Even before troops enlist, they see their civilian buddies off to college as their life takes another path. Many years later, they'll finish up their contract and trade the rucksack for a backpack.
Regardless of what veterans want to do with their lives after leaving the service, attending a college, trade school, or university is the smartest option. After all, if you've spent this long earning the benefits of the GI Bill, you'd be shooting yourself in the foot by not using them.
Chances are that college life is a little different from what a veteran pictures in their head. Unfortunately, it's not just barracks-like parties and classes starting at 11AM that you can simply sleep through to get to the next party. I mean, that may be true for the very lucky few, but don't expect anything like that. Here's what you can expect:
You will move slower.
The military instills a certain rhythm on its troops. Move here. Do this. Get that done. Hurry up and wait. Once you get to college, you'll realize that there's none of that. The very first time you show up late to class, the professor won't even chew your ass out. You'll just find your seat and carry on with your day.
This sounds like fun at first — until you notice all of your drive and motivation begin to slip away...
They take failing classes very seriously.
Getting that sweet college tuition paid for is amazing — but what they don't tell you is that you need to pass all of your classes with a C+ average in order to qualify for more GI Bill money.
Let's say you flunk out of Underwater Basket Weaving 101. You'll have to repay the VA for that class because Uncle Sam won't pay for your dumb ass. This gets worse with each class you fail.
You may still have student loans (depending on the college).
The GI Bill is amazing and it is, hands down, the greatest thing the U.S. military has ever done for its veterans. But just because you served four years in the military doesn't mean you can immediately get a full-ride to Harvard.
If you go to a community college, trade school, or take classes at a university with a lower tuition rate because it's matched with the Yellow Ribbon Program, then you're good. Just be sure to contact the school's veterans' affairs office while you're applying and find out if you're fully covered.
You need to show up regularly.
The first few years of college classes are kind of a joke. Those first few semesters are spent trying to catch everyone up to speed before getting started on your actual degree. You may even have to take high-school level math classes just to fill the general education requirements. But even if these easy classes bore you to freakin' death, you still need to show up.
If you miss too many classes, the VA office will be forced to suspend your BAH payments. Any more classes after that and you're dropped from role — which then falls on your lap to repay.
Your BAH checks probably aren't going to be enough.
Enjoy getting those paychecks every first and fifteenth while it lasts. College students only get their BAH payments on the first of the month. If you can't learn to ration what little you get each month, be prepared to pick up a side hustle.
Oddly enough, if your school offers any sort of dormitory living accommodations, laugh your way out of the door. Taking the college dorm negates the need for your own BAH to pay for an apartment elsewhere. Then you'd really need to get a side hustle to have enough money to live.
In college, you'll probably be the babysitter to younger classmates
Remember how stupid you were when you were a fresh eighteen year old in the military? You may have gotten into a lot of trouble just doing dumb stuff in the barracks. Now take away the safety net of NCOs babysitting you and you're left with what happens when underage college freshmen discover alcohol.
The thrill of partying with the younger kids goes away the moment you have to help someone to the bathroom because they start hurling after one shot. If you still want to hang out with your classmates, prepare to babysit.