Staying Motivated in College After the Military

Updated: January 10, 2021
In this Article

    For service members, the reality of college doesn’t always align with the idea of college. This leads many veterans to struggle with staying motivated in college after the military. As such, we’ll use this article to provide some college motivation tips for veterans.

    Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:

    • How Military Veterans Should Use this College Motivation Guide
    • College Motivation Tip 1: Remember Why You’re There
    • College Motivation Tip 2: It’s Better than Deployment
    • College Motivation Tip 3: It’s Better than a Job
    • College Motivation Tip 4: You’re Still Getting Paid
    • College Motivation Tip 5: It’s Another Challenge
    • College Motivation Tip 6: To “Show Them”
    • College Motivation Tip 7: Quit Whining
    • College Motivation Tip 8: Admit When You Need Help
    • College Motivation Tip 9: Maintain a Routine
    • Final Thoughts

    How Military Veterans Should Use this College Motivation Guide

    As a veteran, you’ve probably heard some version of what does the military think about [insert topic here]? In other words, many civilians look at the military as a single, monolithic entity – not a massive organization composed of an extremely diverse group of individuals. As veterans, we understand this reality. We know that each service member is motivated by his or her own experiences, desires, opinions, and just general individuality.

    Recognizing this diversity, every veteran who attends college will struggle with his or her own challenges. But, if you’re reading this article, you share two common traits: 1) you’re a veteran, and 2) you’re having difficulty staying motivated in college. As a result, we wrote this article to help as many different veterans stay motivated as possible.

    Every person will be driven by unique motivating factors, so the below tips won’t all apply to every veteran. Rather, we’ve provided a variety of motivational tips with the goal of giving every veteran at least one strategy for staying motivated in college. If you read all nine of the below tips and think eight of them are irrelevant to you, that’s fine. Find the tip that most resonates with you, and embrace that when trying to stay motivated.

    College Motivation Tip 1: Remember Why You’re There

    In any challenging situation, remembering why you’re there in the first place can help motivate you. Think about military training. Some of this training proved more challenging than anything else military veterans have ever done. And, when things get particularly tough, it’s easy to want to give up. That’s when you need to remember, why’d I join the military in the first place? That reason – that purpose – can fuel you to keep going.

    It’s no different with college. If you’re attending school after the military, there’s likely a reason why. It may be to find a better job, or to set an example for a child, or any other number of reasons. But, whatever that reason is, keep it fresh in your mind, and let it serve as motivation to keep pushing, even when things become challenging.

    College Motivation Tip 2: It’s Better than Deployment

    Here’s another way to look at college. Even when you’re struggling to stay motivated, going to class in jeans and a t-shirt with a cup of coffee in your hand is probably better than deployment. No one’s shooting at you, you go home every night, and you have actual weekends. When you lack motivation, just remember how good you have it.

    College Motivation Tip 3: It’s Better than a Job

    Similar to deployments, going to college is generally way better than slogging through a 9 to 5 job every day. When losing your academic drive, just remember this alternative. Think about how much better your life is going to class than to a job you despise. And, related to this, working hard in college can help you land a job you legitimately enjoy – further motivation.

    College Motivation Tip 4: You’re Still Getting Paid

    If you’re using your GI Bill benefits, you’re getting paid to go to college. In addition to not needing to pay tuition, you receive a stipend every month. And, this monthly housing allowance is tax-free. So, when you find your motivation flagging, remember that things are pretty good. You’re being paid to go to school – and you’re not wearing a uniform!

    College Motivation Tip 5: It’s Another Challenge

    Many veterans originally joined the military because of the challenge service offered. And, as things got difficult in the military, these individuals thrived. The more difficult the training, the greater the challenge to overcome. You can apply this same mindset to college. When you’re struggling to keep up your drive in an academic environment, think of it as another challenge. College represents just one more obstacle to overcome in a life full of tackling challenges.

    College Motivation Tip 6: To “Show Them”

    Did you join the military because someone in your life said you couldn’t do it? This may seem ridiculous, but it’s not uncommon. Many veterans, whether they admit it or not, joined the service to prove something to someone. They looked at military service as a way to “show them,” to prove these people wrong.

    This same approach can motivate you in college. As you find your drive waning, remember everyone in your life who said you’d fail. Don’t give them the satisfaction of quitting. Instead, let this doubt fuel your motivation to excel in college. Prove them all wrong.

    College Motivation Tip 7: Quit Whining

    Have you ever been in the middle of a tough work-out or training and found motivation by telling yourself to quit being so soft? Either in the gym or the field, many veterans fuel themselves with this self-criticism. When they’re struggling to push forward, they “look in the mirror” and tell themselves to quit whining.

    If this approach motivated you in the gym or military, it can push you in college as well. When struggling to stay motivated, tell yourself to quit whining so much. You’re a veteran, and you shouldn’t be so soft as to let college discourage you.

    College Motivation Tip 8: Admit When You Need Help

    Veterans don’t like to admit it, but sometimes we need help. And, if we go too long without asking for it, our motivation can suffer. Whether you’re struggling with mental health or your academics, there’s no shame in asking for help. If you feel like you’re sinking, your drive to succeed in the classroom will fade.

    Don’t let mental health or academic problems derail your education. If you’re having problems, ask for help. With mental health, talk to fellow veterans, go to the VA, try meditating – just do something. There’s absolutely no shame in seeking support. Similarly, it’s okay if you need help with your classwork. As a veteran, you’ve likely been out of the classroom for a long time. If you ask for it, professors, teaching assistants, and fellow students will help.

    College Motivation Tip 9: Maintain a Routine

    Leaving the military can be a tremendous culture shock to veterans. We go from having our entire lives strictly regimented to a college life with no schedule. This massive change can derail a veteran’s motivation quite quickly. When you no longer need to wake up for morning formation and PT, why set your alarm at all? If you continue this line of reasoning, pretty soon you won’t have the motivation to do anything productive.

    You can combat this negative outcome by establishing and maintaining a solid daily routine. Even if you have classes at different times every day, you can build a routine. Set your alarm. Make your bed. Go to the gym. Eat three meals a day. Schedule library time to do your work. Go to bed at the same time every night. How you structure your day doesn’t matter as much as just structuring it. Regular routine can go a long way towards keeping you motivated in college.

    Final Thoughts

    As veterans, we’re unique individuals. But, we also face some common challenges, and staying motivated in college can be one of those. It doesn’t matter which of the above tips works best for you. What matters is that you find a way to stay motivated in college after the military, and you embrace that approach.

    About The AuthorMaurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.

    Written by Team