Three Ways Military Experience Benefits Veterans in Higher Ed
I was a non-traditional student in so many different ways. A military veteran, I had come to the decision of obtaining a degree only after more than a decade in the service. I was older than the students I shared the classroom with. I had different expectations and a different understanding of why I was there. I had a small collection of physical and mental barriers that these younger, healthier students did not.
Becoming a college student was a learning experience in and of itself. I had to learn what advantages my military service had given me when it came to participating in a university setting. I also had to learn what I needed to do to mitigate the disadvantages that came with being an older disabled veteran student. I was successful at this and did obtain my degree as a result. I’ve written this to share the things I learned that led to that success in the hopes that it will be helpful to other veterans who are exploring a college education.
While working my way through my degree I discovered that most of the traditional students were making things up on the fly. They had the list of requirements towards graduation and access to the school schedules, but they generally took things semester by semester. It was fairly common for me to hear a stressed out 20-year-old fretting over having graduation delayed by a year because of a cancelled class or overlooked prerequisite.
As a former NCO, I found that I easily avoided these issues. I was able to look over the requirements and plot out a complete action plan, ensuring that I had not only planned out all prerequisites, but that I had left extra time in the schedule in case any classes were delayed or cancelled. I was able to enroll in the classes I needed when I needed them on the first day of enrollment and not have to worry or face delays. Military vets have the training to be able to plan their education like they plan a mission, and enjoy the success that comes from that.
2. You have unique benefits
One of the biggest worries I saw students spend hours over was that of finances. Education is expensive today (though it’s less expensive than ignorance). These students spent hours worrying over Stafford loans, Pell grants, and scholarships.
As a military vet you have access to the GI Bill, of course. You should already be familiar with it thanks to numerous briefings from when you were in, so I won’t go into detail here. I am going to point out that there are additional options as well. Do you have a service-related disability? You could be eligible for Vocational Rehab through the VA.
There are also scholarships out there specifically for veterans, regardless of whether you are injured or not. Some examples would be the scholarships offered by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the Disabled American Veterans. This means that you can spend time focused on studying and not on worry over affording the degree.
3. Your disadvantages can be planned around
Unfortunately, being a veteran in the learning environment can have its disadvantages. Fortunately they can all be planned around and overcome. You just need to plan for them.
If you have physical disabilities stemming from your military service, you have the right to reasonable accommodations. Whether these accommodations include wheelchair accessible classrooms, closed captioning on videos, or the presence of a service animal, you have the right to these as a student. To be safe, plan ahead and work with the campus Disability Services office to make sure there are no unhappy surprises on the first day of class.
Similarly, if you have mental disabilities you also have the right to reasonable accommodation. If you have PTSD or a similar anxiety issue you can receive attendance wavers allowing you to step out of the class at need, for example. Even in extreme cases, you can still receive your education if you plan ahead. A significant number of public universities are offering entire degree programs online. I took several online classes and found them to be the least stressful of all my classes, socially, while still being just as rigorous academically as anything I experienced in a traditional classroom.
Being a veteran in the classroom carries with it certain advantages, and certain disadvantages as well. Fortunately, your experiences as a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine have given you everything you need to be successful in a degree program. Plan ahead, take advantage of your resources, and don’t let your disabilities get in the way. Get that degree and soldier on.
Author Perspective: Student