Colleges are enrolling veterans at record numbers in 2014 and much of that is thanks to the assistance our country gives to veterans who want to pursue an education. But returning to college after a life in the service is no easy feat. There are social and academic challenges the typical high school graduate doesn’t have to face, but there are advantages for veterans as well.
Paying for college is one of the most lucrative benefits from military service. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers the GI Bill to veterans who want to pursue a higher education. This often covers most, if not all, of their tuition. But veterans who need more aid have plenty of resources for tuition assistance. Federal Student Aid, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education, offers financial aid to veterans with significantly better interest rates and repayment plans than standard student loans. And if you choose to return to public service after graduation, those loans are eligible for forgiveness after 10-20 years.
Programs & Degrees
Veterans enter college with a specialized skill set, which can be an advantage when compared to high school graduates with no skill set. Veterans don’t just have experience that could aid in areas like criminal justice and technology, but also have leadership skills which give them a huge advantage in collaborative programs like project management. Penn Foster even offers a gunsmith program which could be perfect for veterans with exceptional experience with firearms.
But college (and the career that follows) doesn’t need ties to your military experience. Some veterans want to break ties with their time in the service and major in a creative study (English, art history, etc.) and earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Because tuition is mostly taken care of, this is a great time to pursue alternative opportunities.
Getting thrown into the epicenter of the ultimate social experience for young adults is never easy. You’ll likely be at least four years older than every other freshman on campus. And most them who are living away from their parents for the first time won’t understand your experiences fighting overseas. There are two ways to make your social experience in college the most rewarding it can be:
1. Seek out other veterans on campus. You’re not the only one and there will be at least one campus group for you to seek and and meet new friends. The common ground shared with these fellow veterans will be a great way to create a social base when you’re just starting your first semester.
2. Don’t leave civilians out of your social circle. The college experience is about expanding your horizons and excluding your friends to fellow veterans would be robbing yourself of the opportunity to meet new people with different backgrounds and experiences from your own.
Keep an Open Mind
In college, you’ll run into two scenarios that could baffle you, annoy you and possibly even anger you — the maturity level of 18-year-old freshmen and the anti-military views that college campuses often carry. The first thing to remember is that college is not split into veterans and non-veterans. There are dozens of demographics and you should do your part to experience all of them.
Author: Ruth Coleman, Lecturer, academic advisor, avid hiker