10 Tips for Military Veterans to Succeed in College


Military veterans have an incredible financial benefit from their military service in the Post 9/11 GI Bill, college and university grants, and other forms of financial aid. The GI Bill gives military veterans a strong financial incentive to attend and to complete higher education. Employers view military service combined with a four-year college degree immediately following service as the foundation of an ideal employee for any company or industry.

Without doubt, there is a strong culture shock following military service, especially deployed combat service, and returning to the quiet and reflective settings of a university set on developing an appreciation of intellectual perspectives and in-depth study of things great and small. For military veterans, the over-focus on the differences of a college setting against a military environment misses what a college is supposed to be. A college is an institution that brings together a diverse group of people to create a setting of intellectual rigor, respect, discovery, and, ultimately, understanding and growth of what the world has been, is, and can be. College should be a focus on intellectual growth, research, discovery and understanding. It must not be a focus solely on differences or lack thereof.

Military veterans in higher education need a common set of rules to help them adapt to the intellectual setting or college that uses their prior military service as a springboard to educational success and not an anchor. 

Be Ready To Commit, To Be
Uncomfortable, and To Challenge Yourself

Military Veterans well remember the discomfort, surprise, and shock when we first went to Basic Training and our first deployments. Military Veterans also well remember the pride, strength, and espirit de corps that comes from graduating Basic Training, your first parachute jump, and the first time you qualify Expert on an assigned weapon. Military Veterans should expect these same emotions at college — discomfort, growth, and then mastery along an intellectual path.  College, just like the Military, is a path of challenge, discovery, failure and growth. Military Veterans must be ready to renew the challenge.

Chose Colleges Based On The Outcomes They Deliver –
Not On Opinions

Prospective students should act to research, understand and seek out the best educational outcomes that a degree will give them. Prospective students should seek out educational institutions with a large student body, a student retention rate of more than 80 percent, a graduation rate of more than 70 percent, a student loan repayment rate greater than 80 percent, additional student loan debt no more than $25,000 for four years, and an in-state tuition with books no more than $30,000. Higher education success is the percentage of students that graduate from the school, the percentage of students that pay back their educational debt, the percentage of students that are employed, a low level of debt, a low tuition level and a higher after graduation income. In short, college success is the success your career and finances experience when you graduate, not the short-lived esteem you experience upon admission. College success is a successful life and career following graduation.

Have a Vision Of Your Success

The vision of success for Military Veterans must be to attend the most challenging higher education institution that they can gain admittance that does NOT place them at risk financially or personally. The most important attribute for military veteran students is that they must see themselves succeeding in college and then as entrepreneurs, teachers, academics, professionals and others. College is a location to define and create a path to reach your goals.

Attend a Traditional College with The Goal of a 4-Year Degree

Traditional colleges that have physical classes, established campuses, and an array of academic support functions are often overlooked by military veterans because they feel that they do not “belong” at a traditional higher education institution due to their age, family stage or worldly experience. Military veterans get a broader, more focused and a higher educational value at traditional higher education institutions because they have the infrastructure, physical presence and learning style those military veterans are used to from their military education. 

Set A Goal of No More Than $2K of Educational Debt/Year

One of the ways that traditional higher education students and military veterans get into trouble while in school is taking on too much educational debt. A good rule of thumb is to take on no more than $2,000 of educational debt a year or $8,000 in educational debt in total over four years. A four-year degree with little or no educational debt is a great way to begin a professional future. A four-year degree with a high amount of educational debt places an instant burden on graduates that can take years to pay off. Keep educational debt to an absolute minimum by using all available GI Bill resources and saying “No” to debt.

Create a Detailed Daily and Weekly Schedule With Classes, Fun and Assignments

In the military, units operated from daily and weekly training and operations schedules to ensure that all critical assignments, training, and classes were scheduled and completed. Military veterans need to adopt this same framework to their daily lives in college. Schedule time for classes, homework, completing key assignments, exercise time, time for sleep and time for parties and dates. Staying on a detailed schedule is one of the best ways to carry over military disciple and succeed at college.

Go To All Your Classes, Sit In Front and Talk To Your Professor

I have been teaching college classes for over 10 years. One of the greatest signs of success in a college class are students that come to all classes, sit in front, and engage the professor and fellow students in conversation. Classroom and education engagement is one of the sure signs of a student that enjoys his or her experience and time at college.    

Have a Wide Group of Friends – All Committed to Graduating

Meeting, understanding, befriending and experiencing a wide group of different people is one of the best experiences of college. Again, a traditional college excels at bringing different groups of people together for a common learning experience. A wide group of friends that are united behind graduating, learning, and supporting each other is the best group of people to assist military veterans with the discipline, encouragement, and support to ensure successful completion of classes, coursework and graduation. 

Have a Paid Part Time Internship During The School Year and Summer

A key opportunity that not many military veterans undertake is finding a paid internship in their field of interest and/or study. Military veterans usually have part-time jobs, but what they need is to work at companies and in industries where they want to work following graduation. One of the best paths to find full time work is to undertake paid, part-time internships during the school year and summer. Internships give valuable experience, an idea of job paths following graduation, mentors and a network.

Start Networking and Your Job Search 18 Months from Graduation

Networking is the best way for military veterans to discover interesting occupations, find mentors, and find exciting companies with missions and visions that they embrace. The number one challenge most military veterans have to fulfill is to find a company that has a sense of purpose that they embrace and respect.  Finding a set of companies and mentors for hiring takes time, which is why military veterans need to start 18 months from graduation in creating a network to secure full time employment.

Military veterans in higher education are one of the best student groups for educators to have. Bright, engaged, ethical, experienced and focused. In order to get the most from their higher education experience, military veterans need to embrace the challenge of a traditional, four-year degree, chose a college based on the best outcomes those colleges deliver, and create a schedule that maximizes academics, healthy lifestyle, and social activities. 

It is vital that military veteran students create a network of mentors, professors, and friends that encourage completing college, finding a field of study they enjoy, and then finding a company that values everything the student military veteran can bring. Military veterans are great college students that have an incredible amount to offer to our colleges, communities and companies.

The Top 30 Colleges and Universities for Military Veterans

These colleges and universities offer four year degrees, have large student populations, offer a variety of military veteran support services, have a high admissions rate, a higher than 75 percent graduation rate, a student loan repayment rate higher than 90 percent, and a low ratio of student debt to full education costs. In a word, these high performing value institutions offer a great education and educational return for military veterans. 

Chad Storlie is the Founder of The College Pick. The College Pick is dedicated to help current and prospective college students, their families, and employers discover educational institutions that deliver the best educational outcomes in terms of high graduation rates, low student debt levels, and high rates of post-graduation employment. Storlie is the author two books, Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and Battlefield To Business Success, over 150 print and online articles, and has been published in over 85 distinct publications. He is a nationally recognized public speaker on military veteran issues, business performance and business diversity issues. Storlie is a 10 plus year adjunct Professor of Marketing at Creighton University. He is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) officer and an Iraq combat veteran.

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