4 Tips for Bridging the Gap from Military Life to Student Success

By Ailbe Astor - November 11th, 2016

Colorado State University-Global Campus is proud to introduce Ailbe Astor, a Marine Corps veteran, and our new military benefits specialist. In honor of Veteran’s Day and this new specialized resource, Ailbe’s contributing his first blog post. Based on his own experience, and over 18 years helping military university students, Ailbe’s outlined some helpful ways for military students to navigate higher learning as civilians.

We’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all of our service men and women and their families for serving our military. We salute you!

After getting out of the Marine Corps in 1997 I immediately went to college for the same reason that a lot of service people do: to take advantage of my GI Bill® benefits. GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

I knew that I needed to go to school in order to get that money and that, plus my desire to earn a degree, was my motivation. I went through the same process that hundreds of thousands of people have gone through to access benefits, enroll in school, and complete my education. And that’s why I stayed in education after earning my degree, always in service to those who served.

Since 1998 I’ve been helping military students succeed in higher education, and I know that it’s not always easy. CSU-Global is the fourth university I’ve worked for and I’ve picked up some patterns for success over the years. Check out the tips below that I’ve seen help a variety of people transition from military life to college to achieve their educational goals.

#1: Get Lists.

As prior military, we’re used to being told exactly what to do: first do this, then do that, then this will happen. Civilian life isn’t as conducive to this type of structure and there are often more choices than we really need. That can be overwhelming, so don’t be afraid to ask for things in the format that works best for you. Chances are, you’re not only helping yourself and saving time, but you’re also helping the military students that come after you.

Get instructions in list form, especially when dealing with something as complicated as GI Bill® benefits. One of the things I’m working on here at CSU-Global is updating the processes on our website to fit a list format. Once you know what benefits type you fall under, there will be a list of instructions that will tell you exactly what forms you need to submit and where they need to go.

#2: Read the Fine Print (and the regular-sized print too).

The first step to applying for your GI Bill® benefits is to submit your application to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). Once they’ve processed your application, you’ll receive a Certificate of Eligibility in the mail that instructs you to bring the confirmation to your college or university. This Certificate of Eligibility is important because it helps your college or university know how to best advise you moving forward.

Despite these instructions being written in big, bold, black letters, a large percentage of students never take that important step. Understandably, military students are then frustrated and angry that they haven’t received their benefit, and are forced to take the additional action of calling their school to find out where the money is.

It’s imperative that all students, military or not, read everything they receive when dealing with financial aid resources. It’s especially important when you’re dealing with an agency as large and complicated as the VA.

Save yourself the extra step and stress of having to hunt down your tuition payments by being diligent from the beginning. Not only will it save you a lot of time, but getting this initial step done right the first time will put you on a path to success as you enroll in classes each semester or trimester.

#3: Utilize Military-Specific Student Groups.

As we all know in the military, we support our own and that same loyalty goes for civilian life as well. When I worked at traditional brick-and-mortar schools in the past I implemented student groups that allowed new military students to meet established military students to help acclimate to the school, access resources, navigate financial benefits, and just be there when you needed someone. It was an extremely successful program that benefited both the new and the established students.

Of course here at CSU-Global we’re 100% online, but that doesn’t mean you can’t interact with people who understand the challenges of returning to civilian life. Utilize our online system to create your own military groups where you can reach out and find people who are similar to you. There are more people than you might think waiting for someone to reach out.

CSU-Global currently serves over 2,500 U.S. service members: 52% are veterans, 26% are active duty, 16% are spouses and/or dependents of military students, and 6% are guard/reserve. With almost 15% of our total student population currently serving, or have served in the military, you’re bound to find more than one person who can make reaching your educational goals that much easier.

military student statistics

#4: Get Engaged!

I joined CSU-Global with the purpose of helping military students, but I need your help.  I’m here to make this process as easy as possible so that you can concentrate on your coursework.  I rely on you to help me make the processes here at CSU-Global work for you.  As I mentioned before, my past experience is at traditional brick-and-mortar universities, so feel free to reach out.  I’d love to meet more of our current and prospective military students.

Ailbe A. Astor: ailbe.astor1@csuglobal.edu

As a military-friendly university, CSU-Global is dedicated to advancing military and veteran students by addressing their unique needs. To learn more about military-specific benefits, discounts, and the admissions process visit our Military FAQs.

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