5 Challenges for Veterans Heading to Higher Education

  • Age
  • Anti-Military Sentiment
  • Disability
  • Impatience
  • Isolation

Not all veterans realize the challenges of attending college post-military service. From feeling ten to twenty years older than everyone else in the classroom to struggling with physical disabilities, former military members have unique issues when furthering their education. Luckily, these problems can be managed with the right planning. The first step in overcoming these challenges is understanding what they are.

1. Age

The typical college student is 18 years old. Veterans heading to college are older than their counterparts in both age and experience. This can be frustrating for vets who don't care about playing beer pong, reading Instagram posts or keeping up with fashion trends. Post-military college students have a few ways to avoid being stuck in a classroom full of teenagers. First, many colleges and universities cater to older students. Online programs, commuter campuses, and urban colleges are more likely to have an older-than-average student body. Second, veterans can use their military experience to get college credit and skip introductory classes.

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2. Anti-Military Sentiment

Many college student bodies lean towards the liberal end of the spectrum and can host an anti-war or even anti-military sentiment. This means formerly military members, particularly those who saw combat, might find themselves challenged by fellow students. It's best to remember that many students are still exploring their beliefs and may not realize how naive they sound. Getting angry won't help the situation. Professors and college administrators should be able to provide support in the case of personal attacks.

3. Disability

For vets with mental or physical disabilities, transitioning to the civilian world can be difficult. Luckily, college campuses are one of the best places for people with disabilities. Almost every university has an Office of Disability Services that can help students obtain handicapped parking spaces, extra testing time or necessary emotional support. These offices provide a safe, welcoming place for disabled veterans.

4. Impatience

After four to eight years of life-and-death situations, properly filling out the bubbles on a Scantron sheet can seem trivial. General education classes like History 101 might seem like a waste of time. Although frustrating, veterans can draw on their long experience of institutions. Organic Chemistry might seem hard, but it doesn't have anything on the stresses of boot camp. On-campus counseling or social outlets can help former military members blow off steam.

5. Isolation

According to Military.com, one of the biggest challenges for students attending college post-military service is a sense of isolation. Veterans have spent years in the real world, and it's hard to relate to the concerns of young classmates. Plus, vets are often juggling family, school, and work, making it hard to hang out at the campus coffeehouse to make friends. One way of fighting isolation is looking for veteran student associations. Many universities are encouraging these organizations to allow veterans to connect with other former service members. These clubs can help new students with military experience navigate campus, plan special events for Veterans Day or simply offer a social outlet for post-military students. Joining an on-campus ROTC is another way for post-military students to feel connected to the campus community.

With post-service benefits like the GI Bill, more and more former military members are pursuing a bachelor's or master's degree. This surge in enrollment will create a supportive peer environment for overcoming the challenges of attending college post-military.