Between a tough course load and outside commitments, it can be easy to get bogged down in school and let your social life fall by the wayside.
For military and veteran students especially, it is crucial to have a support system and a sense of community. Student Veterans of America, a coalition of student veterans groups on campuses, provides an outlet for service members and veterans across the country who are attending college.
Here are some ways to take advantage of these clubs that provide social activities, educational help and camaraderie. Check out studentveterans.org to see if your school has a chapter.
1. Get outside.
A popular event among student veterans is going to the gun range.
“When [students] hear veterans are hosting something like that, it’s the most eventful thing we have,” said Adrian Najera, vice president of the Casper College Veterans Club in Wyoming who transitioned out of the Army in 2013.
After talking to people working with the VA, Najera learned that it's important to motivate vets to get out of the house.
"A lot of people start to get closed off," he said.
Najera’s club also participates in Hunting with Heroes, which takes disabled vets on guided hunting trips.
“It’s one of those things that we really push because I’ve had people come up to me and say it gives them something to look forward to,” he said.
2. Give back to the community.
The Casper College club works with several organizations and events in the community, including the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum, Toys for Tots and food pantries and shelters.
“Veterans and the community go hand-in-hand,” Najera said.
Greg Scargall, Veterans Resource Center specialist at Santa Fe Community College, New Mexico, said the SFCC Veterans United club takes part in about 20 community events a year, including the Memorial Day ceremony and Veterans Day parade.
“A team of veterans helps feed the homeless once a month,” he said. “We are in the community, and we want to give back.”
3. Experience camaraderie.
Participating in your school’s student veterans club offers the feeling of community that the military provided.
Najera said that when he was transitioning out of the Army in his 20s, his view of veterans conjured up images of older guys at the VFW, which he couldn’t really relate to — then he realized there were tons of veterans around his age who were also going to college.
“Veterans stick to their own little groups or themselves, and it’s important to bring these people back into the community,” he said.
Scargall, a Navy vet, said the school’s veterans lounge is ideal for students who need to decompress and be around those with similar backgrounds.
“A new student came in [the other day] who was fatigued with some PTSD symptoms,” he said. “We rally around each other so we don’t feel alone.”
Fontaine Wilson, president of the SVA chapter at the University of Houston, said service members become your family while you’re away from home, and that feeling can be lost when transitioning out of the military.
“So when you go to the veterans service office and you’re introduced to the student organization, you get that feeling back of being close again and having that built-in family,” she said.
4. Participate in team building.
Santa Fe Community College's Scargall said the SFCC Veterans United club focuses on bringing veterans together.
“We have what’s called a ropes course, kind of like an obstacle course. Everything starts about 20 feet up in the air,” he said.
Participants bond by helping each other through the course, which is held about once a semester.
Wilson, who spent six years in the Navy, said an important part of building the club is welcoming in the new round of freshmen.
"They'll bring a new energy into your club when maybe the upperclassmen might be a little tired or bogged down with hard classes," she said.
Wilson's chapter kicks off every school year with a mixer where everyone can mingle and get excited about the upcoming year.
5. Get active.
Scargall said his chapter has successfully advocated getting Santa Fe Community College to offer discounted fitness passes for veterans.
It’s normally $140 a semester to access the gym and pool, but veterans using VA benefits will be able to pay $50 instead.
6. Add, follow and "like."
As an online school with the largest SVA chapter, American Military University emphasizes the use of social media networking.
“The only way to get people involved is to use social media,” said Charles Palocy, president of AMU's SVA chapter. “Anytime activities come up, like Wreaths Across America, we’re actually able to go from coast to coast and have different people represent our chapter.”
Facebook and Twitter are constants since students change their email addresses frequently, but they rarely change their social-media accounts, said Palocy, who retired from the Air Force in 2013.
7. Develop professional skills.
Aside from the social aspect, veterans clubs provide help with students’ education and careers.
The SVA at the University of Houston, which won the 2015 Chapter of the Year award, hosted a luncheon and panel discussion that provided advice on transitioning from academic life into the workforce.
Wilson said the chapter has had other workshops, including résumé-writing help and tips for creating a good LinkedIn profile.