Some people in the military believe that transitioning out of the military and becoming a college student is a breeze. You've gone to war, you've endured the suck, so what could be so hard about handling professors and kids (your classmates)? Let me tell you, the transition into being a college student can be difficult. But here are the 5 B's to ensure that you have a great post military college experience.
Be Active on Your Campus and in Your Community
The Army suspended use of the recruiting slogan, “An Army of One” because they did not feel that the phrase was emblematic of the spirit of teamwork that is central to the military as a whole. As a veteran, you have spent many years working as a team, joined at the hip to your teammates and squad mates. You learned how to contribute to that team for the betterment of the unit and you learned to rely on that team to make up for your own shortcomings.
Once you get out, you will be alone, the team that you have become accustomed to supporting you will be gone and you will be left to your own devices. I know, from personal experience as a student veteran, that this can be very lonely and isolating. Fortunately for us both, I also found a remedy for that loneliness. On your campus and in the community that surrounds it exist organizations of like-minded individuals who stand at the ready to become your new support network. The VFW, American Legion and SVA (or non-SVA student veteran’s student organization) will not only provide you with the network the newly civilian you is lacking, but also give you the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of your campus and community.
Be Willing to Ask for Help
College is not easy. Not only is it mentally challenging, but it is also stressful. It is not unusual for students (veterans or not) to need a little extra help to get through some of the tougher semesters and more alien subjects. To assist with these more difficult times, your university will provide numerous resources. On my campus, at George Mason University, we have a writing center, math tutoring center and a list of tutors (usually graduate students) maintained by each department. Not only have I used each of these resources at one time or another, but when I have they have made the difference between a good grade and a grade I would be significantly less proud of.
Academic help is not the only help you may need during your college career. The VA’s system can be difficult to understand and at times it would even seam intentionally confusing. Perhaps I will compose an article some day about the 5 or 10 things to when using VA educational benefits, but for today I have to settle with pointing you to your campus’ GI Bill specialist (some campuses have whole offices devoted to this) or VFW Service Officer. When you don’t know, ask.
Be Aware of Those Around You
Yes, it has been a long time since you sat in a classroom and learned something besides how to properly fill a radio with crypto or lubricate an M249. Yes, the kids sitting around you in class have much more current academic experience. Despite this gap in your academic career that is not experienced by your classmates, you are actually in a much better position to understand what you are being taught than they are. You have real world experiences and from those experiences you can apply the material to what you have already been taught by the school of hard knocks while the 18 and 19 year olds on your left and right are only capable of reciting to the instructor what they have just now learned.
Do not loose sight of this, and do not forget that on the first day of class when the teacher asked everyone to talk about an interesting experience they had in the last year, two thirds of your classmates told a story about prom, one third of them talked about homecoming. Meanwhile, you couldn’t decide whether to talk about the last time you made the new guy look for the batteries to the chem lights or that one time when you were awarded a service commendation for developing a new process to make your team run more efficiently.
Be Informed About Your Benefits and Financial Aid
Simply put, know what the VA is covering semester-to-semester and know what process is required of you each semester in as far as re-certifying your benefits. Also be aware of what other money is out there for you and never let a year pass without completing your FAFSA. Familiarize yourself with your state’s laws regarding veteran education benefits. Some states will pay for some or your entire undergrad allowing you to save up you 36 months on the GI Bill for graduate school.
Be Proud of Who You Are, What You are and What You Have Done
In your life you have had experiences unique to 1% of our population. You worked long hours with high stress and little pay. You stood up and volunteered to give your life, if necessary, for your country. Be proud of that; be proud of the character traits instilled in you through those experiences. The skills you learned are not just applicable to your military experience, embrace them and they will be useful for your entire life.
About the Author: After separating from the Marine Corps in 2011, Walter Sweeney enrolled at George Mason University where he currently works as a Transition Coordinator for the Office of Military Services while completing his BA in Economics. In addition to his work assisting Mason’s student veterans with their transition from the military to college life, Water is active in his local VFW and the Student Veterans Society of George Mason University. To get in touch with Walter, connect with him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/pub/walter-sweeney/3b/a45/a42/