The 3 Step Guide to College After the Military
By Will Erstad on 12/11/2013
If you’ve completed your military career and are trying to decide what to do next, a common next step is to enroll in some form of secondary education. Though the worlds of academia and the military are incredibly different, military experience provides a base of discipline and knowledge that can make college after military service easier than you might think.
Here are three steps every military veteran needs to take before considering earning a college degree.
Step 1: Get to know the G.I. Bill
The post-9/11 G.I. Bill provides several benefits to military veterans—the most important of which is tuition reimbursement from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Your eligibility to receive G.I. Bill education credit is based on an honorable discharge from service, when you served and how long you served.
Rasmussen College student Stephen Anderson, a former master at arms in the U.S. Navy, says he regrets not looking into the G.I. Bill benefits earlier.
“Talk to your Veterans Affairs rep [and] figure out what your benefits are,” Anderson says. “I was in a position where I was stuck in a dead-end job and I didn’t know what the VA had to offer. It ended up costing me a couple of years where I could have been done with school [earlier].”
The G.I. Bill also has money allocated for books and housing, which is also dependent on eligibility and the location of the school you attend.
This money makes college education either free or relatively inexpensive compared to those who finance their education with student loans. So if you’re on the fence about attending college after your military career, you owe it to yourself to read up on the benefits available to you.
Step 2: Evaluate Your Readiness
It is important to take time to be sure you’re ready before diving headfirst into college after military service. Obviously not every veteran has the same experience in the military, so it is a good idea to take a “mental inventory” of yourself after spending some time back in civilian life. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is real and it can be debilitating. The National Institute of Mental Health encourages veterans to seek help if they are struggling or showing signs of PTSD. No matter how valuable an education may be, it will never be more important than your health.
If you do decide to enroll in college, it may be helpful to seek out other veterans or a student veterans group at your campus. It’s always good to have a group of people with similar experiences to whom you can relate. There’s a good chance someone else in the group has been in your shoes and can help you deal with whatever difficulties you may face if you are struggling with something. Strength in numbers is a beneficial tactic that can be applied both on and off of the battlefield, so don’t hesitate to seek out other veterans.
Step 3: Apply Your Military Training to Your Education
After years of having someone tell you what, when, where and how to do daily tasks, it can be a bit of a shock to transition to civilian life where the chain of command starts and ends with you.
The discipline you developed while living a highly regimented military life can, however, be useful for a successful academic career.
You should be well on your way to succeeding in the classroom if you keep a steady schedule and maintain the military-standard level attention to detail in your school work. It requires a great deal of discipline to focus on the task at hand when dealing with any multitude of stressful situations a soldier faces in military service. Focusing on studies requires a similar level of discipline to excel, but the stakes are much less dire if you slip up—it is simply a matter of regrouping and focusing on the next assignment.
Anderson says his experience in the military made his academic work seem relatively easy.
“If you didn’t get something done in the military, you would be up for a punishment, usually something like 15 days of hard labor,” Anderson says. “So coming back to school and actually sticking to deadlines for assignments is really not hard compared to that.”
Training for a lifetime
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the benefits provided by the post-9/11 G.I. Bill and have taken the time to evaluate if you’re ready for college after the military, take a look at some of the degree programs available to you.
U.S. Army veteran and Rasmussen College Criminal Justice graduate Robert Johnson says his training and following of the core values from the military have made a positive impact in his life.
“The military matured me a ton and prepared me to be a better person,” Johnson says. “It taught me a lot of values I can use in my life outside of the military, particularly integrity.”
The training, discipline, work ethic and integrity you’ve received from the military can provide you with a path to a successful college career and, ultimately, a successful life.