Jack Ferguson had no idea it was going to be this hard.
Replacing your rucksack with a book bag full of college textbooks is no easy thing, he says.
But it's all the harder when you're lugging around a diaper bag, as well. And helping the older kids with their homework, even while you're trying to crank out your own term papers.
Ferguson and his wife, Stefanie, are both Army veterans and both full-time students at the University of Washington in Seattle.
And with three kids — all under the age of 8 — they're very much full-time parents as well.
"It's very tricky stuff, balancing it all," he says. "It's doable, but planning is absolutely critical."
Here are some things he and other veterans have learned along the way to help make it work:
1. Learn to juggle
"Getting good at scheduling is the number one thing," Ferguson says. "You have to get that down, because it will save you much-needed time in the long run."
And that's an ever-changing process as class times shift with each new term.
"One semester your first class will be first thing in the morning, the next semester it won't be until the afternoon, so you're constantly adjusting how your day is built. And then, of course, those kids — and their needs and schedules — are changing, too.
"One of my daughters is in choir now, and my son just joined Cub Scouts, so I'm on the committee for that," he says. "It's a juggling act, and you have keep all these balls in the air."
2. Take breaks if needed
This past summer, the Fergusons decided that rather than put their housing allowance money into a rental, it made more sense to buy a house.
"It's a real fixer-upper," he says. "It took a lot of work just to be able to move in."
So while his wife continued with her classes, he took a semester off to work on the house.
"It was hard to put things on hold, but that would have been too many balls to juggle. We had to prioritize. So, we shifted fire."
3. Tap into local vets groups
Organizations such as Student Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion can be great resources for student-veteran-parents.
Ferguson was so appreciative of the help he got from his local Student Veterans of America chapter that he's now the president of the group. More than a third of the chapter's 60 active members have kids, he says.
"A few weeks ago, we had a Vets Night Out. It was a chance for new student vets with kids to get together and get to know each other."
They also do rock-climbing trips and other kid-friendly social gatherings.
4. Helping hands
Many colleges and universities have special child care programs, at times discounted or free for veterans.
Old Dominion University, for example, gives priority to student veterans with children under 5 years old and stipends cover up to 75 percent of the cost.
Colorado State University offers free child care six days a week at the school library for up to three hours a day.
"That way parents can have some study time to themselves or just go grab a cup of coffee," says Jenny Pickett, CSU's director of Veteran Services. The school also provides what she calls "stop-gap care" for veteran-parents during class days if a student's regular child care falls through.
Because transitioning to college life can be tough for kids, too, at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, the school's psychology department offers special counseling for children of student veterans.
"We know it's not just the service members who served. The whole family is affected by deployments and time away — and now this new reality of parents being in school," says Richard Delgado Jr., director of Military Community Development. "So this is something we provide to help the kids adjust."
5. Consider alternatives
A Marine veteran, Delgado is also a student-parent himself. He and his wife have three kids. Their oldest son is 5.
"He was born right after I got out of the Marine Corps as I was starting my master's program," says the former aviation operations sergeant.
Eventually he dropped out of the program.
"It was just too much trying to be a good father, a full-time student and hold down a full-time job," he says. "I would go to work, then go to class. By the time I got home, everyone was asleep. I felt like I was depriving my kids of a father. I didn't want to be a stranger to them."
But now he's found a way to do both by finishing his human development degree through online courses.
"I miss the classroom interaction, but at least now I'm getting it done."