The transition to a classroom after serving in uniform can be a challenge for veterans, especially those who are first-generation college students. If you're feeling uneasy about going back to school, you can adapt your thinking by focusing on success in the next phase of your life, and not getting caught up in negative thinking.
Let's see what types of worries many first-time college students have.
I'm Too Old To Go Back To School!
While you may think that all college students are fresh out of high school and vastly younger than you, you may be surprised.
While it is true that the average age of a college freshman is 18, the number of older students has been increasing throughout the years. In the 1970s over 80% of college freshman were 18 years old, today only 2/3 of the freshman class is 18, many more people are waiting until later in their lives to begin college.
If you are older, don't let this discourage you from going to college. You'll see plenty of other students who are older too, some probably older than you. Students are used to seeing older students in their classes, and it is no big deal.
Remember, you are bringing something to class that all those 18 year olds don't have - life experience.
Remember when you left home to join the military - how alone and unsure of yourself you felt. Well, all those 18 year olds in class with you are going through that same thing, besides trying to learn what is taught to them in the classroom, they are trying to learn how to live on their own, you already know that so you're a step ahead with one less thing to worry about.
College Is Too Hard!
Of course it's hard, that's the idea!
But don't worry, it doesn't start out hard, in your first year you will probably be taking basic high school math, english, and science classes. You can opt for harder level stuff like algebra, physics, etc. but it isn't necessary. All those basic first year classes get you back into the mindset of hitting the books.
You'd be surprised how quickly all the stuff you learned way back in high school comes back to you. And, remember all those courses will count towards your graduation requirements so don't worry.
One thing you will find out about college that is different than high school, the people there want to learn. They are paying for it, most of them want to get a degree and a good paying job.
I Don't Know What I Want To Do!
Join the crowd!
Pay no attention to what you read elsewhere about people knowing what they want to do when they enter college. Sure there are some people like that, if you're one of them good for you. There are also people who know what they want to do in life when they're eight years old.
Truth is, most of us aren't like that, in fact more than 75% of college students change their major at least once. Don't worry, you aren't usually required to choose a major until the middle of your sophomore year.
I Can't Concentrate Or Learn The Way I Used To!
While you may have heard that an old dog can't learn any new tricks and you may have been told that only young people can learn new things, don't believe it. We constantly learn throughout our life (most of us, anyway) and you have something the kids don't - maturity.
You want to learn, and you aren't bothered by a lot of the diversions that your classmates are obsessed with, like the latest videogame or a hot autotune band. You probably learned self-discipline in the military, and that is a very important part of learning anything, you may just surprise yourself at what you can accomplish with a little determination and hard work.
If your military career was like most people's you attended training classes until you were sick of them, the annual mandatory training, the job related training, the crises related training, and the training to take up time when there was no busy work to be done. You've got this, you know how to go to class and pay attention when you have to, just because it is a long-haired professor with a beard instead of a young O-1 holding the training session you shouldn't be treating it any different.
I'm Too Busy
Many things compete for our attention every day, including work, family, home, health and financial issues. To help you learn and concentrate better:
- Pace yourself by easing into coursework and school life. Taking too many courses at once may cause you to feel anxious and overwhelmed, which can make it harder to focus or concentrate
- Find a suitable place to study. If noise, activity or other people distract you, choose the library over a coffee shop or home as a study spot
- Find a team you can study and work with, or join or create a study group with other student veterans. Like your fellow servicemembers, fellow students can provide needed support and help you stay focused and motivated
- Take breaks. If you find yourself getting distracted while studying, get up for a few minutes and stretch your legs, get something to drink or get a few minutes of fresh air
- Stay rested, exercise and eat healthy. Lack of sleep can make it hard to focus and learn. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods and staying physically active will help you learn better and reduce stress, which also can interfere with concentration
I'm Different From Other Students!
It can be hard to relate to younger students when your whole life has been so different. As a military member you may have dealt with upheaval, war, loss.
You'd be surprised at how diverse college campuses can be. You will probably meet people who have families and are going to school to get a better job, single parents, older people learning new skills, and of course other veterans.
More and more veterans are going back to school each year. Some colleges and universities have veteran mentors, counseling services and support groups. VA also has support groups for veterans transitioning back to school. Seek out other veterans on campus. Let other students and your professors know you're a veteran.The VA has VetSuccess On Campus counselors on many campuses that can help provide support.
Check out Student Veterans of America, they have organizations on many campuses, you can also start your own group.
Don't Give Up!
Other things to keep in mind and keep you going:
- On average, a college graduate will earn over $20,000 a year more than a high school graduate. So stay focused, it's worth it!
- Skills that made you a good servicemember will make you a good student. These transferable skills include: being able to stick to a schedule, listen, problem-solve and maintain discipline; being responsible; keeping a commitment; and having future direction
- You earned your GI Bill through hard work and a lot of time doing things you didn't want to be doing. Don't throw all that hard work away
- Your GI Bill is easily worth more than $100,000 in education and housing benefits. Don't waste it!