Advice for Former Military Students

Back to School: Advice for Former Military Students

Patrick Woods entered the Marine Corps after he graduated from high school. He said originally, college did not seem like a feasible idea after his service ended. “Before the military I never anticipated going to college, I just didn’t think it was the right path for me coming from a small blue-collar town,” he explained. “[But] while I was in [the military], my attitude changed; I began to recognize the benefits of attending college through the Marine Corps, friends, and my girlfriend. Being back in the classroom would be a new set of challenges for me, and I was eager to take that challenge on.”

While in the service, he applied to colleges, studied and took SAT exams. He also said his comrades and commanding officers were supportive of his efforts. “I sought out universities that fit me as an individual, and who I am as an individual was of course largely shaped by the military. My chain of command was also largely supportive of my decision to attend school. My commanding officer, for instance, wrote several letters of recommendation for me.”

However, adjusting to student life did take some time after Patrick transitioned. “As a civilian, you must be self-motivated. No one is there to light a fire under you, so everything you do must be on your own accord,” he remarked. Luckily, his university’s Veterans office was able to help him. “I frequently use the Office of Military Services at George Mason University. Their office is almost exclusively staffed by Veterans, so they have been an invaluable resource for me. Whenever I have questions pertaining to the VA or life in general, they’re my go-to.”

Patrick says he continues to use skills he learned in the military as a student. “The discipline I learned gets me up in the morning, gets me to class early, gets me to turn in assignments on time, and has helped me maintain a good GPA. I’ve used leadership and communication skills to work in groups to complete work.”

Though he performed a different job in the military, Patrick decided to try something new when he went to college. “I enjoyed working in logistics while I was enlisted, but there were other paths I wanted to pursue. Starting out in college, I was a mechanical engineer major, but after the first year or so I realized it wasn’t the right program for me,” he explained. “Criminology stuck out to me as a fascinating topic, so I decided to give it a shot. Economics on the other hand was brought to my attention after a favorable experience in a microeconomics course I took my first semester.”

Patrick’s advice for Veteran students? “Take the discipline from the military and transfer it to your studies, don’t get lazy. Be prepared for things to not feel entirely normal for some time. Also take different classes; not only will you learn something new, but you might also find a topic you genuinely enjoy. And with that, don’t be shy to change your major for whatever reason!”

Writer: Sarah Concepcion

Editors: Julia Pack, Brooke Wolfenbarger

Graphic Designer: Kiki Kelley

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