The U.S. Armed Forces take great pride in preparing their veterans for post-duty education by providing financial support to those who qualify. With benefits like the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill, veterans would be remiss to not earn a degree at the conclusion of their service.
However, the transition from the military to the classroom does come with its challenges. Use these tips to help you prepare for that transition and find success in the college classroom.
Making the Transition From the Field to the Classroom
Whether you're a member of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, or Navy on active duty or reserve, all branches of the military make efforts to educate separating veterans about re-entering civilian life. It's highly recommended that separating veterans take advantage of classes and workshops designed to help navigate the college application process. The more time veterans spend preparing for the shift from work in the field to study in the classroom, the more comfortable they'll be when that transition actually happens.
One way to prepare for starting college is to recognize and plan for potential challenges that are unique to veterans. While every person's experience is special, many veterans face similar obstacles after separating from the service.
Most veterans entering college are at least four years older than their peers, if not more. Not only is there an age difference, but there's also an experience difference. Some veterans find it a challenge to relate to 18-year-olds with little to no "real world" experience. Luckily, many people go to school later in life, so it's simply a matter of persisting in finding like-minded peers.
After spending years with other people committed to the mission of the Armed Forces, veterans might find themselves in a classroom with students who know very little about the military or might even express anti-military views. Veterans should remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion and to use the opportunity to share their experience and mindset with others.
Many jobs in the military are physical and hands-on. Note-taking and sitting in on lectures can be challenging for those who are used to action-packed days. For these veterans, finding a physical activity outside of the classroom or taking classes with labs or other hands-on learning activities can help them adjust to the norms of college life.
If the veteran suffered a physical or mental disability while serving, the transition to civilian life can be especially difficult. However, most colleges offer accommodations for disabled students, making it easier for them to attend classes and receive the educational aids they require.
All of these factors - age, perspective, possible disability, and mindset - can contribute to feeling isolated or lonely. It's vital that veterans find a support system in the civilian world as quickly as possible to help them navigate these feelings and get comfortable in their new life.
Despite the challenges some veterans face when leaving the military and starting college, military service offers some tremendous advantages in the classroom.
Most veterans leave the military with some formidable skills. Many choose to pursue an education and earn a degree in the same field as their military service. Others use the skills they developed and apply them to a different career path. Either way, most veterans have a far better idea of what they want to do while in school and after graduation than their just-out-of-high-school peers.
With age often comes maturity. While most vets are older than the average college student, they're also usually more mature. They can often manage the stressors of studying, tests, and extracurricular activities while maintaining a healthy social life better than their younger peers.
After working in the field, performing physical training, and managing other on-the-job responsibilities, many veterans find the demands of college life relatively easy to manage. Most are able to take their organizational and time-management skills honed on the job in the military and apply them to their educational career.
Attending college after completing military service comes with some substantial financial benefits. Most service members have access to funds from a GI Bill, and many colleges offer scholarships for military students and grants for veterans in college. Some vets might even qualify for loan forgiveness programs.
While starting college can feel isolating, many veterans do just that every year. Veterans can find support by seeking out other separated military people on their campus or through online support groups.
Tips for Success
Once on campus, it's vital that veterans dedicate themselves to their education to get the most out of their college experience. There are lots of strategies (1), specifically for veterans, to help them optimize their college experience and find success:
Research and Prepare
Once you've selected your college and program of study, take time to research and prepare for your first day on campus. Reach out to professors, search social media for other people starting at the same time as you, and look for military support groups to help you commiserate about the transition. The more you know about your program going into it and the more support systems you create, the better prepared you'll be to focus on your studies with few distractions.
Change Your Mindset
Sometimes, the military can feel like an echo chamber, where your peers often share your viewpoints. You might find that's not the case in college. Prepare to accept varied opinions and learn to share your opinion proudly. Know that debate is often a key part of education and learning, and prepare to question your own ideas as well as those of your classmates.
Find Other Veterans
Look for other vets at your school. More than likely, you're not the only one there. Finding peers who share your experiences will help you transition into civilian life much more easily.
Meet New People
Make sure you take the time to expand your social circle. While you may not want to hang out socially with people so much younger than you, seniors or other adults returning to school after time in the working world should be closer to you in age and make great friend opportunities.
Go In Person
If you can, find a college program you can attend in person. Immersing yourself in your education and meeting people in real life can make all the difference in your educational success.
Be patient with yourself, your professors, and your classmates. It will take some time to adjust to college, even if you've spent time preparing. Your professors are probably used to primarily teaching students right out of high school. Have a conversation with them advocating for your needs if your professors are not meeting them. Same for your classmates: Learn to appreciate their varied perspectives.
Prepare for Discomfort
You're going to find yourself in uncomfortable situations. Use your past experiences, like the discomfort of basic training, to help you navigate new challenges. Remember that growth comes from discomfort, and success comes from growth. In moments of hardship, remind yourself that you've been uncomfortable before and are better for it.
Consider Your Skills
Think about the skills you honed in the military. Find ways to apply those skills in the classroom for higher success. For example, if you excelled at communication during your military career, find classes and potential careers that use those skills. You'll go into your degree program knowing you're capable of performing that job well.
Map Your Goals
Set goals for your college experience. Some veterans initially have trouble managing their own educational and career trajectory since so much of the military career path is planned out for you. Establish SMART goals (2):
- Specific: Make sure your goals are specific. Rather than saying, "I'll graduate," say, "I'll graduate on time with a degree in nursing."
- Measurable: Ensure your goals are measurable. You want to know when you've reached your goal, so instead of a goal like "Read more," say, "Read 10 books by the end of the year."
- Achievable: Set yourself up for success by setting goals that are within an achievable range. Instead of saying, "I'll be class president my first year," say, "I will join the student government during my college career."
- Relevant: Your goals should be worthwhile. For college-bound veterans, consider goals directly related to academics or future career aspirations rather than hobbies.
- Time-Bound: Set a clear time frame for your goals. While these can be somewhat flexible, like "in the second semester" rather than "by June 10," make sure the time frame is specific enough that you can plan concrete action steps to reach your goals.
With SMART goals, you'll know what you need to do to achieve the academic success you desire.
Secure Your Finances
Speak with advisors during your separation from the military about your financial options for school. Do the same with the financial aid office once you begin your application to your college. Knowing where your educational funding is coming from in advance and having a plan to pay for any remaining balance, whether through savings, grants, additional scholarships, or VA loans, will help you focus exclusively on your studies while you're in school rather than wondering how you'll fund your education. Additionally, many veterans are eligible for special military student loan forgiveness programs and military student loan repayment rates.
Make a Schedule
After you've received your course list from your school, create a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule for yourself. In addition to your classes, include activities like exercise, hobbies, and social events. Setting a schedule for yourself can help you successfully meet all of your obligations and ensure you're taking time for your physical, social, and emotional well-being in addition to your academic success.
Instead of going to class and then going straight home, get involved on campus. Find a sports team to join or audition for the fall play. Join weekend volunteer groups and study at the library with other students. The more you immerse yourself in the culture of the school, the more connected you'll feel to civilian life and the quicker you'll find a support group of peers and friends.
Build a Network
Use the opportunities at your school to build professional connections. Attend networking events, visiting lecturers, and voluntary workshops. Make an effort to meet with professors who have connections in your chosen career field and ask them how they would suggest you build your own professional network. This way, you'll have plenty of professional support once you graduate and it's time to look for a job.
At Concorde, we understand the unique pressures veterans face when they start college. That's why we offer emotional and financial aid support services for veterans in college to help our military students find success in our programs.
Our Military Central program was designed specifically to help veterans manage the transition from uniform to classroom. We have a knowledgeable team on staff, specifically trained to help veterans navigate the application and financial aid process. We can help you access financial aid resources specific to your branch, whether you were active duty, National Guard, or a reservist.
Some of our professors are veterans just like you, so they can help you process the changes with you in the classroom. Everyone at Concorde wants you and your family to have a successful college experience and a bright future in health care.
Concorde will help you find and apply for all of the financial benefits (3) available to you to fund your education. Most veterans can receive tuition assistance from these programs:
- Montgomery GI Bill: For those active duty veterans or reservists who paid into the program, the Montgomery GI Bill provides monthly payouts for education.
- Post-9/11 GI Bill: If you meet the conditions for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, your out-of-pocket tuition, housing, and book costs could be greatly reduced.
- Yellow Ribbon Program: In some cases, veterans are eligible for additional tuition assistance through the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Many veterans go on to find phenomenal success in college and satisfying careers after graduation. With these tips (4), financial aid support services, and a great program, you, too, can have a positive and life-changing college experience. If you're a current or former Armed Forces member, check out the life-changing career training that Concorde offers.
1. "6 Tips for Veterans to Succeed in College," U.S. News & World Report, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2012/06/08/6-tips-for-veterans-to-succeed-in-college
2. "SMART Goals: How to Make Your Goals Achievable," MindTools, https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm
3. "Overview of Military Education Benefits," Military.com, https://www.military.com/education/money-for-school/education-benefits-in-the-military.html
4. "10 Tips for Military Veterans to Succeed in College With Top 30 Colleges for Veterans," Medium, https://medium.com/@combattocorp/10-tips-for-military-veterans-to-succeed-in-college-with-top-30-colleges-for-veterans-8117cae15835