When I talk with my friends from the military, I am always astonished at how many of them are not using any of their GI Bill, especially the active-duty veterans since under the post-9/11 GI Bill they would get paid to go to school! Many of them would rather work various part-time jobs or struggle with underpaid positions than attend a class. Undeniably veterans face different challenges in the college environment, but I can promise you all of these are conquerable and the most difficult part is finding the willpower to get started. By ignoring your benefits, you are not only cheating yourself out of a better job in the future, but also the many other incidental bonuses of going to college like recreational programs, networking capabilities, career services and advice, and even just having a schedule. With this in mind, I wanted to share a couple of starting points with readers in hopes of encouraging some to reconsider your non-student status.
Don’t sell yourself short. Let’s face it, the military is not full of academic enthusiasts. Sure, some of us joined for the college money, but a majority of us signed up when bartending seemed like a more viable career than biology after high school. But just because you set the record for worst class attendance pre-military, does not mean trying again will lead to the same results. Your time in the service will buy you back some credibility with most educational institutions and if it doesn’t, your incoming federal dollars should help. Look for a school that offers programs that not only appeal to you, but that will appeal to potential employers. You made it through the military, so take on a little more of a challenge than the “Anyone Can Do It” online University. Do some research on which schools will give you the most credit for your military service and which ones have well-established veteran’s programs on campus. Very little criteria is required for a school to promote that they are “military friendly,” so don’t get scammed by advertising.
Take morning classes. After years of early morning physical training, I know it sounds enticing to sleep until noon every day, but avoid creating that bad habit now. Night classes are great for those who work full time during the day, but can be much harder to motivate yourself to attend. By 6 pm, you have had all day to think of reasons not to go to class. You truly have no appreciation for a regimented schedule until you don’t have one. For most veterans it is not liberating, it is madness!
Find a battle buddy. You are probably going to be older than the traditional college student and have different perspectives and experiences than most. You thought that your lieutenant’s two- hour Powerpoint presentation on field sanitation made you dumber? Just wait until you are forced to engage in a class discussion with “generation iPhone.” Don’t get discouraged, there are plenty of older students and even fellow veterans around campus who are great points of contact for you. Find these people quickly so you have relief when you need it. A great place to start is by asking your school if they have a student veteran organization on campus. If they don’t, consider starting one and build yourself an entire alliance.
Give yourself some time. Not sure where to start? Go for an easy elective or something enjoyable like Basic Woodshop. Easing yourself into things will allow for a better transition into the college and civilian atmosphere. Get comfortable with the campus and your new routine, that way, when it comes time to take more serious courses, it won’t be overwhelming. There is also no shame in using a semester or two as a way to make rent. I spent a summer in “Introduction to Acting” and “Stained Glass” as an alternative to a summer job and I ended up really enjoying both.
It’s your duty. If you are having problems motivating yourself, think of it as continued service to your county. While you’re stuck in class next to someone updating his Tumblr page or tweeting his every emotion, before you lose faith in all millennials, remember that you have the power to change the status quo. As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the GI Bill might I remind you that the post-WWII era of veterans changed our country’s entire disposition and helped to foster one of the greatest economic periods in U.S. history because they used the advantages given to them. It is now your turn. America needs you to go back to school and get your education!
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