Many service members think of going back to school as a distant or unattainable goal. Whether you’re thinking about returning to the classroom after you get out of the service, attending next year, when you pick up your next rank, or whenever, it’s extremely beneficial to prepare mentally for the educational rigors ahead. For many, including myself, academic expectations will hit you like a freight train. Fear will set in, and all motivation to acquire a degree will die a horrible, painful death. Reentering the academic world after a long time can seriously disturb your confidence to succeed, but it doesn’t have to.
It can be horrifying to think about writing an essay or completing a series of math problems when you haven’t done either in years. How many words does this thing have to be? Oh, god… what is an exponent? These are the kinds of questions that pop into your head during your first weeks back in the academic saddle. There’s excellent news, though– school is a lot like riding a bike; even if you haven’t done it in ages, the skills come back relatively fast. But you might also be asking, what if I never learned how to do school the right way? The answer is, it’s never too late to learn, and despite what you might think, it’s really not that hard. It’s certainly not more challenging than some of the activities the military has required you to do.
To prepare you for your college experience there are options. Doing some free online courses with Khan Academy or reading ahead in a textbook, both of which are low-stakes, and allow you to re-familiarize yourself without the stress of getting a grade. Plus, if you don’t feel like teaching these skills to yourself, some kind people and amazing programs will feed them to you on a silver platter. You can use free resources like the Warrior Scholar Project (WSP) or get help from individuals like our Associates here at Next Step Inbound (NSI). Another suggestion is to immerse yourself with similarly goal-oriented people. If you don’t know already, ambitious friends can have a profound impact on your ability to succeed. They’ll challenge your urges to be lazy and give you helpful advice along the way.
Regardless of your choice to “lone-wolf” it or collaborate with others, the objective remains the same– familiarize yourself with the academic waters, so you don’t drown when it’s time to swim in them. I’ll make one more analogy before I’m done. If your “feelings toward school” are your arm, the “rigors of school” are going to punch you in that arm. By knowing the challenges ahead you get to flex your arm and the punch is going to hurt a lot less simply because you know what’s coming. To make the blow feel even softer, there are resources like WSP and NSI that act as puffy jackets. Most will agree it doesn’t hurt to get punched in the arm if you’re flexing and wearing a puffy coat. But it’s up to you how you want to get punched.