How going back to school as a veteran can be beneficial

There are many ways being a veteran can help you with your back to school goals

After being deployed to Iraq and spending years tracking down some of the nation's most dangerous criminals, Minnesota's Harry Shaffer left the U.S. Army in April 2008. He was immediately offered plenty of jobs as a military contractor, but felt it was more important for him to pursue his true passion — music.

Switching career paths

Only a few months later, to the shock of family and friends, Shaffer enrolled at a local university where he would pursue a bachelor of music in composition at the age of 32. The adult learner already knew a great deal about music, and initially found it hard to start school all over again with classmates who were much younger than him.

"One of the primary challenges of starting school again as an adult was swallowing my pride and starting as a freshman, alongside 18-year-old students," Shaffer explains. "Certainly I had more musical and life experience than they did, but they saw me as no better than they were. I was a peer to them. However, once I shed my expectations of who I thought I should be, I relaxed and focused on learning how to compose. I treated it as I would have treated any mission in the Army. I defined goals for myself, made a plan of attack and executed the mission."

Now, after years of determination and hard work, Shaffer is getting ready to receive his bachelor's degree in September. While he has had to overcome many obstacles during his transition from military to civilian life, his only regret is that he did not go back to college sooner.

Finding your true career path

For other veterans and adults returning to school, Shaffer recommends they do not become fixated on the fact that earning a college degree automatically means getting a better job. Instead, prospective students should pick a major they truly enjoy and work toward turning it into a career.

The veteran also advises adult learners to avoid trying to hold a job while going back to school, as he does not feel he would have had time for both. For veterans, this could be a little more manageable, as they can take advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Regardless of which major they choose or whether they opt to hold a job when going back to college, Shaffer urges fellow veterans to remember that the skills they learned in the military can help them in the classroom.

"Be confident," he said. "Your military discipline pays off big time. I've never met another vet who didn't excel in his or her major."