So you’ve entered college and are trying to start the next chapter of your life? Here’s a quick list to make the most of your post-military college experience and to start setting yourself up for an early success.
1. Join a local or national Veterans organization:
a) Just because your enlistment has ended or you’ve transitioned into the Reserves and are starting college, does not mean that you have to stop creating friendships with like-minded professional and patriotic people. It’s easy to join a club or national organization like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the American Legion, or the Student Veterans of America. Many of these organizations have local chapters in your hometown, making it easy to attend meetings and events to make new friends that can help you plug into the town or city that you’re living in or will be moving to.
b) The most important reason to join an organization is to stay up-to-date on your current rights and benefits. Don’t make the mistake I did and assume that the University would take care of all my paperwork. My state University had adopted the Returning Heroes Act, reducing the tuition for returning combat Vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. I didn’t receive any benefits until late 2010 and thought this was normal. It wasn’t until I grabbed a drink with a buddy that worked in my local Veterans office and mentioned this that he informed me that the Heroes Act was enacted in 2008. Through some investigation it was discovered that I had fallen through the cracks and that I was entitled to over seven thousand dollars in back pay. While this back pay felt like Christmas, if I had stayed on top of my paperwork and benefits in the beginning, it could have saved me several years of stress and anxiety trying to get bills paid.
2. Do some community outreach:
a) Whether you know it/like it or not, you are now the face of Veterans around your community. Your actions will represent all of our actions, and what better way to promote a positive image than by helping to build up your community and help the less fortunate?
3. Be aware of upcoming award submissions:
a) Your military career, involvement in Veteran organizations, and your community outreach now makes you a prime candidate to receive leadership awards from your chosen university. Using the skills you’ve already learned while in the military (i.e., filling out evaluations, nominations for Sailor/Airman/Soldier/Marine of the Quarter/Year, etc.) it should be a piece of cake to now apply this same skill set to your university. If you haven’t been doing so already, make sure that you have documented every event/meeting attended, military or university leadership roles completed, how you’ve positively affected other students on your campus, and any other noteworthy blurbs/items you think help you stand out from your college peers.
b) Now all you have to do is find out when the nomination period is and who is eligible to nominate. I’ve seen anywhere from campus faculty only to all students eligible to nominate each other. Once you’ve located who you want to nominate you, always offer to write the first draft of the award submission (because nobody can sell you as well as you can), which saves the nominator time and effort, and allows them to edit for the final draft, taking into account word submission limits. With everything you’ve done in your prior career and the amount of things you’ve done on-campus at this point, you are head and shoulders above your competition.
4.) Take a creative writing course:
a) Whether in your major or not, at some point in your college career you should take a creative writing course to enable yourself to better share your unique Veteran stories with others. You have a voice that people want and need to hear. If you choose to publish your stories you can turn to your local/college newspapers and journals, or get ambitious and shoot for a national publication such as The New York Times, New Yorker, Military Times, or Stars and Stripes. The sky is the limit to what you can accomplish if you never give up on yourself and believe in your voice.
If, after reading this guide, you have followed at least one of these simple steps, you will have already begun orienting yourself towards a successful post-military college career that places you above your competition. I will leave you with one lasting piece of advice before you begin your journey into the world of higher education: don’t wait until you finish college to become successful. Start right now. Start today.
Gerardo Mena is a decorated Iraq War Veteran who spent six years in Special Operations with the Reconnaissance Marines. He is an internationally published war poet/essayist/conference speaker and has just completed his junior year of undergraduate work in Secondary Education at the University of Missouri. For more information go to www.gerardomena.com.