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Balancing School and Service for Military Students


I know that I am not reporting breaking news by telling you that going back to school as a non-traditional student is more than difficult. However, I think going back to school as an active-duty member has its own special set of challenges. I am watching my husband take advantage of his tuition assistance to go back to school while still serving active duty, so I have seen firsthand some of the challenges military members face when going back to school.  Here are some top tips to help military learners succeed:

Start off slowly. There is no need to dive into a full-time 12 plus credit hour course load your first semester. My husband originally wanted to take two classes a semester, but since he works a swing shift, he realistically does not have the time. Not saying that it can’t be done, but most active-duty students honestly just don’t have the time to devote to full-time school and work.

Don’t tackle that Physics 410 class right out of the gate.  More than likely, it has been a few years since you have been in an academic learning environment. Ease yourself back in; no need to “knock the hard classes out of the way first.” Build your academic skills back up and your learning ego by taking some of the lower level classes that you would really enjoy first.

Grab your work calendar and your school calendar and mesh them together. Sit down and look at your work schedule and be sure to account for duty days, training missions, temporary duty assignments and deployments. If you work shift hours, make sure the course workload balances with your odd days off. Seriously consider scheduling homework and test-taking times. Do not wait until the due date to knock out everything for the week. You will only end up stressing yourself out. Plus, if you delay, you never know if a training mission may pop up and prevent you from completing your work on time.

Rely on support from your family and friends. Let them know what classes you are taking and ask them to support you, especially if you aren’t as available as you have been in the past. If you are taking classes in a traditional setting, consider letting your superiors know and see if something can be arranged for your schedule to ensure that you will always be in class.

Keep your professors in the loop. Let them know ahead of time that you are a military student and that while you plan to be present and have your work turned in on time, situations may arise where you may have to be absent for a week. They may be able to help work out your course work so that you do not fall too far behind. Don’t just go MIA and come back and expect them to understand.

While there are special challenges with being an active-duty military learner, it is completely possible to find a work, school and home balance, and achieve your goal of a college degree. It just takes motivation, drive and sometimes a little creative scheduling. In the end, it will pay off when you hold that college diploma in your hands.

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