September 23, 2014, SAN DIEGO (NNS) – “We’re not in this alone,” said Kaz Lockett. “Someone has done it before.”
College graduates share their experiences of transitioning from the Navy to higher education, and they offer advice to Sailors about how to embark on their own college experience and how to maximize their hard-earned benefits.
“I think of college for military personnel as their decompression stage,” said Lockett, assistant veteran coordinator at The Joan and Art Barron Veterans Center at San Diego State University (SDSU). “This is supposed to broaden your horizons and expand your mind.”
Roy Suber, Educational Services Specialist from the Navy College on Naval Air Station North Island, warns, however, that not all schools are military friendly. This means that some schools do not typically accept military training as a substitute for general education requirements. Military friendly schools, such as SDSU, do accept most military training for credit.
Sailors transition to college most easily by enrolling in schools that are competent in handling students with a military background.
“The process of going from Sailor to student was a seamless and easy transition,” said former Operations Specialist 2nd Class Mark Gonzales, last assigned to USS Pinckney (DDG 91). “The school had dealt with students using the GI Bill, so receiving monthly payments wasn’t an issue.”
Relaxing military bearing and becoming a civilian college student takes time, but the transition is smoother when students use their benefits and embrace their new atmosphere.
“It’s a drastic difference from the military because of the environment,” said Gonzales. “Rules and regulations are in place, but aren’t in the forefront of the students’ or teachers’ minds.”
Even though discipline and military bearing are no longer a top priority, these behaviors still provide Sailors with qualities that help them stay productive and focused. Sailors can take these acquired traits and apply them to achieving their personal and professional goals.
“Keep the same discipline you had in the military and use that during school,” said Gonzales. “You still have responsibilities. At the same time, enjoy yourself. You may not know exactly what you want to major in yet, but be open-minded and experience everything.”
Budgeting money and managing time are also keys to success. Graduating from college may take students longer than expected, and Sailors should anticipate unexpected expenses with an emergency fund.
“Learn to budget both time and money,” said Brandon Franklin, a former Fire Controlmen 3rd Class, who earned his Master of Arts degree in Philosophy from SDSU in 2011. “You should also look for jobs and internships that will help build your resume for your career after college. Experience is king, and your background is what will make you unique and ultimately more valuable.”
The GI Bill is not the only benefit the military offers Sailors who are returning to civilian life. Veteran Affairs also provides a number of programs that help Sailors network with potential employers.
“There are programs like Troops to Engineers for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) majors, which has a 100 percent success rate of placing students in internships or jobs,” said Lockett, a former Marine gunnery sergeant.
The college experience, however, is not only a means to future careers for Sailors, but it is also a unique experience itself where students can meet new people, learn new ideas, and try new things.
“While you’re not working on your course load, you should be enjoying life,” said Lockett. “It’s not so rigid anymore – coming into the civilian world. Take it in.”