Demilitarize Yourself (to an Extent)
You define your service; don’t let your service define you.
Transitioning from the military to the classroom can be difficult, but your mindset and approach are crucial to helping you earn a strong, academic reputation. Here are some general guidelines that we feel will help you not only transition, but excel.
Leave Your Rank at the Door. You’re Not an NCO in the Classroom.
Whether you’re on active duty or are a veteran, your rank, billets, and qualifications are irrelevant in a classroom setting. You’re there to be a sponge, and that requires listening to others. Of course, use your leadership skills when it’s applicable, but throughout lectures and general classroom conversations, you are not the instructor—your professor is, and you must give both your professor and classmates your highest respect. Do not make the mistake of thinking your life experiences equate to immediate classroom success. Long story short, understand that when you enter the classroom, you must consciously become an impressionable student and respectful classmate.
I (Jake) have firsthand experience with a veteran classmate who refused to identify as anything other than a machine gunner. He was rude to both the professor and other students, and he acted like everyone owed him something. He once asked the professor a yes-or-no question about a subject which has no definitive yeses or nos, to which she answered with a 2-3 minute response. His response was disparagingly, “so, yes or no?” I talked to him on multiple occasions to deescalate his rising attitude, but please, please do not be this person. Being that most of your classmates are so young, you are probably one of the only younger veterans that they know, which means that everything you do becomes a representation of not only yourself, but of our veteran community as a whole. Remember that.
Respect Your Classmates.
This goes without saying. Whether your classmates served or not, you will never know what someone has gone through, regardless of what they may share with the outside world. Also, as veterans/service members, we have huge advantages in the admissions process. We have Free Veteran Programs that help us gain admission, pay for tuition, and succeed as students. Your civilian classmates don’t have nearly as many opportunities as we do, which means their road to college admissions was debatably more difficult, especially if you’re studying at a top university. Think about it: if you go to one of these universities where traditional freshman acceptance rates are 10% or lower, you’re surrounding yourself with the brightest peers on the planet, and you should respect them for their efforts, just as they’ll respect you for yours.
Further, don’t forget that top universities breed entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, and future subject matter experts. Show respect to these individuals, and gain some solid friendships that may one day professionally prove to be mutually beneficial. Before then, these individuals will probably be essential in your study groups, and you can potentially help each other in a variety of different subjects. Go make some friends!
Opinion: Don’t Forcefully Dress Like an Operator in Class.
Everyone on the NSI team has probably heard me (Jake) say that I don’t want to limit anyone’s creativity. Well, hear me out on this one. I understand that the vast majority of you are proud of your service—I am too. However, the classroom is not the environment that you want to express that pride by trying to look like an operator 24/7. Your classmates are, on average, 18-22 years old, and by representing yourself as the cliché, “disgruntled veteran,” you’re raising an intimidating barrier between yourself and the rest of your class. This proves disadvantageous for multiple reasons. First and foremost, you will spend substantial time with these students, and even though they may be much younger, you may very well find some really cool friends. Second, and this is especially relevant if you attend a very challenging university, many of your class peers will be highly successful. Don’t throw away networking opportunities by failing to realize that you may be accidentally isolating yourself.
Maybe reconsider wearing your MultiCam operator hat, T-shirt with an American flag on the sleeve, Crye pants, Merrell boots, and assault pack all in the same day. Save it for the range. Dress in a manner as to welcome classmates to your conversation, not deter them from considering you as their peer. Reminder: your fellow students are likely to be highly intelligent and can potentially help you succeed in the class. If anything, at least befriend a couple to form beneficial study groups.