Why Veterans Need Mentors When Transitioning to College

When transitioning from the military to college, veterans often have to overcome everything from age differences with classmates to time management and more. What isn’t discussed as often are the ways to help veterans successfully make this transition.
 
Most college and universities have student services. Some even have veterans centers that are specifically dedicated to assisting service men and women; however, many students aren’t sure where to begin to ask for help, or how to determine what they need. That is why it’s so important for veterans to have an academic mentor or advisor on their team, someone who they can discuss their challenges with and get help from, even if it’s just being pointed in the right direction.

Solving Common Issues for Veterans

Mentors can fill multiple needs for veterans, but three of the primary tasks should be:
1. Reducing culture shock.
2. Providing an introduction to the university.
3. Creating a better campus experience.
 
Many veterans report that moving from the military to school creates culture shock, but probably not in the way that you might think. Most veterans don’t struggle with time management or the coursework, but rather with navigating the complexities of higher education in general. Many are confused by the processes for managing financial aid, course selection, buying books, etc., and aren’t always sure where to find help. Unlike in the military, where soldiers are trained in processes and procedures and the chain of command is clear, it’s not always as clear in school—and there isn’t always training.
 
The second issue, familiarity with the university, is related to the first. In many cases, especially for those students who are starting school while still in the service or immediately after, attending an orientation isn’t always possible. While online students may have a similar experience, unless there is a clear introduction to the online platform, including how to attend classes, participate in discussions, turn in assignments, and communicate with instructors, the student will be frustrated. For veterans in particular, who may be used to specific processes and receiving in-depth training, this can be especially frustrating.
 
Finally, many veterans struggle with the overall college experience. For example, some veterans qualify for disability services; however, the terminology used by the VA related to disabilities may be different than that used by the university. Therefore, students may not realize that they are entitled to specific accommodations to support their work. Students also report having difficulty connecting with other students and instructors, or sharing their experiences.
 
While not all veterans have these issues, enough do so that many colleges and universities have developed programs to help ease the transition. Mentoring and advising programs are one of the most common forms of support and assistance.

What Mentors Do

Mentors in a college setting are no different than those in any other setting, such as a career mentor. They serve as sounding boards for challenges and issues, guides for navigating tricky situations, and a support system for not only problems, but triumphs as well. Mentors can help open doors to new opportunities, introduce you to new people, and explain some of the intricacies of the culture that might be difficult to pick up on your own.
 
For instance, a veteran dealing with the culture shock of a new organization can turn to an advisor for assistance in registering for classes, and ask questions or get information about programs they need. The mentor is a single point of contact who, if he or she doesn’t have the right information, can help you get the information you need. The same goes for classes. If you are taking courses online, your mentor can help you get set up, and show you tips and tricks to get the most from the learning platform. And if you are having trouble socially, or just feel like a square peg in a round hole, a peer mentor or advisor can help you find the right resources, and direct you to services or individuals who might have similar experiences.
 
Some colleges and universities are involved with formal mentoring programs specifically designed for veterans, while others have their own programs unique to their universities. Columbia Southern University advisors, for example, will proactively reach out to students to check in, and help solve problems before they begin. In any case, whether they are called mentors or advisors, or something else entirely, offering veterans individual, one-on-one support helps make the transition to college go more smoothly, and improves both academic performance and graduate rates. To learn more about how Columbia Southern University can help you reach your educational goals after the military, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Military.