By Jack Mandaville I want to make a few of my...
The Veteran’s Guide to College
College: A veteran’s guide to surviving higher education.
After watching the Ranger UP series on getting a job, I figured that another logical step would be to write a few essays on the other route vets may take after leaving the service – college. Though the prestige of higher learning has lost the luster that it had back in our grandparents’ day, most of the reason for that is due to ridiculous raises in tuition in comparison with cost of living and general economic situations. But for those of us who served, this issue is negated by what is still one of the more outstanding benefits for serving.
At some point, nearly everyone reading this has either used the GI Bill, will use it in the future, or knows someone who has. While dealing with the VA should be another article entirely (and most likely will be) this guide serves as an owner’s manual of sorts for those veterans who have not yet attended an institute of higher learning and a reflection – for lack of a better term – for those who have already headed down that road.
Like many veterans, my first college experience was an eye-opener. The lackadaisical attitudes, disrespect, and general misunderstandings about the wars going on (and the world as a whole) were often more painful to experience than my first 12 mile ruck march. But, just like Basic Training, college isn’t “hard” – it just sucks. But if you know some of the ins and outs before hand, the experience can be made much more simple. Here are a few tips to get you through your core classes with a smile.
Math: This was the most intimidating for me going in, simply because I’m not a math guy. Ask me to do a 20 page essay on the reasons why General Patton was successful and I’m all over it. A ten-question algebra quiz, on the other hand, makes me want to tear my eyeballs out. So here’s what you do: equate everything to what you did in the service. For example, one may think that infantry is the furthest thing from math, but they’d be wrong. How do you do land navigation? Using grid coordinates, figuring out azimuths, and plotting points requires some basic mathematical skills. Use that as a starting point. If you have to write a paper, write about how you called in an air strike using your compass and known locations to determine unknown locations. It will either impress the hell out of your instructor or scare the living shit out of them. Either way, they’ll give you a good grade.
Science: Do you know the physics and science that make an AT-4 work? Well, neither does your professor, and researching it will help you relate some stuff you did to the scientific realm, all while seriously impressing that hot girl in your class who thinks rockets are “cool.”
Communications: Yeah, nobody likes giving speeches. But check it out, nobody in a college class will yell at you like your 1SG did at your promotion board, even if you get the maximum effective range of the 240B wrong. Do a speech on how to properly PMCS a vehicle; as long as you stay within the guidelines, the teacher won’t have any idea what to say other than to give you an “A.” Sure, it will be mind-numbingly boring, but don’t kid yourself – you’ve done it a hundred times, know the material back-to-front, and can do it with your eyes closed.
History: Too easy. America started with war, has had several wars in its history, and is at war now. You know all about war because it’s all you’ve been doing for the last ____ years. This class will give you a chance to write about it from a big-picture perspective – just don’t lose the personal perspective and your instructors will love you for it.
English: Funny personal story on this one. My English 101 professor openly admitted to “hating” all things military. She was seriously bent out of shape about all things related to war and told me so to my face, even after I told her I had just gotten out. So, what did I do? The first assignment was a “personal narrative” paper, so I wrote 3 pages on my time at Airborne School. The next assignment was a “step-by-step process” paper; so, naturally I chose “evaluate and treat a casualty” as my topic. All of my papers carried a theme like that, but I was always careful to follow the instructions to the letter, making it impossible for her to grade me down on any of them. It drove her mad to give me an “A” in the class, but that’s exactly what she had to do.
The point is, your military experience is rife with material that you can use and turn into opportunities to not only make college easier, but expose the brain-dead kids in your class to someone with your background. And believe me, though you may not think that’s a big deal, there aren’t as many of you as you may think floating around the campus. There are certainly a few – and, magically, you will find each other – but inevitably you will be surrounded by people who ask you incredibly stupid questions about war, the military, and all things in between.
In the next installment, we will go over the different personalities a veteran will encounter on the college campus and how to converse with them on a civil level – aka not yelling “do pushups!” at every kid who has his pants too low.