Should You Go to College After the Military? Here’s How to Decide

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Those leaving the military have several choices. For many, the Post-9/11 GI Bill makes heading back to school a very attractive choice. But even if college sounds good, you might still be struggling to make the decision. How do you choose what to do? How do you know what school to attend?

It’s important to take some time to consider your options, gather information, conduct a self-assessment, think through possible outcomes and assess risks and rewards. Making education choices requires some soul searching and honest conversations with people in your life who care about you.

Don’t know where to start? Consider the following as you work through the decision-making process:

How We Choose

Decision-making is a skill, not an ability, and it’s important to learn how to look objectively at the pros and cons to make sound choices. Knowing who you are and what you want to accomplish in life is extremely valuable as you decide if college is a right choice for you.

Values

Most of the decisions we make are expressions of the values we hold. Identify for yourself and articulate clearly what really matters to you. Make a personal list of what values matter most to you. Narrow down your list with people you trust to four to six core personal values.

The Logical Next Step

Why not do something else? College is a serious investment of time and effort. It's often a time of financial scarcity, despite robust VA benefits. A good exercise is to list your professional and personal goals. Leaning on people you trust, narrow down your list to four to six meaningful goals.

Options and Opportunities

Thanks to the post-9/11 GI Bill, the option to go to college doesn't go away. While going right after exiting service is the right answer for many veterans -- but it is not the only choice. Rather than go too soon, reflect on your list of core values and professional/personal goals. What paths might you take to achieve them? Is college the only way? Is another path more realistic?

Talking it Through

Connect with people who really know you, have your best interests at heart and have valuable insights into the decision you're trying to make. Just like in the military, rely on those you trust and who you know have your back and then look at that group objectively. Determine if you need to add to it to find additional guidance.

Making a Choice

Considering your unique circumstances, motives and goals, and having listened to and learned from others, you're now ready to make your decision. It should align with the reality of who you are, what you care about and what you want to achieve. If the factors you used in making your decision change, then it's perfectly fine for your decision to change, too. Finally, give your decision one final check to make sure you’re ready to move forward.

Higher education can be something that changes the direction of your life, providing opportunities you might not have had with no degree. Particularly for veterans, using your benefits to get a degree can help you build on the skills you learned in the military and create a new post-military career for yourself.

You may not have all the answers yet, but if you decide to go to college, you have concrete goals you want to achieve and a clear sense of how a college degree will impact your life, you will get the most out of college.

Content for this article came from the Attaining Higher Education (AHE) course offered by the Columbia University Center for Veteran Transition and Integration and supported by Citi. AHE is a free course specifically targeted at active duty service members and veterans entering the world of higher education and breaks down the process of transition to education and assists service members in finding an educational program that fully maximizes their potential. You can sign up for AHE at https://www.edx.org/course/attaining-higher-education.

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