College After Combat: Five Tips for Setting Yourself Up for Educational Success
Whether it has been four years or twenty-four years, transitioning from the military to civilian life is challenging. This can be exponentially more difficult if you decide to go back to school; knowing how to use your benefits, when to apply to college, and what opportunities are available (among other things) can be overwhelming. While every military installation has resources that support this transition, there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution that will accommodate each military member’s needs. As such, without taking a proactive approach, you could miss out on tangible benefits and important resources. To minimize this risk, below are five actions you can take that will provide the best opportunity for you to succeed:
1. Take time to understand your education benefits.
For many, the allure of a free education was all that was needed to join the military; the opportunity to attend an institution of higher learning and earn a college degree was exciting.
However, navigating this unfamiliar process is confusing. Lack of clarity with what benefits you have earned and what actions you need to take to get them often create an inevitable feeling that you are missing out. For example, while everyone knows the GI Bill provides money for college tuition, few understand all the programs, services, and financial support that are available; money has been allo-cated for housing and books, as well as nontraditional education such as certification programs and trade schools. Further, some universities take part in the Yellow Ribbon Program, a program designed to waive tuition costs that extend beyond what the GI Bill covers.
Take time to understand all the education benefits you have earned. You can start here.
2. Have a Plan.
Where do you want to go to school? When is the deadline for your program? What tests do you need to take before you apply?
In order to succeed, you must have a plan. Military members should begin developing a plan and researching what their future educational goals are a year from their expected date of separation.
However, more than just generic goals and vague approaches, plans should be specific and include established deadlines. Areas of focus should include when you will apply to college, take entrance ex-ams, and meet with advisors on campus.
3. Take advantage of the credits you have already earned.
You probably didn’t know that throughout your entire military experience, you have earned college credits. These credits were likely earned during technical training, leadership development, and courses designed specifically for your job. Take advantage of all your military training and convert them into college credits.
Every university is different, so learn about the credit transfer policy at the university you are planning to attend. After learning about the process, ask your school to review your transcripts. Follow up early and often by meeting with an academic advisor at the university.
4. Find Resources on Campus.
Once on campus, new challenges could surface. One of them often revolves around building strong connections with others. The military does a great job of building camaraderie, as members work together to accomplish organizational goals. This is different in university life. Students have their own agenda, class schedule, and reasons for attending college. This is often a difficult transition for student veterans who are used to depending on one another and having a strong support network.
Fortunately, almost every school has some type of student veteran organization on campus so that military members can stay connected. Alternatively, the Student Veterans of America website a virtual meeting place for veterans to connect. Check out the student veteran organizations on your campus or visit the Student Veterans of America website to get connected.
5. Be confident!
It can be stressful to leave the military and begin a new chapter in your life, especially when the new chapter involves going back to school. In the military, life is routine: strict schedules, clear rules, and limited tolerance for deviating off-course. You work as a team to accomplish a mission, and the collaborative approach toward success is clear.
The same cannot be said for college life; each student has their own schedule, and days have more ambiguity and less structure. Further, rather than work collectively, everyone has their own priorities and competing agendas.
This causes concern for some, due to the drastic change in mentality that will need to take place. However, looking at it from a different perspective, the military has actually prepared you for this challenge. Having spent years in a disciplined and regimented lifestyle, you have the ability to keep a steady schedule and maintain attention to detail in your school work. The years of training, countless exercises and drills, and unique experiences have prepared you to tackle anything university life could throw at you.
Instead of being concerned and unsure, be confident. Your military experience has prepared you for classroom success.
Kevin E. Phillips is a RecruitMilitary 2017 Top 40 Under 40 Military Honoree, advisor at CVS Health, United States Air Force veteran, and author of the book 'Employee LEAPS: Leveraging Engagement by Applying Positive Strategies'. He holds an MBA from the University of Michigan and MA in Homeland Security from the American Military University. Kevin is happy to discuss any feedback or answer any questions about this content. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.
By Kevin E. Phillips