Vets on Campus
Many veterans returning to college experience challenges related to a college culture which is vastly different than what they experienced in the military. Learning to interact with younger classmates, negotiating the rules and expectations of an unstructured environment, and adjusting to the impact of a newly acquired injury are among some of the challenges that student veterans may face.
This section provides strategies and resources for making a successful college transition such as obtaining academic accommodations, managing time, understanding the impact of injury, and getting useful technology.
Veterans entering college following military service do not have the same college preparation guidance afforded to traditional college students. As a result, they may find themselves at a disadvantage when transitioning into and functioning successfully within a college environment. Some student veterans report feeling isolated and disconnected from civilian students and faculty. Still others may be juggling family and work responsibilities which can further challenge their adjustment to college life. Those who have been injured may be learning about the impact of their injuries on their daily lives.
It is estimated that 25% of veterans entering postsecondary education may have conditions such as TBI, PTSD, depression, physical, and sensory impairments. These conditions will affect individual students in different ways depending on the type and severity of the condition. However, if you have an injury, it is important to consider how your college experience may be impacted so that you can develop strategies for academic success before you start classes.
One such strategy is to request academic accommodations. Every public 2 and 4 year college or university has an office in charge of assisting students with disabilities. Colleges and universities may call this office by different names, but you will often see it referred to as Disability Support Services, Student Accommodations, or Student Support Services.
Why should you check out the Disability Support Services Office? If you are a wounded warrior, you could get accommodations that can help you such as priority registration. This allows you to register for your classes before the general student population which can be very helpful because, without priority registration, your first choice of classes may not be available. Other common accommodations include extended time on tests, testing in a limited distraction room, and notetakers who take notes for you anonymously in class.
These accommodations are individualized and are based on your medical and psychological documentation. The college you attend will determine if you are eligible for services and will provide you with an accommodations letter or form that will identify the accommodations that would be beneficial to you in school based on your documentation of your disability. Give a copy of this accommodation letter to your instructors at the beginning of each semester so that they can provide the accommodations that you need to be successful in your classes.
Keep in mind that each college and university has different documentation requirements. Once you have narrowed down your choice of colleges, contact the Disability Support Services Office or go to their website to find out their documentation requirements. If you do not have the documentation that the college specifies, take the documentation requirements with you when you go to see your doctor or psychologist at the VA medical center or other community provider, and ask them for updated documentation that fits the requirements of the school.
One way to start off on the right foot in college is to know what your professors will expect from you. Each faculty member will be different but some common things your professors will expect from you include:
Reading the syllabus
- Many instructors open the class with a review of the syllabus. This process offers you a good opportunity to highlight key information, such as due dates, make notes of instructor preferences and ask any questions that you may have about the course set-up. It is also a good idea to place your syllabus in your class notebook, and to refer to it throughout the semester.
Going to class regularly and being on time
- Attendance and grading policies will usually be explained the first day of class and in the syllabus. However, if attendance is not part of your grade, your instructors still expect to see you in class.
Being an active learner
- Listen and ask questions in class, take notes manually or through a notetaker, and participate in class discussions.
Reading the assigned materials before class
- When assignments are listed for specific days, this usually means that the assignment is due on that day. For example, class readings for a given day should be read before you go to class.
Asking your professor if you have questions
- Read the syllabus to find out when your professors have office hours and visit them during these scheduled hours. Be prepared when you go to see them by having specific questions to ask them. Asking them to give their lecture again is not appropriate. However, asking for clarification on a specific point is appropriate.
Turning in assignments on time
- At the beginning of the semester go through each of your syllabi and find the due dates for your papers, tests, quizzes, etc., and put them into your planner. This step will help remind you of important due dates. Remember to look at your planner often.
- Check the syllabus for your professor’s late policy. Some professors will not accept late assignments at all while others deduct points for each day the assignment is late.
- If you can’t make the deadline, contact your professor ahead of time and find out if you can have an extension. Not all professors will give extensions but some may give extensions based on extenuating circumstances.