After you have served your country, it can be difficult to envision how you might carve out a place for yourself in civilian life. You have not only lived a life full of structure and routine, but also have been through experiences that are hard for most people to relate to. Diving back into everyday life, planning the next steps in your career, and looking at military-friendly colleges can at times seem overwhelming.
However, you are also at a remarkable advantage as a veteran. Not only do you have valuable real-world experience, but you also qualify for a range of exclusive benefits unavailable to ordinary citizens.
Let’s look at some of the most helpful things to consider when striking out on the next step. Among them are deciding what career you want to pursue — even if you don’t have any clue what you’d like to pursue yet — as well as how to take advantage of the GI Bill®¹. We’ll also look at how you have a leg up as a veteran, how to deal with being an adult student, and how to choose a school that’s right for you.
Let’s get started with the best first step: thinking about what career you may want to pursue.
Deciding What Career Is Right for You
College can be a strange journey. When students enter around age 18, they are essentially expected to pick a major and prepare for a career based on what they’ve chosen to study. They often lack the life experience to make such a far-reaching decision.
You may feel the same way even now, as an adult. However, you already have a vast set of valuable, real-world skills that will help you in whatever career you do decide to pursue. Here are a few options that line up with certain skill sets.
- Enjoy communicating with others? If you excel at communication, there are a staggering number of real-world jobs that need you. Among them are psychologists, counselors, teachers, coaches, consultants, office managers, secretaries, trainers, public relations specialists, doctors, nurses, and physician’s assistants. There are many more options as well — a gift for communicating with others face-to-face is an asset so many businesses and services find valuable.
- Enjoy crunching numbers? If you remember math and science always coming easily to you, you have another unique advantage with a host of jobs available to you. A few examples are bankers, accountants, mathematicians, analysts, scientists, lab technicians, engineers, programmers, and more. Your ability to solve problems is a particularly coveted asset, and you can find a career that puts it front and center.
- Enjoy building and designing things? You may find engineering to be the perfect fit for you. Not only are engineers in demand, but they often get lucrative job offers straight after receiving their degrees. Additionally, engineering is one of the most diverse fields in the world. Engineers can work on designing auto parts, phone and computer networks, rocket ships and airplanes, smartphones and apps, any number of mechanical devices, and much more. There are also a host of outstanding skilled jobs outside of engineering — think of electricians, mechanics, solar and wind power specialists, plumbers, and construction contractors.
- Love technology? The world is effectively run by computers, and if you have anything of a knack for them — even if it’s just gaming-related — there is a vast market for your skills and passion. Look at jobs like computer programming, video game design and testing, app creation, web design, SEO work, and web hosting. There is a good bit of remote work available in this field, meaning you can sometimes work from wherever you’d like.
- Good at organization, details and management? Perhaps you’ve noticed you are skilled at keeping things tidy and making sense of situations that leave others flustered. Organization is a skill countless employers need in their workforce. Look at jobs like legal assistants, journalism, management, office organization, writing, office management, and others.
The list above is just a sprinkling of ideas and by no means a comprehensive list. If any of them sound intimidating, remember college is there to prepare you for careers that would otherwise be just out of reach.
If You Don’t Have a Clue What You’d Like to Do
Transitioning from active duty to the civilian workforce leaves many with a feeling of anxiety. You may not have the slightest inkling of what career you’d like to pursue. That is completely normal. The good news is, college is not only a means of preparing for the workforce, but is also an excellent way to narrow down your interests and home in on a career.
One helpful strategy is to take the GI Bill®’s free CareerScope test to discover what your strongest vocational suits are. Taking it can, at the very least, make you aware of what you naturally excel at — allowing you to explore a bit of what types of careers stem from that aptitude. There is also the Department of Labor’s My Next Move for Vets. If you find yourself wavering on what you want to study in college, these are reliable ways to start the search.
If you do choose to follow a certain major as a result — mathematics or English, for example — pursuing the degree will only help you narrow down your choices of career. This is an often-underappreciated part of college. There is an assumption adult students should have a clear goal before starting a secondary or tertiary education, but in reality, college is a powerful tool for developing the goal itself.
If you think you’d love engineering, for example, taking engineering classes is the fastest way to either confirm or reject the idea. It’s not a waste of time. Rather, it is a valuable part of laying the groundwork for your future.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a College
- What type of degree would you like to obtain? There are several different types of degrees. One is an associate degree, which usually takes two to four years to complete at a community college or university. It tends to require two years of classes and 60 credit hours of coursework at minimum. A bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for graduate school, and takes four years and 120 hours minimum of coursework. A master’s is a graduate program for those who have already completed undergraduate coursework, and is typically a two-year degree. Lastly, a doctorate — also known as a Ph.D. — is the final degree offered in academia, and can take three to six years to complete.
- Do you want to attend a public school? Public colleges and universities are state-funded and must answer to the government in some regards, though they also receive donations and tuition for income. They offer cheaper tuition rates for students who live in-state — and the VA GI Bill® also covers in-state tuition. For out-of-state veteran students, there is the Yellow Ribbon Program.
- Do you want to attend a private nonprofit school? Private colleges do not receive allocations from the state, but instead rely on donations and tuition for funding. These schools typically cost more than public schools and can be more discerning in accepting students. The VA GI Bill® has a maximum allowance for private nonprofit schools.
- Do you want to attend a private for-profit school? These schools operate in much the same way as private nonprofits, except they are run by a board of directors who view the school as a profit venture. They tend to have a more generous acceptance rate, and the VA GI Bill® also allows a maximum number of dollars for nonprofit schools.
- Do you want to attend a feeder school? This path lets you attend a community college for two years, then transfer to an in-state public university. Twenty-eight different states currently have agreements in place between universities and community colleges. This path is good for those wanting to ease into college, while ultimately earning credentials from a more prestigious school.
- Do you want to attend an online school? If you have a family and other responsibilities that might make attending a full-time school difficult, online schools are another option. Just make sure to look for military-friendly online schools that understand your unique situation.
- Is the school a good one? The Department of Education has a tool called the College Scorecard you should consult when looking at different options for schools. If the school meets your standards, take a trip and visit the campus with a guided tour. Ensure it’s a place you would enjoy attending for several years, and make sure it is equipped for and friendly to veterans.
- Is the school covered by the GI Bill®? If you have served in active duty, chances are you qualify for a state-funded college education — in which case, your education, housing, and supplies could potentially all be covered. The GI Bill®’s website can also be useful for seeing if a school is accredited — that is, if your degree will be useful for getting you a job. When choosing a college, make sure your degree program is accredited by using the GI Bill® Comparison Tool. Just search for the school’s name, click on “School Summary,” and view the accreditations.
- If you were to apply for a job in your prospective career, how would they regard a degree from this school? In a similar vein as No. 7, you can check to see if a degree at a certain school is accredited using the GI website. If a degree isn’t on the list, that is a bad sign — you want employers to respect your degree.
- Does the school make promises it can’t keep? There are money-hungry schools out there that make big promises about employment after graduation. However, this is a red flag — schools cannot guarantee you a job. Does the school have a center for helping students find careers, with services like résumé editing? If not, do some investigation to make sure you are not just another number to them.
- Do they offer valuable services for veterans? Will you have one-on-one help throughout your education? Is there a resource center for veteran students? Do they offer veteran housing? Is there a strong representation of veterans on campus? Choose a school that cares about you. You deserve to get all the help you need, and there are schools out there that are ready to provide it.
The Advantages You Have as a Veteran
Going through college as an adult can pose its challenges — being the oldest person in a classroom, dealing with family, finances, and responsibilities — but it can also serve you well in many ways. Here are some of them:
- You have real-world experience. It is the precious ingredient that most college students can only hope for, but one you have plenty of. Understanding how organizations run, how the world works, and how people interact in real-life situations is an invaluable skill in the classroom.
- You have skills. Again, you have a leg up on most students in that you have practical skills. The teamwork, discipline, problem-solving, and structure you practiced in active duty are going to be valuable assets.
- You have a support network. Not only are there vet centers and vocational rehab services available to veterans, you can also find kindred spirits in other veterans who are going back to school. Try forming study groups to help with homework assignments, tough concepts, and morale.
How to Deal With Being an Adult Student
First off, don’t be afraid to pace yourself. Diving into school full-time can lead to you overextending your personal resources and burning out. Give yourself time to adjust and develop study habits. Also, remember to give your mind and body some rest. Getting plenty of sleep at night and taking breaks every few hours during studying are essential to keeping your brain and body healthy.
Use the college’s veteran services. If you have an issue with physical or mental health, don’t hesitate to get help from dedicated workers in the veteran resource center.
At Vista College, we treat our veteran students individually, with the respect and attention they deserve. We also know you have many things to consider when choosing a college, which is why we strive to offer plenty of benefits to our students. These include:
- Programs running every five weeks
- A short wait time for enrollment
- Accelerated learning and a shorter time to graduation
- Hands-on learning and smaller classes
- Lifetime career services assistance and lifetime job/employment assistance for graduates
- Low instructor-to-student ratio, allowing for personalized teaching
- Day and night schedules available
- Experienced instructors
- Convenient class schedules
- Most programs allow you to train to start a new career in less than a year
We offer several specialized programs for medical office specialists, business administration, network administration, and paralegal. Read more information on our other programs in criminal justice, dental assistance, executive administration, electrical mechanics, and much more. Our goal is to prepare you to seek employment in the field of your choice as efficiently as possible. Contact Vista College today to explore taking the next step in your life.
¹GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.