College Life for a New Veteran
Veteran College LifeVeteran College Life

College Life for a New Veteran

When I left the Army, I made a vow to myself to start school right away. My plan was simple—attend community college for two years and then attend a four-year college to obtain my degree. Six years, three colleges, and three degree changes later, I obtained my BA in English in 2009. I received my Masters in 2015. While my military experience gave me a strong head start for my college journey, there were situations for which I was not prepared.

Soldier to Student

To begin with, I thought my transition from soldier to civilian would be easier than it was. And although I wasn’t that much older than my fellow students, I, in fact, felt years older. Together, these things not only made it harder to relate, but created a more frustrating time within the classroom.

Plus, just as I was learning to readjust, I decided to transfer to a higher profile college. In Illinois, I found there were a lot of perks for the veteran college student and — coupled with the GI Bill– I took advantage of every opportunity. I enrolled in a prestigious college an hour away and lived off campus to avoid further expenses. However, while the commute to school was fine, the commute from school was a living nightmare taking upwards of three hours a night. This, in turn, made it difficult to find time to get the necessary tutoring for math class. By the end of the first term, I failed a class, had limited financial resources, and was mentally and emotionally exhausted.

Lessons Learned

But this is not meant to be a cautionary tale, it’s a teachable moment. As military personnel, we routinely draw confidence from our inner strength. We plow through anything that gets in our way. But it’s not all about achieving objectives. Sometimes the very things that set us back turn out to be the necessary lessons to help us move forward. I was resistant to change and I made things harder for myself in the long run.

On top of that, I was too involved indulging in civilian stereotypes instead of getting to know my fellow students. And as for my first choice of a four -year college, I must admit I mistook prestige for a good fit. But by realizing my transition to civilian life would entail bumps, not insurmountable obstacles, I learned that I need to be more communicative with my fellow students as well as my professors. And by researching all the elements of college life, not just the institution’s name and educational reputation, I was able to better choose an institution that worked for me.

For me, college was the right choice. That said, there are other paths after the military. But whatever you choose, do the research, understand the transition may take time but will happen, and, in the end, you will find yourself further along than you imagined.

About our Contributor

Stacey Bell is an Army vet currently living in Brooklyn, New York. She received her Masters in English from California State University, Long Beach.


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