Two Essential Secrets for Veterans in College

A veteran's brief guide to a successful college experience.

Posted Nov 27, 2017

Timothy Kelly/Flickr
Source: Timothy Kelly/Flickr

As former service members, we face many challenges when we transition out of the military and into college life. In the Fall of 2015, I was discharged from the military in August and started my first semester at Yale in September. Throughout my first year, I learned a few lessons I hope to impart to fellow veterans interested in higher education.

My number one tip for academic success is to borrow study tips from other students. While serving, many of us have heard the adage of “drinking from a firehose” when we arrive at a new base or make adjustments for the mission. College is no different.

On my first exam, I received a grade I was embarrassed to show anyone. But after borrowing study strategies from classmates, my grades rapidly improved. Ask students about their study habits, how they use their time, and what kind of mobile apps they use to study on-the-go.

Beyond mere concern for grades, it is important to build relationships with professors to grasp difficult subjects. While professors may appear aloof, many have simply grown used to undergraduates not taking interest in the material besides getting a good grade.

There are better methods. I met one student who seldom attended class but went to every office hours session, often the only person, and found this to be a successful way to comprehend what she thought was indecipherable material.

Another potential issue veterans might face is social integration. As an older student, you may feel a sense of detachment from your younger peers on campus. This is normal. Still, you will want to meet new people, make new friends, and learn about the social life at your college.

Once a new semester starts, cliques start to form after about three weeks. For those first few weeks, everyone is feeling self-conscious. You can be self-conscious too, but not until after the third week. Until that point, be social. This is what college is about—meeting different people.

Most of your peers will be curious about your experiences, and you’ll often find that many of them have fascinating stories of their own. While times are changing, the traditional path toward college has directly from high school.

One thing to keep in mind as you wonder what planet you’ve just landed on with these young students who don’t know what an MRE is: We’re unusual (and experienced) students, and they're eager to hear your story.

You can follow Rob on Twitter here: @robkhenderson.