Published June 7, 2012
Whether you are a veteran just looking into going back to graduate school or one who is already accepted into a program, you are going to want to identify the resources on a particular campus designed specifically for veterans. If you are still at the beginning stages of your search process, you might want to gather this information as you go along through the research phase of finding the right graduate program and institution. In fact, depending on your own needs and values, you may decide that the level of commitment a university has to dedicated veteran resources will factor into your decision of whether or not to attend. On the other hand, for those who have already applied and possibly already been accepted into a program, you will want to still identify the veterans resources so you are taking advantage of every opportunity leading to successful completion of your program and ease of graduate life.
One of the easiest places to start is identifying whether or not the institution has an office dedicated to Veterans Affairs. This should be simple to find doing a search from the university’s homepage. You can get a sense there, if such an office exists and has a website, for the staff and services dedicated to helping you succeed while a student at that institution. Maybe instead of an office, you will find a specific individual who is leading veterans’ services on campus, perhaps with a title like Director of Veterans Affairs. This individual may not have an entire office or dedicated staff, but they have been designated as the main contact for veterans, usually reporting under Admissions and Enrollment or Student Life. Reaching out to that person, or someone within that office, should definitely be on your to do list. Whether you do that during your initial research, on a site visit, upon being accepted, or upon arriving to start classes depends on where you are in the process. It is recommended you reach out sooner than later to make sure you are taking advantage of all opportunities available to you for the time you served our country.
Chances are that if you have identified an individual or office within the institution, you can also then identify affinity groups for veterans on campus. Even if the institution does not support a formal Director or Office of Veterans Affairs, there still may be a student group on campus that can serve as a natural networking group for you. Some institutions have very formal ties to national student veterans groups for their students, like the Student Veterans of America. This particular organization, according to its website, is a nonprofit coalition of student veteran organizations on college campuses globally. Their mission is to provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation. If there is not a group on your campus like this or another organization, you can always look to start a chapter of this one or one of your own. Veterans are used to functioning highly within a group or unit, so this could be a great outlet for that kind of continued support. Of course, it may not be something to which you gravitate. There are other options to look for, as well.
Many institutions are trying to do all they can to attract veterans to their campuses. You may find a veteran living and learning community, where you would be able to live on campus in a dedicated residence hall space (typically a floor in a given hall) with other veterans in a supportive atmosphere. There could be other housing options offered to commuting veterans at a reduced rate. Some schools even give veterans a reduced or complimentary meal plan. Other institutions have veteran lounges, complimentary tutoring, and other perks. You can find information from the designated Director of Veterans Affairs or through the graduate school office. Just because they are offering a lot of services does not necessarily mean they are the right institution for you, but you should definitely be aware of all of those services when making a decision. If you have already committed to an institution, you will just want to make sure you are aware of all of the services, because then you can decide which ones would work for your particular lifestyle and plan.
Of course, there will be countless student groups, even at the graduate student level, for your participation that are open to the entire student body – not just veterans. You should make sure that you are fully aware of all of the services, resources, support groups, clubs, organizations, and teams affiliated with campus that any other student would also be able to pursue. There are also great opportunities for off-campus involvement that should not be overlooked.
One thing that you will definitely want to check into is how many credits you might be able to transition to the institution for your military experience. For example, they may award credit to you for your leadership experience toward an MBA or other degree. If you are pursuing an advanced degree in engineering, there may be specific courses that can be waived, or credits you can be awarded for your previous military work experience. You will want to make a connection through the graduate school, a faculty member within your department, or Director of Veterans Affairs to figure out the credits you can be awarded or classes that can be waived before you get started in your program and sign up for you first courses.
Once you are on the ground at your institution, you will want to make an appearance or an appointment at the career services office. Regardless of your previous work history (all military or not, extensive or brief), making the transition to applying for civilian jobs with any amount of military experience can be a bit more daunting than even a regular job search can be. Military experience and lingo can seem worlds apart from wording on a civilian job description. Your resume, if it exists at all, is likely to be filled with all sorts of alphabet soup that anyone outside of the service will have a hard time identifying in terms of transferrable skills. But take a deep breath. The good news is that you undoubtedly have some amazing transferrable skills – it would be close to impossible to leave the military without them. The trick is working with a career coach or other career advisor/counselor to discern those from your unique experience. Using the resources on campus, you can also do some self-discovery and find a way to market all of your strengths in an effective, modern job search process.
On a final note, make sure that you continue to stay connected to your military past, whether through professional networks, alumni groups, or social media. Participate fully in civilian and military opportunities to advance your professional network. Graduate school will offer countless speakers, programs, and even social events that will afford you chances to meet others who could pote