Veteran college student and parent sitting on couch with toddler and writing in notebook
Tips for Student Veterans: Adjusting to College Life

By Kelly Burch

Joining the armed services is an educational opportunity unlike anything else. And yet after you’ve been discharged, you might realize that you’d also like a more traditional education. As a veteran, you have many advantages that will serve you well in college, such as discipline and valuing education. Yet the adjustment from the structured world of the military to the freedom of a college campus can also be jarring. 

In military operations, being prepared can set you up for success. College is no different. Understanding and planning for the challenges you’ll face as a veteran in college will help you. Remember, you’re joining millions of veterans who have gone to college after serving.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Sitting in a classroom can seem completely different from being on base halfway across the globe. But the skills you learned in the military will serve you well in college, especially when it comes to academics. Veteran students typically have a higher GPA than traditional college students and are more likely to graduate. That’s because student veterans have some advantages, including:

  • Being older, on average, and having more life experience than other college students
  • Choosing to continue education and being self-motivated 
  • Having discipline, focus, and leadership skills
  • Financial resources, including the GI Bill, that can make paying for college easier
  • Continued access to healthcare from the military

At the same time, coming to campus as a vet also can present challenges. Many veteran students feel like other folks on campus—from administrators and professors to fellow students—don’t understand what they’re going through during this transition, including:

  • Being a first-generation college student
  • Having a spouse, child, or family
  • Managing finances, including learning how to budget GI Bill funds and cover other expenses
  • Recovering from or living with serious injuries, including traumatic brain injuries or dealing with post-traumatic stress, which can present physical, learning, and emotional challenges

Resources to Ease the Adjustment

Through your military service, you’ve earned support that can help you succeed on campus. Although you might be tempted to start fresh and avoid tapping into the veterans community, remember that these programs exist for a reason and are there to help you achieve your goals. Before you arrive on campus, or even choose a school, take advantage of these resources:

  • Veterans services: Most colleges have a veterans support office, also known as veterans services. This on-campus service can help you navigate the financial benefits you’re entitled to and integrate into life on campus. The office can connect you with health care on campus, family housing support, and other resources. This is likely the main way you’ll access the resources available to you on campus.
  • Student Veterans of America: This national nonprofit helps veteran students achieve their goals and get their diplomas. They have chapters at more than 1,500 colleges. Find one near you
  • American Council on Education: Through the council, you may be able to get academic credit for some of your military service. These credits are granted after a process called a military evaluation or military review. Opting into a military evaluation can save you time and money as you pursue your degree.
  • VITAL program: Offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership program helps ease the transition to campus by supporting your physical and mental health. Find a VITAL program near you.

Cultivating Your Social Life on Campus

Some student vets want to leave their military identities behind, while others feel more comfortable connecting and socializing with other vets. The key is to find a balance. Although having a good network of people who have shared similar experiences is really valuable, it’s also important to broaden experiences and contacts. 

Tap into the resources and communities available to veterans, but also participate in clubs or internships with other goals and focuses you’re interested in. Learning to live as both a veteran and a student can help you reach your full potential until the day you walk across that stage, diploma in hand.

By Ailynn Infante
Ailynn Infante