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Going Back to School: Five Steps Toward a Civilian Career

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Many veterans pursue an education immediately following their military service, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

Perhaps you were enlisted and couldn't stomach someone telling you what to do simply because they had a college degree and therefore were able to go the officer route.

Maybe it's because the day after boot camp you realized you had made a horrible mistake and now want a complete 180 in life.

Or (and this is likely the majority) you finished your contract and just don't know what to do next, but for some nebulous reason you know college is the right direction.

Whatever the reason you decided to go to college, brush up on your GI Bill knowledge and then spend some time considering how it fits into your career plan.

You don't have to know what your major will be yet, but you should have ideas in mind of how you can best leverage your time back in school to advance your civilian career.

Step 1: Create a career plan.

The first step is to come up with a career plan. It's fine that you don't yet know where you will end up, but list a few ideas of where you think you might want work. This will help when looking into internships, speaking with career counselors and professors, and deciding what courses to take.

Next, consider what you could do to reach those potential dream careers. What sort of skills do you need? What experience do entry-level job candidates tend to have in these fields?

Look up people with similar jobs on social media sites and trace their experience backward to get a sense of what possible trajectories could look like.

Everyone has their own path, but it helps to have some ideas in mind.

Step 2: Talk to your career center about internship opportunities.

One step toward your potential dream job is an internship. Some might look at internships as ridiculous -- you just spent four or so years serving your country and protecting our freedom, why would you work for free or low pay?

However, it would be smart to move past this mind-set and instead think, "What experience would a hiring manager like to see on my resume?"
Courses and a military background are nice, but having actual experience in a company related to your potential future job will be extremely valuable.

In addition, you can make some great contacts in an internship and find potential employers, or people who can serve as references for future employers.

Step 3: Leverage the network your school provides.

At school, you will be surrounded by professors who know their area of study and likely have contacts in that field. Take advantage of office hours and go chat with them about potential careers. Seek out their advice and weigh your options.

Don't forget about your fellow students. Often, veterans go to college and feel that they are out of place -- you went to war, and you may be way older than most of your fellow students.

It doesn't matter. Get out there and network. Join clubs and make friends, because this is your new network.

While your veteran network will be incredibly useful as a support mechanism, these classmates will be looking for internships and jobs in the same sectors as you. Instead of isolating yourself, work with your classmates so that you all come out ahead.

Step 4: Make your projects work for you.

Quite often in college, you will be assigned research papers that might on the surface seem pointless. When given some freedom on choice of topics, think of a research topic that can help your potential future career.

Can your research paper enlighten you on a certain career path? Can you research a subject that will be useful to bring up in job interviews or networking events?

Choose a research topic that forces you to get out there and network. A lot of professionals will be open to sharing their wisdom and advice when it's for a class research paper, and now you have an expanded network as you move forward.

Step 5: Keep in touch.

Even after you graduate and go your separate ways, try to keep in contact with the friends and acquaintances that you met in college.

You never know when you might want to make another career change or when you happen to be moving to a new city, and want someone to give you the lay of the land. So follow them on Twitter or whatever your social media of choice is, and keep the network alive.

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