There is a growing community of veterans attending colleges. In 2013, there were over 1 million vets receiving GI Bill benefits to attend college and the vast majority of colleges currently have a designated point of support (person or office) to provide guidance to student veterans. Most student-vets are attending public colleges and university and the really good news is that vets are graduating at the same rate as all other students in the US.
Advantages and disadvantages
Having served in the military before going to college brings some advantages:
- Student-vets on average are older and have more life experience than other college students.
- Military services can provide useful areas of knowledge and training in various disciplines.
- Serving in the military helps enhance discipline, focus and leadership skills.
- Student-vets have access to financial resources that can significantly help to support the cost of college.
- Many campuses provide enhanced and targeted advising and support for student-vets.
- Many student-vets have access to healthcare.
At the same time, coming to campus as a vet can present certain challenges:
- Student-vets are on average older than their non-vet peers and also often come with very different experiences – this may make it feel like it is hard to fit in on campus.
- About half of student-vets are in a long term relationship and/or have a child. This can present motivation to succeed but can also present life balance, financial and time management challenges.
- Some student-vets have experienced serious injuries, traumatic brain injuries and/or are dealing with post-traumatic stress. This can present physical, neurological/learning and emotional challenges.
Easing the adjustment: use resources
There are some things you can do to make the adjustment to college easier. First, it is really valuable to find a school that has a Veteran’s support office and a campus that is welcoming to vets (you should be able to get a feel for this from the college’s website and from some of the resources mentioned below).
Check in with the Veteran’s support office. They should be able to guide you through the basics of adjusting to school and especially help with financial and GI Bill concerns. Many have orientation groups and mentoring programs that connect entering student-vets with others who have already been on campus for a while.
If you have special needs of any kind, the Vet Support Office should be able to guide or connect you to the appropriate resource on campus to address your concern or need. This might be the health or counseling center or disabilities office (even if you are receiving care outside the college, these college offices will be able to help coordinate your needs on campus and work with your off-campus providers).
The important thing to remember is that the campus resources exist to support your transition and success. Use them!
Easing the adjustment: social issues
Since many student-vets are older and feel somewhat different from other students, it is natural to connect and socialize with other vets and not make other social connections on campus. Also, as many student-vets are living off campus, in long term relationships and have children, there are competing demands on time and attention. While having a good network of people who have shared similar experiences is really valuable, it is important to also broaden experiences and contacts. Do some activities, participate in clubs or internships with other goals and focuses. Think about long term life and career goals and start considering how you might take early steps to pursue your goals while you are at college.
Like with so many things, the trick in making the transition is in finding balance between staying connected with your familiar groups and activities and broadening your experiences and opportunities. You don’t need to get this all sorted out at once and the balance will change as you move forward through school.
Here are some really useful online resources for student-vets:
- Student Veterans of America is the premier non-profit organization working to support and provide useful resources for vets in college.
- The American Council on Education has some great information and resources for student vets.
- The VA Vital Program provides information and resources for vets with a focus on health/mental health.