Question 1. How do I find a balance between family, work, and school?
A. The first step in balancing is communicating your goals of pursing an undergraduate degree. While communicating may sound easy enough, it requires time, patience, and energy.
The second step is planning. It helps to have a long view of the whole semester, a mid-range ten-day view of what’s on the horizon, and a daily view of your immediate to-do list. If planning isn’t your strong suit, meet with an Academic Coach at the Student Success Center to help you.
The third step is a reality check. Is it really possible to fit everything into your life right now? If you’re trying to go to school full time and work full time, at least one of those areas is going to suffer, meaning you won’t do your best work there. Something may have to give. And decisions along these lines are not easy at all. You may have to downsize at home, spend less, and work less hours at a job. Or you may have to go to school part time because your financial demands are not flexible. Or you may have to cut back on both because you actually want to know your children or your spouse and not just rush past them on the way to your next task. Step back, take some time for a reality check, and ask yourself if you’re giving your best to the things you care about the most. If you’d like to talk to someone at UT about options, you could see your academic advisor, Career Services, or a Counselor at the Student Counseling Center.
Question 2. How do I adjust from the military pace and protocol to the college student pace and protocol?
A. Transitioning from military structure and pace can pose a unique challenge for returning veterans. The following can be helpful to keep in mind:
- Capitalize on your strengths you have gained. Your experiences are a good base for achieving academic success.
- In your life as a student, you will face an increased number of decisions that impact your future without clear guidance. These decisions may also seem trivial and less meaningful at times. Consulting with academic advisers, career services, and trusted friends can help. Become familiar with the offices and supports available to you on campus.
- Prepare a few brief answers that you feel comfortable giving to others who ask about your military service. While many may ask out of sincere interest, some questions may be inappropriate and/or jarring. This may also be true when interacting with individuals who disapprove or challenge military service and efforts. Try to keep a level head, and remember that you have the right to disengage from a conversation or situation.
- Seek out information, and be willing to ask questions. You are now in a structure where you may need to ask questions multiple times and to multiple people. Familiarize yourself with the Veteran Student Services office and procedures as well as the university’s website.
- Have patience with yourself during the transition process, and with friends and family who are adapting to the transition with you. It took time to develop your identity as a soldier, and it will take time and active effort to develop your identity as a student. Pace yourself in both the number of responsibilities you take on and seek to create academic and social balance. Limit use of alcohol and illegal substances and take care of your health through adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
While you may at first find it difficult to connect with traditional college students who may be of a different age and experiences. Working to avoid isolation by seeking out connection with returning military and non-military students, student groups, and organizations in the community can help foster a sense of connection, identity and purpose. Actively work to live your life as a student as fully as possible, academically and socially.
Jennie Bingham, Staff Psychologist
Question 3. How am I supposed to deal with being in class with a bunch of 18 year olds? I feel like I am being treated like a kid.
A. While the university contains a wide diversity of ages, every year at least 4,000 “traditional” students (18 years old, arriving from high school) enter the mix. Certain courses like FYS 101 were created to directly address the transition needs of these students as they mature, take on more rigorous work, and perhaps for the first time balance demands and pressures from the key areas of life: social, financial, emotional, intellectual, physical, etc. In a class like this, your own adjustment needs will differ from those of a traditional student. But you cannot assume that your instructor will know that difference. Meet with your instructor during office hours to explain that difference and make sure he/she knows where you are in life. If you would like to talk to someone else about those dynamics, schedule an appointment with an Academic Coach at the Student Success Center, or schedule an appointment with a Counselor at the Student Counseling Center.
Question 4. How can I deal with the anxiety I feel when I sit in a classroom of over 200 students?
A. For many returning from military service, the experience of being in a classroom full of students can be anxiety-provoking and uncomfortable.
Remember that some of the reactions you may be experiencing in the classroom were beneficial to you while on active duty, and are simply not as necessary or adaptive in your current environment (i.e. being on constant alert for danger, mentally taking note of exits, acting quickly and asking questions afterwards, focusing on completing tasks at any cost, not questioning authority). It may help at the beginning to choose a seat that allows for monitoring others and/or a quick or discreet exit if it becomes necessary and moving forward as your comfort level increases.
To the level that you are comfortable doing so, communicate with your professors. You could let them know about your status and explain to them why you may sit towards the back of the class or need to leave periodically. This may be especially helpful if there are environmental factors in the class that are triggering for you (i.e. laser pointers).
Pay attention to your stress level before entering the classroom. It may help to limit caffeine and other stimulants, get plenty of sleep, and pay attention to nutrition. Allow yourself to become familiar with campus and the classroom before other students are in the room. Consider practicing deep breathing or other relaxation techniques. The military has developed some smart phone applications that may be a good starting point (i.e. Tactical Breather; Mood Tracker).
Have patience with yourself and others, and seek out support. While there may be the inclination to “just deal with it,” anxiety can impede your ability to learn and retain information and there are many tools at your disposal for increasing your comfort and effectiveness. Consult with other returning military students, trusted faculty and staff, and the counseling center or VA as needed.
Jennie Bingham, Staff Psychologist
Question 5. How do you suggest that I meet people on campus that I can connect with?
A. If you’re interested in connecting with fellow veteran students, e-mail the student veterans group VOLF (VOLFighters) at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about their meetings, activities, and social events. You can also get involved on campus by attending organizational interest meetings at the beginning of each semester and joining groups that share your academic, cultural, or social interests. Finally, if you live on campus, get to know your resident assistant and attend meetings of your residence hall association to meet other residents and learn more about other opportunities to get involved.
Question 6. It’s been a long time since I practiced my study habits. How do you suggest that I get back into practicing good study habits?
A. If you feel like you are in need of sharpening your study habits, you are far from alone. Both at UT and nationally, students in higher education quickly realize that the effort they put in prior to college isn’t going to cut it in this arena. In a recent survey, 91% of college freshmen said they were highly surprised by the amount of work it took to meet the demands of their instructors.
Instructors are an excellent place to start. Prior to tests or projects, you’ll want to meet with them in office hours to discuss the ways you are working and preparing. Ask for tips on how to improve upon your current plan. After tests are returned, meet with them to learn from your mistakes and redirect your efforts so that you do better next time.
In addition to meeting with your instructors, an Academic Coach in the Student Success Center can work with you one on one to tackle your entire class schedule or just a particular course or two that might be giving you trouble.