At some point in their career, every member of the military member considers life after their enlistment is completed. Often, they are filled with excitement as they anticipate the sense of freedom they will experience on the day they get out. With longing in their eyes, they imagine waking up late, not shaving or doing their hair. They imagine themselves lounging around all day without a care in the world. But as that glorious day grows closer when they will earn their coveted DD-214, the initial excitement begins to be overcome by fear.
As the day draws closer, the dream of living a life of ease as a civilian turns into the nightmare realization that the support and stability offered by the military will end. The checks will stop showing up. But the bills won’t. The house payment will still have to be paid, along with insurance, clothing, and many other things. On top of that, there will be the added pressure of proving that you made the right choice. In the back of your head will be the fear the you’re going to one day look back with regret and wish you had listened to your leadership and taken that next enlistment. That fear is felt by every service member at some point.
But it is even stronger for a veteran who desires to go to college. There are two main groups in the military. The first tends to be those who have dreamed of a twenty-year career. The other is made up of those with aspirations of getting out and making money. But there is a third group consisting of veterans who desire to go to college. It’s a rather small group, but they do exist. Many entered the military looking for a fresh start after a bad college experience. Others wanted to take advantage of the incredible opportunities provided by the GI Bill. But regardless of why veterans want to go to college, the pressure on them is especially high. They know that they will lose the stability of the military and will be unable earn a decent income through full-time employment.
Most veterans know what it is like to be warned by their command about just how difficult it will be to afford to live and go to school. Some will even disparage college as a waste of time. Then there is the strongly-opinionate future underwater welder who brags about his future career in an oddly specific field where he assures you he will earn six figures with minimal effort. All of these voices can begin to raise doubts about your decision and can often leave you feeling like you are setting yourself up for failure.
As a veteran who once had all those voices screaming in my ear, I am here to tell you to shut them out. The truth is that your time in the military has transformed you in a multitude of ways. And, whether you realize it or not, you have what it takes to fulfill the dream of attending a great university. With the assistance of the GI Bill, countless veteran-specific programs, and a little initiative on your part, you have all you need to turn the dream of college into a reality.
Life after the military is filled with many unknowns but the transformation and growth you experienced in the enlisted ranks has developed you into an individual who is equipped to embrace challenges and actually excel in the classroom. The student veteran community is thriving. We provide a voice of reason as you transition from the stability of the military into the classroom. We have been where you are now, and we have made it through. The journey from the military to the civilian world is intimidating but often, student veterans find that the college campus provides a structure and stability that allows them to not only adapt to civilian life, but actually thrive.
If you are on the fence about what to do after your military service is complete, and you are considering whether college is worth it, I would encourage you to look at the numbers. From the graph below you will see that, on average, the median income of someone with a college education is $54,700, compared to $34,900 for someone with a high school diploma. These numbers are not true for everyone and there are exceptions, but the value of a college education cannot be ignored. Do not let doubters and naysayers change your mind. There are plenty of veterans just like you who have discovered that life after the military can include a successful college experience that leads to a fulfilling career in the field of your choice.