited
      • Public universities that offered 4-year degrees
      • Offer exclusively online classes, or 75% or more of students take classes online
      • Give credit for military training
      • Have a recognized student veteran organization according to IPEDS
      • Participate in the Principles of Excellence program
      • Signed up for the 8 Keys for Veterans’ Success
      • Comply with in-state tuition requirements in the Choice Act
      • Yellow Ribbon Signatory
      • Have a student veteran group
      • At least 9 students receive yellow ribbon scholarships (by last calendar year)
      • No caution flagsCaution flags are “Indicators to which potential students should pay attention before enrolling” these include heightened cash monitoring, accreditation warnings or probation, or loss of accreditation. Other caution flags are that the school is operating on provisional accreditation, or The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached a settlement with the school.

      The schools that made it through the filtering process above were then ranked using our ranking methodology. It analyses the relationship between the cost of degree and a student’s eventual earnings using government data from the US Department of Education. Our rankings prioritize schools with high earnings and lower costs, as reflected in our Economic Score (the lower the better).

      Note: Although they technically qualify as “military friendly”, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and Ohio University’s main campus were removed from the list below for having below average financial outcomes after graduation compared to the national average.

      Best military friendly colleges

      Of the 18,286 schools we analyzed, only 18 made the cut. You can be assured that the programs listed below are not only considered military-friendly colleges, but they are the best online colleges for military personnel in terms of post-graduation earnings and cost of attending the university.

      Number of GI Bill recipients Average student loan debt In-state tuition & fees Students receiving GI Bill tuition payments Students receiving Yellow Ribbon Scholarships Economic score
      1. Florida State University 1,149 $18,000 $5,656 612 37 1.31
      2. Indiana University, Bloomington 690 $19,509 $11,447 386 14 1.66
      3. Arizona State University 7,833 $19,500 $11,618 1,426 94 1.76
      4. North Carolina State University at Raleigh 1,179 $20,121 $9,128 675 10 1.76
      5. University of West Florida 1,497 $16,624 $6,360 943 28 1.77
      6. University of Maryland Global Campus 12,048 $21,000 $7,848 9,798 3,853 1.89
      7. Portland State University 1,053 $20,500 $10,806 425 41 2.10
      8. Oklahoma State University 1,129 $20,500 $10,234 545 63 2.49
      9. University of Massachusetts Lowell 577 $23,704 $16,182 223 21 2.5
      10. Utah State University 534 $14,340 $9,228 418 16 2.54
      11. University of Nebraska Omaha 907 $19,000 $8,136 459 113 2.79
      12. University of South Carolina 1,683 $21,500 $12,688 836 15 2.83
      13. University of Oklahoma 1,475 $20,654 $9,312 1,082 15 2.87
      14. University of Colorado Boulder 1,434 $19,500 $13,106 1,055 14 2.87
      15. University of Nebraska-Lincoln 715 $21,000 $9,872 310 84 2.88
      16. East Carolina University 1,884 $22,750 $7,325 815 11 3.02
      17. University of Alabama 2,127 $22,750 $11,940 1,145 254 3.15
      18. West Chester University of Pennsylvania 376 $23,500 $10,575 171 10 3.24

      *By last calendar year **Under Section 702 of the Veterans Choice Act, public schools that have VA-approved programs will receive GI Bill® payments only if they offer in-state tuition to eligible Veterans and dependents. Data in the table above is from The Department of Veteran Affairs. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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      Benefits of a military-friendly college

      Military-friendly colleges understand the unique circumstances military and veteran students face when attending college; they work hard to meet their needs, helping them throughout college and beyond.

      Credits for military experience

      Colleges evaluate and grant college credit for military experience, prior education, certifications, training and other work and life-learning experiences. For example, Basic Training can count as a school’s physical education requirement, and advanced training or technical school may cover areas like American Government. Credit isn’t automatic and varies between colleges, so a copy of your Joint Services Transcript or CCAF Transcript is required.

      Veteran resource center

      By having an active veteran resource center, virtual discussion boards, or a point of contact, students gain a sense of community that properly integrates them into college. Colleges that support military students with guidance and opportunities for connection both academically and professionally ensure their success during college and after graduating.

      Offers specific financial assistance

      Although the GI Bill® will take a good chunk out of the cost of college, there will likely be a remainder left for the student to cover. Government programs like the Yellow Ribbon Program, military scholarships, and university-specific benefits will help reduce any out-of-pocket expenses for students.

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      Financial assistance for online military students

      Various financial aid opportunities are offered to veterans, their dependents, and spouses. The GI Bill® is the most well-known financial aid form for service members, but many other funding sources are available. These include:

      » Read: How veterans can better access meaningful employment

      Community college for service members

      If you’re unsure about immediately enrolling in a 4-year program, then community college is a great option for military students. The cost of a degree is significantly less when attending a community college first, and community colleges often have additional support in place to help students succeed.

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      Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL)

      COOL is a program that provides funding for certification and licensing exams that map military and civilian educations, training, experience, and competencies to industry- recognized civilian credentials.

      Can you go to college while in the military?

      Yes, you can go to college while in the military. Getting a degree online compared to on campus makes it easier for active-duty soldiers to juggle military service and higher education. It helps boost professional goals, accelerate personal development, and can increase rank and pay.

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      Choosing the right major or online program is vital to a student’s success in online learning, especially considering there are so many useless online degrees and institutions without proper accreditation.

      Interview with a veteran


      Colin Brown


      Colin Brown grew up in a small town in NE Texas. He joined the Texas National Guard at 17 and served for 6 years. Colin is now 35, living in Prague (Czech Republic), where he’s opening a coffee roastery and brewpub. He spoke to Degreechoices about his transition from the Army to civilian life, particularly in the context of the college experience for veterans.

      What were the hardest obstacles to readjusting to day-to-day life upon your return from active duty?

      I went from living a life where most decisions were made for me—where I lived and worked with the same 20 guys whom I could trust with almost anything—to a college classroom. Having been in Iraq just days prior to getting out also meant I moved from an environment of extremely high intensity to no intensity in a weekend. It was a total shock.

      Though it felt amazing at first, the harder transition was about 6 weeks in, when the lack of stress caused my body to overproduce adrenaline so I could achieve my hypervigilant “normal.”

      Were you able to access all the services– medical care, job assistance, and financial aid– that you needed?

      I was, but some of that took a lot of time. Financial aid came quickly. I filled out a few forms, and the school took care of the rest. In terms of job assistance, the only suggested jobs based on my experience were in private security or the police force, which I wasn’t interested in. I could have signed up for medical care sooner, but I only did so once I began pursuing my disability claim, which took years to finalize.

      Was it easy to access veteran education benefits?

      Yes, that was very easy. All I had to do was go to the financial aid office at school.

      You went to community college first, how was that?

      I went back to Kilgore College right after I got out. I had attended it in high school. It was a good hybrid college where about 80% of the students commute and 20% live on campus. I think it was an easier transition because of the high percentage of non-traditional students.

      I later attended Austin Community College. That had the benefit of a higher veteran population and some integration with the University of Texas veteran community. The downside of student life was that there were many more younger students who I could not relate to at all, and the veteran community was spread out over numerous campuses and a larger population area.

      You eventually transferred to university. How was that change?

      I went to Texas State University. That was a different experience because of my life situation and my majors. I was married with a baby and commuted about an hour both ways for school. I also only went to school 2 or 3 days a week.

      Also, my English major classmates were younger: I was closer to my professors in age and related to them much more. The philosophy program I later switched to was a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, so the average age was much higher. Those courses were more mature in material, so the discussions were engaging. I didn’t feel like the old man in the room anymore.

      Did you join any veterans’ groups at college?

      No, when I was at community college, I was more engaged with my college ministry, as were almost half the veterans going to UT and ACC. When I got to university, I already had my friend and veteran networks from Austin. The hour-long commute and only being in San Marcos 2-3 days a week, meant that there wasn’t really time to build relationships.

      Was it difficult to find the kind of employment you were looking for after college?

      Yes, it was. I searched for over a year for something in content or copywriting but wasn’t hired. Part of the issue may have been that I was asking for a relatively high starting salary without much relevant work experience. They could hire someone younger for a lower salary.

      Another part was that most of my work experience was more applicable in other industries. Although I had years of experience leading people and managing expensive equipment and materials, I was applying for starting positions and not management roles.

      Did you feel employers understood the kind of skills and experience you had gained in the military?

      Very much the opposite. It takes a lot of creative rewording of a job description to make my military experience seem even remotely applicable to civilian businesses. How can you phrase “I was a squad leader with 15 men beneath me, doing convoy security operations in Anbar Province from November 8 to September 9” in a way that a civilian would understand?

      They don’t understand the scope of leadership involved in leading 15 people in a combat zone, spending almost 24 hours a day with these guys, managing basically all elements of their lives, personal and professional. Also, being responsible for the use and maintenance of tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment.

      The fact that we were “on the job” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the better part of each year. The fact that we were technically middle managers and had more authority than most C-level managers do. It’s impossible to translate.

      Is there any type of support in terms of education and employment that you found was missing?

      One of the problems that veterans face when using education benefits is the restrictions placed on them when signing up for classes. They only receive the benefit for classes that apply to their major. If counselors at schools had more knowledge of these restrictions to help veteran students plan their studies, it would help them build better schedules and graduate faster.

      When it comes to employment benefits (outside of using state or VA assistance for writing resumes), coaching vets on how to translate their work experience in the military into terms a civilian can understand would be extremely useful.

      Any final thoughts about your experience of being a student-veteran or advice to current student-veterans?

      My advice is to network with veterans in your community, whether that be near your home, in your school, or some other organization, like a church. Find both younger and older vets, to do what the DoD and VA don’t do. The older vets have transitioned and you can learn from their experience. The younger ones are going through it with you and can be your support when things get difficult.


      The military offers programs to help pay for college, including the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), the GI Bill®, and others that help pay for college tuition or trade school. The amounts vary depending on the program, if you’re active duty, and how long you served.

      Not all colleges accept military tuition assistance. It can be used to pursue degree programs at colleges that are regionally or nationally accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S Department of Education.

      Many states offer some form of free college for resident veterans or their families, but not for all veterans. Some states have requirements such as: have a qualifying honor such as a Purple Heart of Medal of Honor, have a certain VA disability rating, or have served in an approved war zone or campaign. These vary from state to state.

      Not every college accepts the GI Bill®. Use the GI Comparison Tool to search for GI Bill® approved schools and compare the benefits you’ll receive at different colleges before applying. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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