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Niche Resources

How Veterans Should Plan Their Private Sector Academic Careers

Transitioning from active duty to pursuing your education and a civilian career can be challenging. You’ll navigate choosing and applying to colleges, securing financial aid, landing a job, and more. 

But by taking a few proactive steps and utilizing available resources, veterans can embark on a fulfilling and stable civilian career. In this article, we’ll provide some helpful guidelines and next steps.

College: Undergraduate

  • Make a list of colleges. Begin researching colleges that you’re interested in attending. Consider whether the school has a strong program in your desired major/future career. Other factors to consider include tuition costs, location, size, public vs. private, campus activities and resources, job placement rates, and programs for veterans. Your final list should include 7-10 colleges.
Not sure where to start? Take our college quiz!
  • Explore financial aid options. Think about how you’ll pay for school. As a veteran, you have benefits such as the GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program. If you qualify for these programs, they’ll offset all or part of your tuition. The GI Bill also helps you pay for housing, textbooks, and school supplies. Other forms of aid include scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and loans. Since loans must be paid back, they should be a last resort. 
  • Apply to colleges. The next step is applying to the colleges on your list. Most college applications require transcripts, test scores, information about your activities and achievements, a personal statement, and sometimes letters of recommendation. Many schools accept the Common Application. This is a standard application that you can fill out one time and send to multiple schools. Other schools have individual applications that must be filled out on their websites.
  • Choose where to attend. After applying to schools, you play the waiting game for a couple of months. Then, you’ll begin receiving information on whether each school has accepted or rejected your application. Weigh the pros and cons of the schools that have accepted you, visiting campus if possible. Once you’ve made your decision, notify the school and send in your enrollment deposit by the deadline. Be sure to decline your other offers too!
  • Take advantage of on-campus resources. Once you arrive on campus, familiarize yourself with resources like the career center, financial aid office, any centers or programs for veterans, libraries, tutoring centers, etc. College can feel overwhelming at first, but there’s tons of support and guidance to help you navigate it. It’s also a good idea to join study groups, where you can network and learn with your peers.

College: Graduate

  • Decide if you want to attend graduate school. After undergraduate school, you may want to continue your education by attending graduate school. Since grad school will cost you additional time and money, it’s important to give this decision careful consideration. Does your future career require you to attend graduate school? Will receiving an advanced degree give you more opportunities in your field and/or a significantly higher salary? Will a graduate degree make you a more competitive job candidate, or is work experience more valuable in your field? And remember, working for a few years and then going back to school is always an option.
  • Make a list of grad schools. If you decide that grad school is worth it for you, you’ll embark on a process similar to the one you followed when applying to undergrad. Using the same criteria described above, make a list of graduate schools that you’re interested in attending. Because you’ll have less financial aid options when applying to grad school, pay careful attention to tuition. Look for graduate scholarships for veterans, and consider taking on a fellowship or assistantship.
  • Take the GRE if needed. During your junior year or early during your senior year, you’ll most likely need to take the GRE. This is the Graduate Records Examination, and it’s an admission requirement for most grad schools. It’s used to assess your readiness for graduate level study. Other graduate admissions tests include the GMAT for business school, LSAT for law school, and MCAT for medical school. Many of these programs are beginning to accept the GRE as well.
  • Apply to grad schools. Next, it’s time to repeat the application process. Unfortunately, there’s not a Common Application for grad schools, so you’ll have to complete each application separately. Grad schools require much the same information as undergrad schools. They may ask for transcripts, test scores, a resume or curriculum vitae, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation. Some schools may require an interview.
  • Choose where to attend. After receiving acceptance letters, you’ll have to decide where to attend. You may land an internship close to your school that leads to a job offer, so it’s wise to choose a school somewhere you can see yourself staying for a while. And once again, it’s always a good idea to visit campuses in person to determine whether the school is a good fit for you.
Find grad schools here

Finding a Career

  • Write a resume. When you’re ready to begin your career search, the first step is writing a resume. The resume will summarize your education, work experience, and relevant skills. Your school should have a career center that offers help with resume writing. You can also use resources like the Veterans Employment Toolkit and CareerOneStop for veterans. The most important piece of advice is to tailor your resume to the job you’re seeking.
  • Work on your interview skills. The resume gets your foot in the door, but the interview gets you a job. Again, your school’s career center may offer help in this area. Some schools provide workshops on interviews or conduct mock interviews for students. Research commonly asked interview questions for the job you’re interviewing for, and make a list of bullet points for each one. Don’t memorize your answer, but do have a general idea of what you’d like to say. If possible, practice with friends or family ahead of time to build your comfort level and confidence.
  • Apply for jobs and attend job fairs. With your newly polished interview skills and your resume in hand, begin applying for jobs that interest you and attending job fairs. Some schools offer job fairs and networking events to help students secure employment after graduation. If these opportunities are available at your school, be sure to take advantage. Apply to as many jobs as possible to increase your chances of success.
  • Interview. Soon, jobs will begin contacting you for interviews. Remember to dress nicely, arrive on time, and be polite and personable. After the interview, it’s always a nice touch to send your interviewer a thank you note. This can help you stand out from the crowd! 
  • Start your career. Once you land a job, be sure to put your best foot forward. Continue being punctual, working hard, and asking questions when necessary. Maintaining a positive attitude, being a team player, and demonstrating a willingness to go above and beyond can help you climb the career ladder. 
  • Continue learning. Although you’re now employed, the journey isn’t over. It’s important to always continue learning. This can mean earning additional certifications, attending conferences, subscribing to blogs or reading books related to your industry, taking online classes, etc. In this way, you’ll stay informed about the latest trends and developments in your industry. Not only will this help you perform better at work, but it will also show your boss that you’re a dedicated employee who takes initiative. 

Final Thoughts: How Veterans Should Plan Their Private Sector Academic Careers

Although there are many steps involved in getting an education and securing a career, knowing what to expect makes the process run far more smoothly. 

In addition, veterans have many resources available to help navigate the transition to civilian life. With the right preparation and planning, you’ll earn a degree (or two) and find a successful and rewarding career.

See which colleges are veteran-friendly

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.