Planning to use education benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs? Your college’s school certifying official (SCO) can answer your questions and make sure you’re not missing anything important.
More than 800,000 people used VA education benefits in 2022, at schools in every state and numerous overseas locations. Each of these schools has a designated staff member who handles all aspects of VA education benefits.
Where Do I Find My School Certifying Official?
The SCO usually works in either the financial aid office or the bursar’s office. (The bursar’s office handles charges and payments. It could have another name, like student account services.)
Many schools will list their SCO information on their website, sometimes on a military-specific page.
When Do I Talk to an SCO?
As with everything related to college, every school and every situation are different. You may want to reach out when you are figuring out which school is the right financial fit for your family, or after you’ve chosen a school. In some cases, you may never need to talk to the SCO and may simply reply to forms and questionnaires sent out by the school.
However, if you ever have questions about benefits or how a school manages a part of the process, or anything at all VA-related, the SCO should be your first point of contact. I joke, “Show up with cookies.” That’s mostly a joke, but the intent is true: You want to make friends with this person.
What Does an SCO Do?
An SCO has a somewhat broad range of responsibilities relating to students, the institution of higher learning and the VA. They include:
- Maintaining and communicating enrollment records of students using VA benefits, including eligibility of courses, continuation of satisfactory progress toward the program and any disciplinary actions that may affect benefits eligibility.
- Ensuring that charges and payments are applied appropriately and according to their usage rules.
- Administering Yellow Ribbon benefits, if applicable.
- Ensuring that students are aware of their responsibilities when using VA benefits.
- Maintaining resources to assist students who are facing financial challenges.
- Keeping up to date on VA rules and regulations, including communicating changes to the students, the school and any state governing bodies.
- Ensuring that appropriate inputting data is coming from instructors and from registrar, financial aid, bursar and other offices within the school.
- Maintaining records and making them available for audit by the VA and other agencies.
As you can see, the SCO has a lot to do. Depending on the size of the school and the number of students using VA educational benefits, this may be a full-time job. At other schools, it may be one part of the person’s larger job.
When Can an SCO Help Me?
The SCO can help students and families at many different steps in the education process.
Some families like to work with the SCO before deciding about enrollment. The SCO may clarify questions about how various forms of aid can work with VA benefits, or what happens to in-state tuition if the student stops using VA benefits.
In other situations, the student (or family) may talk to the SCO after enrollment has happened. At this point, they will need to make sure that the SCO has their VA Certificate of Eligibility (COE) and knows that they intend to use GI Bill benefits for any particular semester. The SCO may also identify other opportunities, such as VA work study.
The SCO is also very important if there is any change in the educational path. Failed classes, sickness causing attendance issues, changed majors — these may all involve the SCO to clarify the process and point the student in the right direction.
How Do I Contact the SCO?
Unless it is an emergency, I suggest starting with email. Email will let the SCO attend to your issue without other distractions, and it may get you the right answer faster. If you don’t have your SCO’s email address and can’t find it online, call the financial aid or bursar’s office.
Another option is to call, though college office phone lines are manned by student workers or others who aren’t going to know the answers to your specific questions.
Lastly, you can always show up in the SCO’s office. Some SCOs may be glad to talk to you without an appointment, but I’d ask first. You want to get off on the right foot.
Some students may use VA benefits for an entire degree program and never need to talk to their SCO, except when filling out a form each semester. Other students may find the SCO an essential part of their college financial planning team. Knowing what the SCO does and how the person can help you is important in knowing when to get their help.
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