As you consider the path out of active duty and into the classroom, it can feel like an overwhelming sea of decisions to make. Where do I go? Where do I start? How do I know that school ABC will be the best fit for me? The answers to these questions will look different for everyone, and fortunately (and maybe for the first time in a while), the decision on your next step will be entirely up to what works best for you.
As you begin your journey, you can simplify the decision-making process by compartmentalizing the following different factors that I and most others have had to consider while pursuing our path. The importance of each factor will be based on your individual situation and values. In general, I have found these to be good guidelines for aspiring scholars, whether they currently apply to you or not.
Academics/ Field of study
Like every branch, every university has its own strengths and weaknesses, and some schools will inherently prepare you better or worse for a given career path. By looking back to the subjects that you have enjoyed or know you want to stay away from, you can narrow down what kind of curriculum you would be most interested in and what kind of career path might be fulfilling. As with any endeavor, the key here is to take some initiative, research online, and look within your work history to realize what you do or do not like. Remember that with hard work, patience and commitment, all paths are within your reach, so do not sell yourself short of your academic dreams before you have begun- our founders and reps are proof of the endless possibilities.
Campus Culture/ Environment
This factor, and the one before it, typically will go together when describing a school overall. Analyzing how well the school’s mixture of factors fits your values should be the determinant in your success and happiness at that institution. At the end of the day, hopefully, not all your time will be spent in the classroom or library, and you will spend time building relationships with people at your institution inside and outside of your degree of study. After all, it is not just what you know but also who you know, so make sure the schools you are pursuing are known for having environments or extra-curricular activities which you would enjoy doing with your next social circle. It is important here to be honest with yourself and realistic about what you want and need to be satisfied; if a strong night-life, football program, or “Work hard play hard” is something you want, maybe MIT is not the perfect school for you (although you would become a hell of an engineer). On contrast, if you recognize that you have a hard time balancing rigorous academics and the opportunities of tailgate season, or no interest in that scene, maybe an SEC school is not the right fit either.
Location can be arguably of lesser importance than the first two factors for wherever you choose to finish your degree, but for many of us, it was important for beginning our college journey. As the title suggests, it is most important to take the first and smaller steps and get the ball rolling. If you were anything like me and your high school performance did not cut it for your dream school, you may have to evaluate your local options (around your station, other areas you have lived before/would like to live) and begin establishing a new academic rapport. In this situation, think about where you would be able to find the most success, you are starting fresh academically speaking, and your time in the military certainly prepared you to be capable of having the highest level of success at any junior college if you fully commit yourself to the task. Looking past the beginning stages of your academic career, location can start to be considered for what kind of environments you enjoy living in, where you might want to be long term or near friends/family/relationships you have already established if those are very important to you. Just do not forget that you will typically perform to the best of your abilities when you are emotionally and physically healthy. Location will determine future employment opportunities, especially if one is attending a less renowned school, as employers prefer to hire locally. Additionally, location is deterministic regarding graduate schools and law schools, as these programs generally feed into local businesses.
Financially speaking, seeking a college education should be looked at as an investment in your future/career path because you invest time and resources and even take on student debt sometimes to qualify for higher-paying positions and opportunities. I think it is very important to realize that college is not just an education, though, but an experience, just like the military was more than a job. If you choose to take those baby steps towards investing in the correct experience and wisely use the resources which are available to us as veterans, almost any price can and will be worth the experience. Again, this will take some internal soul-searching, analysis of values/priorities and opportunities, but ask any of our team members at NSI, and I know we will all say the same thing: the investment is worth it.
Like anything, if you work hard, take initiative, and embrace the environments/opportunities which are available to you in your unique situation, I know you will accomplish your goals and see the success that you want. If you have any further questions about how I made my college decisions or how you might be able to easier make yours, please do not hesitate to reach out!