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Transitioning from the military to college life is something that may come as a culture shock to many veterans across the country. Whether it be the newfound sense of freedom to set an individualized pace and schedule, navigating the nuances of G.I. Bill funding, or simply deciding on a career outside of military commitments, there are several interlocking aspects of making the adjustment from military to civilian life. In addition to these challenges, many veterans are left asking about the social aspects of transitioning from military life to campus life.

Veterans as Students

The American Council on Education (ACE) reports that veteran students differ from civilian students in a number of impactful ways. According to a study conducted by ACE, student veterans and service members are 70 percent more likely than civilian students to spend a significant amount of time, 10 hours or more per week, preparing for classes. Veteran students are 60 percent more likely than civilians to approach their professors to discuss their performance in classes, while 61 percent of veteran students reported having positive relationships with their faculty members as opposed to only 54 percent of the civilian population reporting the same.

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Social Challenges Faced by Veterans

While ACE has identified several positive traits of veteran students, the fact remains that veterans face a number of social challenges that may separate them from their civilian peers. Of the social constraints and differences identified by ACE, the average age of veteran versus civilian students may be one of the most significant contributing factors to social challenges faced by veterans. The average age of veteran students identified by this study was 33, whereas the average age of civilian college students was 22. Even without taking the unique experiential differences between these two groups into account, veteran students may feel an overwhelming sense of culture shock as they integrate with peers over a decade younger than themselves. To put that into perspective, it is very likely that the average veteran student may have experienced the dawn of smartphones, while the average civilian student has not known an adult life without one.

ACE also identified that only 49 percent of veteran students surveyed indicated that they collaborated with peers outside of class as opposed to 57 percent of the civilian student body. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, veteran students may feel an intimate connection to military culture and may struggle with the lack of this culture upon return to civilian life. The concepts of responding to orders and respecting rank may be starkly different from the more-liberal and free-thinking climate observed by many universities. The VA also identifies that veteran students may be impacted by physical and mental illnesses and disabilities ranging from musculoskeletal problems, hearing problems, or less-visible impairments including depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Utilizing Resources

In addition to resources provided to you by the VA, many college campuses have professional support staff available to assist with transitioning from the military to college life, including counselors, advisors, and VA professionals. Seeking out student organizations and support groups comprised of other veterans may also assist veteran students in making the transition from military to college life.

Transitioning from military life to civilian life comes with its own unique set of obstacles, but many universities are equipped to assist veteran students with this transition. Recognizing the social differences between veteran and civilian students, and knowing where to seek out help are just two ways that veterans can make a successful transition.


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