These 8 tips will help veterans be more successful in school

You may be one of the thousands of servicemembers and veterans who will head back to the classroom to pursue postsecondary degrees or technical certifications this fall.

You're never too old... but more on that later.

You’re never too old… but more on that later.

Those who seek higher education do it for a variety of reasons. In a competitive job market, many go back to school for career advancement and to increase their chances for promotion to the next rank. Others head to the classroom to change professions or pick up a new trade.

Whether you’re active-duty, reserve, or a military veteran, there’s no question that going back to school can be exciting but stressful – this is especially true for those who’ve been out of the classroom for a long time. Here are eight tips to help you be more successful when you return to school.

1. Develop a good plan.

Planning is key when preparing for military operations. The decision to go back to school is no different.

Make sure you know a school’s accreditation and understand the difference between regional and national accreditation. Each type of accreditation has its own advantages, so make sure it’s in sync with your future plans.

back to school

Once enrolled, work with an academic advisor at your school or installation education office to map out the best degree plan for you.

Also, make sure you are taking the right classes and identify prerequisite courses in your degree plan. Planning all your classes ahead of time can help you stay on schedule and earn your degree as quickly as possible. 

2. Take traditional classes when you can.

Online classes give all students, especially military students, the flexibility to pursue their educational goals while working the long hours typically required in the service.

back to school

However, whenever possible, try to go to class the old fashioned way. There are some subjects, especially in math and science fields, that are better to take in a traditional classroom. Those subjects feature formulas and in-depth discussions which can be complex and difficult to understand in a self-paced setting. Working one-on-one with a professor or interacting with fellow students can make the difference between understanding the material and failing the class. 

3. Know your education benefits.

Make sure you understand all the benefits in the Post-9/11 GI Bill if you are eligible for it. It is also important to research your state’s specific educational perks for veterans and tuition assistance programs for servicemembers. This can save you a lot of headaches and money.

4. Buy used textbooks or digital ones.

Buying used books should always be your first option when looking for required course materials. Many students also buy digital versions of textbooks, which can save a lot of money, especially over time.

5. Find the right work-life-school balance

back to school

Information Systems Technician 1st Class Christopher Binnings leaves with his family after returning to Commander Fleet Activities, Yokosuka, from summer patrol. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles Oki)

Life is hectic enough for most people. Finding a balance between having a family life, working full-time, and trying to maintain a social life can be tough. Now throw in school work and it can all seem overwhelming.

It doesn’t have to be. Managing expectations is important. If you can only take one online class a semester due to military obligations, then just do that. Structure your school schedule based on your main priorities. Learn to lean on your family and friends to help you throughout your academic journey. Talk to your supervisors about your ambitions. More often than not, they will encourage and work with you to pursue your goals.

Lastly, a social life is as important as everything else, but understand you may have to miss out on some fun events from time to time – especially during finals week.

6. Don’t be the “military” person all the time.

Being in the military instills a level of confidence and leadership qualities in people. Many veterans have a drive and work ethic unlike their civilian peers. This will tend to show up during group projects, as military students are likely to take charge or refer to their military experience when working with their peers.

Marines participate in tug-of-war competition during a field meet at Ellis Field at Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 17, 2016. (Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler W. Stewart)

Marines participate in tug-of-war competition during a field meet at Ellis Field at Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 17, 2016. (Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler W. Stewart)

These qualities are just part of your fabric. That said, it’s ok to turn off your “military” switch every now and again. Take a step back and let some of your fellow students take charge of a class project or presentation.

Have an open mind and learn from your fellow classmates. Ask them about their experiences and seek their advice. It may give you a new perspective on many aspects of life and help make you a well-rounded person.

7. Find your military community.

Going back to school can be lonely sometimes. This can be especially true for new veterans.

The good news is many institutions of higher learning are helping veterans transition to the classroom through veteran offices and organizations on campus. Connecting with fellow veterans can make your academic experience more rewarding.

8. You are never too old to go back to school.  

If you don’t remember anything else from this list, just remember the name Alfonso Gonzales.

During World War II, Gonzales served as a field medic, treating wounded in the Pacific. After the war, he attended the University of Southern California, but was one unit short of earning a Bachelor of Science in Zoology.

At 96-years-old, this World War II vet went back to USC, finished his degree, and became the oldest graduate in the school’s history.

back to school

Alfonso Gonzales, a World War II vet, finishes up his last class in autographical writing at the USC Davis School of Gerontology. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

If Mr. Gonzales can go back to school at 96, then you should have no problem.

Do you have any tips to help military members or veterans who are going back to school this fall? We would love to hear them in the comments section.

Follow Alex Licea on Twitter @alexlicea82

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