What should I know about being a student Veteran?
Many Veterans decide to further their education after returning to civilian life. Whether you recently left active duty or have been a Veteran for many years, going to college after military service can be exciting and can present new possibilities —but it can also be challenging. For instance, you may sometimes find it hard to juggle the demands of school with other aspects of your civilian life. It may be frustrating to interact with people who don’t understand your military experiences. It’s important to be aware of the difficulties you may have to deal with — and the steps you can take to address them.
What types of issues should I keep an eye out for while in school?
Some student Veterans find that they have trouble with the topics covered in class. Although they understand the importance of these classes and the value of higher education, they may find that the content covered in class seems to have much less real-world relevance than some of the things they experienced in the military. The lifestyle and activities of other students who are not Veterans may seem trivial or like a waste of time. If you’re not relating to your classmates, it may make you feel isolated or depressed.
“While the other students in my class seemed to be focused on tonight’s party, I was thinking about being back in Afghanistan where I was part of something bigger. That’s when I reached out and found other Vets on my campus, which helped a lot.”
Alcohol and drugs are a frequent part of some college social scenes. If you drink or take drugs, you may find that your substance use begins to interfere with your grades, your work, or your ability to get along with others over time. The friends and social activities you choose will influence your behavior.
Some Veterans experience problems with memory or concentration. It may be hard to pay attention in classes, to focus on learning material, or to remember what you have learned for exams. If you have trouble sleeping, feel constantly on edge, or experience recurring nightmares or flashbacks of a traumatic event, this can make school even more challenging.
What can I do if I’m having a hard time going back to school as a Veteran?
Going from something familiar — like military life — to something new and different — like school — can be hard, but there are things you can do to make it easier. Try to remember to:
- Start with a few courses to ease the transition.
- Reach out to other Veterans on your campus for social support.
- Get to know your new professors, tell them you’re a Veteran, and ask for advice on how you can be successful in the classroom.
- When studying, take as many breaks as you need; find a study partner when possible.
- Take advantage of your school’s academic, tutoring, and academic counseling services.
- Recognize your own signs of stress, and look for daily ways to manage that stress.
- Exercise regularly and practice relaxation techniques to help reduce anxiety and improve concentration.
- Participate in student activities to break down barriers and become part of the campus community.
- Recognize that others may not agree with you or understand your military service; agree to disagree.
- Seek out social activities that don't revolve around alcohol and drugs.
- Be prepared for direct questions about your service, sometimes in very public, seemingly inappropriate situations; practice ahead of time how you would like to respond.
- Respectfully decline to talk about things that make you uncomfortable.
Your family, friends, trusted classmates, and professors can be a source of stability and support. Staying in contact with them may help ease the transition and provide you with a good source of feedback for your thoughts and concerns.
In addition to these strategies, you have strengths and skills that you learned through your military service and training. Using these skills also will help you address challenges and support your transition to higher education and campus life.
- You learned leadership skills and can lead by providing direction and demonstrating responsibility for others.
- You know how to set a positive example, while inspiring and influencing people with motivation and direction.
- You accomplished tasks and have been successful as part of a team.
- You learned to be flexible and adaptable to meet new and changing situations and environments.
- You learned to understand and solve complex challenges.
- You learned to treat diverse groups of people in the military with the highest level of respect. Your work with people of different backgrounds has prepared you to interact and work with anyone.
- You served in various locations around the world. Your experience and perspective can enrich any classroom discussion.
Take the next step: Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with resources, services, and support to address the issues affecting their lives. If issues at school are interfering with your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, activities, or ability to study, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:
- Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does.
- A mental health professional, such as a therapist
- Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
- A spiritual or religious adviser