Insider's Guide to Navigating University Life

Insider's Guide To Navigating University Life
Starting, or re-starting, college can be challenging, but here are some tips to help. (Stock photo)

Updated: 1/19/2021

Whether you are already enrolled or thinking about it, this is certain about college -- the emotional, intellectual and financial obligations can be tough. Nevertheless, it is achievable. Below are some tips you will need as a spouse, or family member, in making the commitment smooth for you and your family.

1. Do your homework. If you do not have a particular school in mind, start by researching institutions in your local area that have both an on-campus and online options. You may need the flexibility down the line.

2. Accreditation is important. Find out if the school is military friendly and regionally accredited. You will be able to transfer the maximum number of credits allowed if need be in the future. Also, in the civilian workforce, it’s not only about whether you have a degree, but where you got it from.

3. Explore ALL financial aid options available. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), by the deadline. Find out from the financial aid office at your current or intended institution about financial aid awards you qualify for -- pay attention to grants and scholarships. Additionally, find out if your institution offers military tuition discounts.

4. Learn how to use your benefits. The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides 36 months of education benefits, which is the equivalent of four academic years. How you choose to use this benefit will depend on your family situation. Whatever you do, use it at a community college only as a last resort – you can use the MyCAA or other aid available for this. One way of maximizing the value of your benefits is by getting your associates from a community college and transferring to a four-year institution.

5. Be patient. If you are using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, processing times can be lengthy. Be patient with both the institution and the VA when making inquiries. Be your best advocate and keep your composure under stressful situations. Trust me, you will need this!

6. Determine what works best for you, keeping in mind your family’s situation. The when, what, where and how are critical here. If you just had a baby and are about to PCS in 6 months or less, you may be setting yourself up for failure if you enroll. However, if you are already enrolled in a program, you might want to reconsider your course load for that term.

You should know what you plan on studying 0-- it’s ok if this has changed since you did your homework. Also, you need to know where and why you plan on studying there. Finally, if you choose to go with the online option, create a schedule for yourself. For instance, if you are a stay-at-home parent and your kids are all in school, you will want to complete your assignments during that time. If you have infants or younger children, you might want to schedule homework after you put them to bed at night. This is also applicable to spouses who choose the face-to-face route.

7. Keep an open mind. I must admit that I was initially very skeptical about online education. This is because it brought back flashbacks of my experience in Germany, over a decade ago, where distance learning involved picking up textbooks and tapes from the education center on post, watching them, and coming back in for the exams. Let’s just say I was not disciplined enough for this method.

Then I thought about going for a certificate in the higher education field, but didn’t want to commit to the face-to-face classroom environment. I expressed my skepticism to my current supervisor, who advised me to try it, and keep an open mind. Let’s just say I’m glad I did, because it has far exceeded my expectations. You just have to plan, plan, plan and execute diligently!

8. There will be many times when you feel like giving up because it’s not worth it. My junior year of undergrad, I was ready to give up. I came back after the Christmas break and slept in my room for about a week with all of my belongings still in boxes (two of them were actually on one side of my bed). I didn’t have the energy to unpack, or the zeal to resume classes. My roommate who had had enough of my pity party walked in, started unpacking the boxes and told me that I couldn’t give up because a lot of people were looking up to me. I joined her and subsequently got my act together, which leads me to my next tip.

9. You need to have a core circle of support. This is extremely important! I can’t tell you how many times I put my husband through the pain of having to listen to me read a paper that I just wrote, even when he was deployed. My sister plays back-up when he isn’t readily available, and vice versa. Your young children are also a great resource in this department because they can be your biggest cheerleaders; the will jump with you when you get that A and you will in turn motivate them with their school work. Granted, they may not get it and may give you that “huh” stare, but they can definitely relate to your emotions.

10. You can do it! Regardless of your situation, always remember to tell yourself that you can absolutely do it. Why, because you are a spouse and have the resilience to do anything.

Patience Ajoff is an Army Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) spouse, who like many spouses, has had to make career adjustments to align with his orders. She works for a top tier private university and is pursuing a graduate certificate in Higher Education Administration at Drexel University.

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