Best Online Military Friendly Colleges of 2021

October 5, 2021

edited by Jordan Stewart-Rozema, Ph.D.
With advice from David Grantham, Ph.D.
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Despite a steady downsizing in personnel since the mid-1950s, the U.S. military remains one of the largest armed forces in the world. According to data from the Council on Foreign Relations, roughly 1.29 million people served in the military in 2018. A recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau also reveals there are about 18 million veterans of the armed forces.

To calculate this ranking, BestColleges looked at several specific factors, such as services and programs offered by colleges to military service members and veterans.

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What are the best military-friendly colleges of 2021?
Here are our top 10:

#1 University of Florida Gainesville, Florida
#2 American University Washington, District of Columbia
#3 California State University-Bakersfield Bakersfield, California
#4 California State University-Fresno Fresno, California
#5 The University of Texas at Austin Austin, Texas
#6 Indiana University-Bloomington Bloomington, Indiana
#7 University of San Diego San Diego, California
#8 University of Connecticut Storrs, Connecticut
#9 John Brown University Siloam Springs, Arkansas
#10 California State University-Sacramento Sacramento, California

Specifically, we considered factors such as whether colleges had a dedicated point of contact for support services for military personnel, whether colleges were members of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges program, whether colleges offered credit for military training, whether colleges had a recognized student veteran organization, and whether colleges participated in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Dr. David Grantham, a former officer and special agent for the U.S. Air Force, shared his experience with choosing a military-friendly college. "I had the privilege of attending Texas Christian University (TCU) and joining the history department’s Ph.D. program after separating from military service. TCU’s excellent veteran services and financial generosity was the main reason I chose the school. ... It was also the staff’s treatment of veterans and their willingness to consider my circumstances along with my academic credentials."

Our goal is to provide a comprehensive academic resource for military veterans, active service members, reservists, and military dependents across the country.

How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you will make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering school rankings that are transparent, inclusive, and relevant for online students.

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our Ranking Methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

2021 Top Accredited Military-Friendly Colleges for Service Members and Veterans

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University of Florida View School Profile Gainesville, Florida

The University of Florida is known for innovative research, a competitive engineering school, and the Gators football team. UF ranks as one of the most military-friendly colleges because it hosts many military support services, including the Collegiate Veterans Success Center, Office of Student Veteran Services, and Collegiate Veterans Society.

The university boasts a long history of serving military service members, as an estimated 10,000 UF students and alumni served in World War II. After the war, so many veterans enrolled at UF that the school had to build three makeshift cities containing over 1,000 residences.

Military students can access the Yellow Ribbon Program, tuition assistance, GI Bill® benefits, and other forms of financial aid.


College Snapshot

School Status: Public
Number of Online Programs: 24 bachelor's; 84 master's; 7 doctoral; 103 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

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American University View School Profile Washington, District of Columbia

Although location may not matter for many students attending online military-friendly colleges, learners can still benefit from American University's location in Washington, D.C. — within just a few miles of the Pentagon and VA headquarters. Students can benefit from the school's extensive professional network, strong reputation, and professional development opportunities in the nation's capital.

AU offers several degrees that are particularly relevant to military service members, including counterterrorism and homeland security, public administration and policy, and international relations and business.

The Veteran Services Office offers a work-study program that provides a stipend to veterans and other military-affiliated students who work for the university. Participating students answer questions about VA benefits, provide other students with military-related information, and assist with administrative tasks.


College Snapshot

School Status: Private
Number of Online Programs: 20 master's; 5 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Mostly asynchronous

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California State University-Bakersfield View School Profile Bakersfield, California

California State University, Bakersfield is among the most military-friendly colleges in the Golden State. The university hosts several events and meetings for veterans and service members, including veteran workshops, the veteran club, military-related holiday events, and a veterans recognition ceremony. Veterans and service members also receive access to tutoring and free printing.

CSUB's veterans club welcomes active service members, veterans, and military dependents. The club promotes community service and creates a space for military-affiliated students to connect and support each other.

The university provides ample networking opportunities, academic support, and alumni platforms to help online students engage with each other and the campus community. CSUB also offers corporate training, test prep workshops, and a summer reading program.


College Snapshot

School Status: Public
Number of Online Programs: 3 bachelor's; 7 master's; 16 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

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California State University-Fresno View School Profile Fresno, California

Although fully online options are somewhat limited, California State University, Fresno still ranks among the most military-friendly colleges in the country.

The school's Veterans Resource Center focuses on helping veterans connect with resources in Central Valley. Veterans and service members also enjoy dedicated facilities, including a lounge, study area, and smart classroom. Veterans and service members can receive academic credit for their prior training, allowing them to graduate more quickly.

Fully online learners can choose from certificate, master's, and doctoral programs. Additionally, undergraduate learners can participate in hybrid programs, combining in-person and online elements. CSUF also offers professional development programs in areas like geographic information systems.

CSUF features an in-person program in military science and leadership, which integrates the Army ROTC. Students enjoy the full benefits of the prestigious California State University System.


College Snapshot

School Status: Public
Number of Online Programs: 3 bachelor's; 3 master's; 3 doctoral; 5 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

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The University of Texas at Austin View School Profile Austin, Texas

The University of Texas at Austin is one of the best online military-friendly colleges because it offers myriad educational options, including standalone self-paced courses, lifelong learning for students over the age of 50, and career-focused professional education. The university also offers a military discount of 10% on its classes and certificate programs. To learn more about specific benefits, veterans can contact the Student Veteran Services Office.

Online students at UT Austin can choose from almost 50 self-paced or semester-based standalone courses. Self-paced courses allow motivated, disciplined students to move through material quickly, while semester-based courses provide more structure and set deadlines. Students don't need to apply to enroll in these online extension classes; they can simply register and start taking courses right away.

Students can also pursue a few master's degrees entirely online, such as an MS in nutritional sciences and an MS in data science. The school also offers more than a dozen certificate programs online, including data analytics, graphic design, and cybersecurity.


College Snapshot

School Status: Public
Number of Online Programs: 6 master's; 14 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

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Indiana University-Bloomington View School Profile Bloomington, Indiana

Indiana University Bloomington has maintained strong ties to the military since opening in 1820. Today, the university serves more than 500 veterans and nearly 750 military spouses and dependents.

IU's Center for Veteran and Military Students provides comprehensive assistance to veterans and service members, including information on military educational benefits, free math tutoring for military-affiliated students, and monthly programs. The center also strengthens service members' bonds to the IU community by educating students and staff about the needs of veterans and military-affiliated students, hosting a chapter of the Student Veterans of America, and coordinating events for Veterans Day.

Military-affiliated students enjoy a dedicated lounge for their use. They also earn a place in the IU Golden Book — a record of all IU faculty and students who have served in the U.S. military.


College Snapshot

School Status: Public
Number of Online Programs: 1 associate; 3 bachelor's; 60 master's; 3 doctoral; 40 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Mostly asynchronous

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University of San Diego View School Profile San Diego, California

The University of San Diego is one of the best online military-friendly colleges for students interested in a graduate-level education. USD offers many master's programs that may be of interest to military-affiliated students, including cybersecurity operations and leadership, law enforcement and leadership, and applied data science.

USD's military and veterans program helps veterans and service members at all stages of their journey, from initial college considerations to alumni support. USD's professional development center connects learners with career opportunities; helps students prepare, plan, and succeed in their chosen career; and coordinates events that demonstrate student skills to potential employers. USD participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program and helps students access GI Bill® benefits.


College Snapshot

School Status: Private
Number of Online Programs: 7 master's; 10 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

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University of Connecticut View School Profile Storrs, Connecticut

The University of Connecticut is home to a strong military and veteran community, with nearly 1,500 students, staff, and faculty affiliated with the military in some capacity. The Husky Vet Gazette provides veterans and service members with regular updates on events, job opportunities, military orders, and VA news. UConn also recognizes student excellence through a Veteran of the Month profile.

The university provides college credit for military training and experience, including service in foreign countries. UConn also offers a one-credit course for new students that explains veterans benefits, educational resources, and successful study habits. The class prepares military-affiliated students to succeed in college.

Veterans and service members can connect through dedicated Facebook and Twitter pages. Military-affiliated learners can also connect on eight regional campuses throughout the state.


College Snapshot

School Status: Public
Number of Online Programs: 10 master's; 27 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Mostly asynchronous

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John Brown University View School Profile Siloam Springs, Arkansas

John Brown University has been recognized as one of the most military-friendly colleges by major publications like U.S. News & World Report. The university accepts all VA benefits and provides extensive support services, including tutoring, vocational rehabilitation, counseling, and ESL resources.

JBU also boasts an affordable tuition rate and several scholarship opportunities to help learners keep costs low. Service members and veterans can also earn college credit for their prior training and experience.

Even in online courses, JBU keeps class sizes small to foster a stronger sense of community and collaboration. This interdenominational Christian university provides faith-based learning but accepts students of all religions and beliefs. Online students can access in-person resources on campuses throughout Arkansas. The school boasts one of the highest graduation rates in the South.


College Snapshot

School Status: Private
Number of Online Programs: 4 bachelor's; 18 master's
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Mostly asynchronous

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California State University-Sacramento View School Profile Sacramento, California

The Veterans Success Center at California State University, Sacramento provides peer-to-peer mentorship, information about VA benefits, leadership opportunities, and other veteran-related resources. Sacramento State also oversees a dedicated Veterans Success Center virtual office — a particularly useful resource for distance learners.

Through the Veterans Career Pathways Program, students gain the skills and knowledge needed to transition into the civilian workforce. The program features three components: introductory events on resume-building, interview techniques, and professional networking; workshops on federal and state employment sites, entrepreneurship, and advanced application techniques; and ongoing on-the-job skills training, professional mentorship, and internship opportunities.

Although fully online options are somewhat limited at Sacramento State, students can access a suite of distance learning classes through the California State University System.


College Snapshot

School Status: Public
Number of Online Programs: 6 bachelor's; 7 master's
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

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Illinois Institute of Technology View School Profile Chicago, Illinois

Illinois Institute of Technology stands out among online military-friendly colleges due to its flexible format that integrates both distance learning and in-person courses. Although the institute does not offer fully online bachelor's degrees, most undergraduate programs incorporate online courses and elements, even for on-campus students.

Both online and in-person courses use the Blackboard learning platform, making it easy to switch from one format to the other. This feature is particularly useful for military students who may need to travel for training or deployment but plan to return for in-person learning when possible.

IIT hosts three ROTC programs: aerospace studies (Air Force), military science (Army), and naval science (Navy). The school participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program. More than 98% of IIT students receive some type of financial aid, including need-based and merit-based awards.


College Snapshot

School Status: Private
Number of Online Programs: 53 master's; 27 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

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Samford University View School Profile Birmingham, Alabama

Samford University hosts a VA certifying official on campus to help military-affiliated students access its full slate of veterans benefits and support services. Additionally, the university offers a veterans' bachelor of science in nursing, which offers a supportive learning environment specifically designed for veterans and military service members.

Although the veterans' BSN is only available on campus, Samford also offers several flexible online programs, including a bachelor's in organizational leadership, a master's in law, and a doctorate in nursing practice.

Samford's Cumberland School of Law recently launched a veterans legal assistance clinic, which assists with civil matters such as consumer debt, landlord-tenant affairs, contracts, uncontested family matters, and wills. The clinic may also help with criminal matters, such as expungement, driver license issues, and fines and court costs.


College Snapshot

School Status: Private
Number of Online Programs: 2 bachelor's; 14 master's; 8 doctoral; 8 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Contact the School

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Harding University View School Profile Searcy, Arkansas

Harding University has been recognized by the Arkansas State Approving Agency for Veterans as one of the most military-friendly colleges in the state. Veterans, service members, and military dependents can access military educational benefits to help fund their studies. The university also accepts credit for military training and experience.

The American Studies Institute at Harding hosts events for military-related holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day. The institute emphasizes the importance of capitalism, constitutional governance, and Christian-Judeo ethics. Harding also maintains a reputation for conservative thought.

Although the university offers only one online undergraduate degree in Bible and ministry, distance learners can choose from multiple graduate and certificate options in areas like education, nursing, and ministry.


College Snapshot

School Status: Private
Number of Online Programs: 1 bachelor's; 15 master's; 1 doctoral; 11 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Contact the School

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Florida Institute of Technology View School Profile Melbourne, Florida

Florida Institute of Technology ranks among the best online military-friendly colleges thanks to its efforts to recruit, support, and retain American veterans and service members. The school provides in-depth assistance to students trying to access their VA benefits, as well as targeted resources and guidance for distance learners.

FIT's aeronautics programs often appeal to military-affiliated learners. Undergraduate students may enroll in the bachelor's in aviation management program. Graduate students can choose from three online aeronautics programs: aviation safety, aeronautics - human factors, and aviation management. Military-affiliated students may also be interested in FIT's programs in cybersecurity, business management, organizational leadership, and criminal justice.

The institute offers a special $250/credit tuition rate for undergraduate students who are active-duty service members, selected reservists, National Guard members, and their spouses. Other military-affiliated learners, including graduate students, receive a 10% tuition discount.


College Snapshot

School Status: Private
Number of Online Programs: 10 associate; 13 bachelor's; 46 master's; 1 doctoral; 5 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Contact the School

Request more information about this school.

LeTourneau University View School Profile Longview, Texas

LeTourneau University boasts a long history of serving veterans and service members. The university was built on the grounds of an old Army hospital and was founded to provide education to returning World War II veterans. LETU offers several resources for military students. It also participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program and grants credit for military-related training and experience.

The Student Success Center helps online learners find the support they need. For example, the center provides pep talks, online tutoring, help with formatting papers, and advice on time management and other challenges.

While military-affiliated students pursue many online educational programs, learners may be particularly interested in earning a degree in cybersecurity, criminal justice, aircraft dispatch, aviation studies, or strategic leadership.


College Snapshot

School Status: Private
Number of Online Programs: 8 associate; 21 bachelor's; 12 master's; 1 certificate
Schedule: Semester
Online Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Contact the School

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Additional Information

Next, let’s take a closer look at some of the standard benefits available for today’s military and veteran college students.

The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 was first enacted to provide educational and professional opportunities for returning WWII veterans. This act is better known today as the GI Bill, offered through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The following GI Bill provisions are commonly found at accredited colleges and universities across the country:

Montgomery GI Bill:

Launched in 1984, Chapter 30 of the bill is known as the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB). Under MGIB, active-duty military personnel may forfeit $100 per month for one calendar year; this monthly allotment will entitle them to a monthly educational stipend after they have completed at least two years of active duty.

Furthermore, active-duty servicemembers may elect to forfeit an additional $600 per month as part of the ‘Buy-Up Program’; these candidates will receive repayment at a rate of up to eight dollars to one, resulting in a maximum payout of $5,400 in additional benefits. These benefits will expire after 10 years if they are not cashed out. The MGIB also features a provision for reservists known as Chapter 1606; eligible candidates will receive up to 36 months of education benefits.

Post-9/11 GI Bill:

This section of the GI Bill is designed for veterans who have entered active-duty since Sept. 10, 2001. Eligible candidates include personnel with a total of 90 active-duty service days since 9/11, as well as those who have been honorably discharged or received a service-connected disability after 30 days of active-duty service. The Post-9/11 provisions include two benefits programs that reduce out-of-pocket costs for military students.

Schools participating in the Yellow Ribbon program will ‘match’ GI Bill tuition payments by contributing 50% of the overall benefits; currently, the maximum GI Bill payout for Yellow Ribbon recipients is $21,084.89 per year. The Transfer of Entitlement program also enables military students and spouses to donate all or some of their unused benefits to children who are attending college.

Additionally, the Post-9/11 GI Bill includes the Machine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship; this award is reserved for spouses and children of military personnel who have died in the line of duty since Sept. 10, 2001. Finally, eligible recipients will be given a yearly textbook stipend of $1,000.

Chapter 31:

This comprehensive section of the GI Bill -- known as Vocational Rehabilitation, or Voc Rehab for short -- is dedicated to creating educational and educational opportunities for veterans with service-connected disabilities.

Chapter 32:

Known as the Dependents Education Assistance Program (or DEA), this section of the GI Bill provides tuition assistance and other benefits to the spouses and children of military veterans who have been killed in the line of duty or permanently disabled as a result of military service. Eligible candidates will receive up to 36 months of education benefits.

Chapter 35:

Also known as Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance, this section of the GI Bill offers opportunities in the form of education and training to eligible dependents and survivors of certain veterans. Eligible candidates can receive education and career counseling, among other benefits.

Chapter 1607:

Reservists who have completed at least 90 active-duty service days are eligible for education benefits under the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP). Currently, eligible recipients will receive up to 80% of the educational benefits given to active-duty personnel as they are reservists.

Benefits Offered by Schools

In addition to federal benefits awarded through the GI Bill, many colleges and universities offer extra provisions for active-duty servicemembers, veterans and military dependents. These perks may include:

Grantham reports that at his school, "veteran representatives on campus were readily accessible and very knowledgeable. It was clear that TCU had invested in its staff to handle veteran services, which gave me confidence that they would also take care of me through the academic process, especially when dealing with the VA."

Academic Outcomes for Military Students

Academic support services are crucial for active-duty servicemembers and military veterans pursuing a college education. “[V]eterans follow very different paths to graduation compared with their traditional peers,” note the authors of Million Record Project, a research initiative launched by Student Veterans of America. “Despite these and other challenges common to nontraditional students, student veterans are persisting towards their educational goals and succeeding.”

The Million Record Project polled active-duty personnel, reservists and military veterans. The project’s report noted that 51.7% of all students surveyed eventually earned a postsecondary certificate or degree program. However, nearly 80% of those polled who completed a college program also received GI Bill benefits.

The survey also found that military students typically take longer to complete degree programs than traditional students; the median military student earned an associate degree after four years and a bachelor’s degree after five years. However, the report notes that ‘military-related factors’ often impact degree completion times.

The majority of military students in the U.S. complete their education with a certificate or associate degree program; roughly one-third of those interviewed for the survey had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Thanks to prior-learning assessment (PLA) programs, military students can earn college credit from training programs and field experiences. Academic majors that tend to award the highest amount of PLA credit include business administration, information technology, engineering, and nursing and health professions. Military students should carefully research PLA opportunities at different colleges and universities in order to determine which schools are the best match for their particular skill-set.

"[Veterans] have much to offer beyond academics and any university would benefit from their presence on campus." - David Grantham, Ph.D.

According to Grantham, "Veterans are generally dependable, task-oriented, and willing to lead. They have much to offer beyond academics and any university would benefit from their presence on campus."

According to the 2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report, one out of two Post-9/11 veterans will experience a period of unemployment during their transition to civilian life. GI Bill benefits have played a major role for these individuals; post-9/11 veterans represent roughly 58% of the current GI Bill benefits recipients. Another 8% have donated their unused benefits to a qualifying child who is attending college.

Additionally, female students who receive GI Bill benefits recorded a 10% higher completion rate than the average for all benefits recipients. In 2013, the median annual income for veterans in the U.S. was $40,302 -- more than $10,000 higher than the median annual earnings for non-veterans.

Additional Support Services

Active-duty servicemembers, veterans or military dependents are encouraged to visit the following sites for more information about tuition assistance, career planning, and other academic services for military students.

VetJobs:

This extensive employment listing site is dedicated to active-service personnel, reservists, National Guard members, veterans and military dependents. Site visitors can browse job openings, post resumes and find career fairs in their area.

GI Bill Comparison Tool:

Hosted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, this interactive tool allows students to input their GI Bill benefits and compare the estimated cost of attending different schools. The tool includes a section for online students.

VFW Student Veteran Support:

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) hosts a web page dedicated to military students. The site includes scholarship opportunities, tips for choosing the right school, and information about the VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship awarded to top-performing veteran students.

Interview from:

David A. Grantham, Ph.D. is nationally renowned thought-leader and practitioner in areas of global intelligence, cybersecurity, and international affairs. He is the author of "Consequences: An Intelligence Officer’s War."

Dr. Grantham currently serves as a senior fellow with the Center for a Secure Free Society, a leading research and educational think tank focused on national security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Prior to that, he served as the Senior Fellow of National Security at the National Center for Policy Analysis, as an officer in the United States Air Force, and as a special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Dr. Grantham holds a Ph.D. in modern history from Texas Christian University with specializations in Latin America and the Middle East. He earned his master of science in international relations from Troy University and bachelor of arts in history from the University of South Florida.

He resides in north Texas with his family. Learn more about Dr. Grantham at granthamstrategies.com.

In recognition of military service, many organizations provide aid and services to help veterans pursue higher education. Learn more about these benefits. If you or one of your family members has served in the military, you probably qualify for several governmental or institutional educational awards. Find out more about the financial aid programs available to military families with our military dependent scholarship guide.