It comes as no surprise that so many of today’s veterans are making the choice to pursue higher education. Technical certificates and degrees are more valuable than ever before in history.
Many of us that use GI Bill benefits come out of the military with an idea of what college life will be like, and this can often lead to frustration and disappointment when those expectations are not met. As I completed my bachelor’s degree a few weeks ago, I caught myself pondering how different my college experience might have been if I had gone to a university right after high school instead of going later in life. I quickly realized that the college experience for veterans is full of sacrifices and challenges that are not immediately apparent.
- The “college experience” is not nearly as exciting or liberating when you have already lived a life away from home. Many vets have been to war, traveled the world, formed lifetime bonds with other like-minded people, and have had extraordinary experiences. This can leave the college experience that we all look forward to seem rather lackluster by comparison.
- Choosing a school has less to do with great locations and respected academic programs, and more to do with administrative cooperation. For some, this means choosing a school based on cooperation with your residency or GI Bill status. For me, it had everything to do with transfer credits. I had a dream school that I envisioned myself attending after leaving the military, but unfortunately that school did not honor the majority of my CLEP and military credits. In order to make the most out of my GI Bill, I researched until I found a school that was generous with these types of transfer credits. While choosing schools in this manner is less than ideal, it is the reality for many veterans who cannot get their needs met by their first school of choice.
- In order to survive on the GI Bill alone, some serious financial sacrifices must be made. The Post 9/11 GI Bill offers veterans a generous housing allowance to provide veterans with housing while completing school. This housing allowance is typically much less than the pay that service members receive while on active duty, and thus requires a huge lifestyle adjustment. Beloved dinner dates and cigarettes will probably need to be put off until after graduation. For some veterans, the financial struggle is more than just avoiding luxury goods. It is not uncommon for a service member to leave the military with a spouse and children who must have their basic needs met while the veteran attends school. Most veterans will need to work to stay afloat while attending college, and this can push a veteran past his or her limit. The expected care-free college experience can be more like a financial nightmare for adjusting veterans.
As veterans, we tend to glorify the college experience we see in our favorite comedy movies, but must acknowledge that we are not entering school under the same circumstances as our classmates. The GI Bill provides us with a great opportunity to attend training and be competitive in the work force, but does not promise that the path will be easy.
Despite these sacrifices, light at the end of the tunnel really is a bright one. With wise choices and concrete focus, a veteran can walk off the graduation stage with a diploma in one hand and a DD214 in the other, and sprint right into the next great opportunity.