A Veteran’s Guide to Preparing for a Return to Higher Education
Military families considering going back to school—either veterans or their spouses—may face some challenges getting back into the right academic mindset. If it's been a few years since you were in school, there are a number of topics on which you may want a quick refresher. Sure, higher education has been around since the Greeks, but that doesn't mean things haven't changed significantly while you've been out of the game. In addition, many of your academic skills just plain get rusty if you haven't been using them.
So before you start applying to schools all over the place, there are a few things you may want to brush up on:
1. Computer Literacy
The digital world is expanding all the time, and while you may consider yourself savvy enough with emails and social media, some academic work that has gone digital may surprise you. Collaborative possibilities in Google docs as well as all of the resources available on sites like Blackboard require students to have a certain baseline of internet understanding which may not have been part of your recent training. Also, your peers have probably been using the latest presentation software—PowerPoint or Prezi—in their oral reports. If you aren't familiar with the workings behind these, it's important to get some basic level of understanding. Research and organizational apps like Evernote have also gained prominence. Take some time to get to know about these.
Another reason to step up your internet game is that taking online courses to defray costs or to take care of remedial classes has become more popular. Today around a quarter of all students take at least one course online. If you are to join the online education revolution, you'll have to know your way around message boards and other digital resources.
2. Grammar, Composition and Literature
While mapping sentences may not have been a priority recently, it is something that you are going to want to go back and consider. Good grammar is the hallmark of a professional and something that will be important as you work on your application. Make sure you check in that your word order is correct and that you aren't falling back on bad habits.
And just when was the last time you were asked to write an essay? It's a crucial skill—one that will likely also be an important factor on your application—so it's imperative that you get in some practice. Try writing a standard five-paragraph essay (introduction, three body paragraphs, conclusion) in order to regain good habits. Look at prompts from SAT and ACT exams; these will give you some ways to start thinking properly about how to frame your arguments (and your narratives). Remember to outline your pieces before your start to write, and you have to have a thesis!
How are your current reading habits? Has reading textbooks fallen by the wayside? Get back into the habit by picking up technically minded non-fiction books in your favorite area of study. What about literature? It's likely you'll take classes that require you to have thoughts and opinions on great books. If you are feeling out of touch with lit, I suggest picking up a SparkNotes version of a classic like The Caine Mutiny and see how they outline clever ways to get deeper into the text.
Most colleges have a quantitative reasoning requirement, and if you haven't used any of your mathematics-based knowledge in a while, you might want to get some assistance. It's not just about balancing your checkbook; it's about having the cognitive skills that these subjects provide. Some of the formulae learned are just about memorization, so it's probable that you've just pushed that information out of your head. It's time to get it back.
Where Can You Get Help?
Luckily, there are programs available specifically for veterans that will help you get on track and ready to be a student again.
For example, for veterans wanting to return to school, the National Association of Veterans Upward Bound (NAVUB) is a great resource to get your basic skills up to scratch. They offer classes and private tutoring to veterans at no cost. According to the NAVUB site, participants must:
- Have over 180 days of active service duty or have a service connected disability discharge
- Be a member of a reserve component of the Armed Forces called to active duty for a period of more than 30 days, or
- Be a member of a reserve component of the Armed Forces who served on active duty in support of a contingency operation on or after September 11, 2001
- All discharges qualify except dishonorable
And all participants must be either low-income (based on family income and number of dependents) or potential first generation college students (neither parent earned a four-year degree).
A couple of other important points to think about before sitting down and applying:
- Understand what your military credits are worth. There are several ways to assess credits you may have earned in the military—get everything you can.
- Don't be shy about being non-traditional. More and more schools are taking non-traditional students. Look for the best program that fits your needs—not just a focus on the traditional schools or methods for teaching. An online program might be ideal for your particular needs or a Yellow Ribbon school that focuses directly on veterans.
- Be careful. When it comes to for-profit schools that promise easy degrees, be wary—check their accreditation and make sure they are legitimate. There have been some schools that have directly targeted veterans that turn out to be less than reputable.
And most of all, don't be discouraged. No one retains all of their education, and you may feel you've forgotten a great deal. But let's face it: you've had other important things on your plate over the last few years. Now it's time to re-focus and work toward getting into your ideal school.
About the Author
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL; editing essays and personal statements; and consulting directly with applicants.