My Transition from Soldier to Student: 5 Tips for Veterans in College

tips for veterans in college

I left the Army and began attending college after nine years in service. During that time I had been to eleven nations, served three combat tours, and made the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6). My transition from soldier to student was a significant event full of pitfalls, mishaps, and just a little mayhem, but it proved to be worth it in the end. The education I received not only landed me a decent job, but it also added new perspectives to a life already enriched by experiences few have had.

[Learn more about in-demand jobs for veterans.]

Knowing how many veterans out there are currently attending school or considering entering into a program, I feel it worthwhile to share a few of the lessons I learned in college that had nothing to do with the curriculum, and everything to do with being a student veteran. These are things that may or may not be specifically useful to any given individual, but which should provide a general guideline for veterans overall.

Here are my top five things veterans in college should know.

  1. You have benefits beyond the GI Bill

We all know about the GI Bill. It was pounded into us when we were in the service, and it is an extremely valuable resource. It is not, however, the only resource.

Another benefit you may be able to qualify for to help you with your education is Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment. This service is specifically for disabled vets who meet certain qualifications, so it is not for every veteran. Portions of it can be used concurrently with the GI Bill while other parts are in substitution for it. But it is an additional option and something to look into.

  1. Disabled vets have rights

In 2013, 2.3 million of our nation’s veterans were disabled. If you are one of them and think that will block you from receiving an education, think again. Disability is not a bar to education.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, disabled students, including veterans with physical or mental disabilities, are eligible for reasonable accommodations needed to make an education accessible. This can range from wheelchair ramps to service animal access to classrooms. Check with your university office of Disability Services for details specific to your case.

[Find out what happened to veteran Jay Hagstrom when he returned to college.]

  1. There are scholarships just for you

There are scholarships for everything these days. It should be no surprise, then, that there are scholarships available for veterans. Just a few examples include scholarships being offered by the VFW, American Legion, and DAV. As great as the GI Bill is, it doesn’t cover all of the expenses a current student has while pursuing an education, so these scholarships can go a long way towards achieving a degree for a veteran.

[Find more scholarships for veterans and their family members.]

  1. There are non-traditional programs for non-traditional students

Being a student veteran means being a non-traditional student. Most of your classmates will be younger than you and have a very different perspective on education and on the world in general. If this is a bit much for you to feel comfortable, there are non-traditional programs available that may be more accommodating.

One such program is ACE. The American Council on Education has been working for sixty years on programs to assess military education, such as NCO training courses or MOS training for their equivalence to civilian educational courses. All or part of your military training could be assessed and converted into college credits, shortening your time in traditional civilian education programs.

[Read more about accelerating your college degree.]

Another such program is online education. Many highly respected universities have moved to adopt online programs capable of replacing part, or even all, of a traditional in-classroom education. For those student veterans who find themselves unable to comfortably fit into a traditional brick and mortar classroom these courses can be a powerful alternative. A few examples would include Kaplan UniversityOhio University, USC Dornsife, or the University of Florida.

  1. You can be a better student than you would have been

Something I noticed was that, in general, I was a better student than the traditional students around me. I was more focused, better prepared to plan out schedules both in terms of individual assignments and in terms of planning out the entire course of study needed to achieve my degree, and I was far more capable of understanding and relating to the subject matter being studied in my classes. Being a veteran gives you both the discipline and the training needed to be able to take responsibility for your education.

[Military spouses also qualify for college assistance.]

Being an older non-traditional student with a military background is not a disadvantage. Rather, it is a distinct advantage. It gives you access to multiple programs that are not available to most of your classmates. Your discipline and military experience not only makes you a better student, it can even count for class credit. And your unique world view gives you additional ways to view the subject matter that can help it stick in a way less experienced students can’t. When it comes to receiving your degree as a veteran student, knowing these things are half the battle.

tips for vets going back to schoolJames Hinton is an Army veteran who hangs his Stetson and spurs in Idaho. He spends his time writing on veteran’s issues and trying to teach his daughters how to march.

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