For more than ten years, I have been working to help military-related students achieve their goal of earning a college degree. Whether Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, or Veteran, they all have one thing in common: the challenge of balancing mission, family-life, and school requirements.
" “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” - John Wooden "
These immortal words of Coach John Wooden ring just as true today as they did when he spoke them many years ago. In today’s hustle and bustle world, there never seems to be enough time for anything. Something always seems to pop-up at the most inconvenient time, forcing us to make hard choices. When you are a college student, this often seems to be the norm rather than the exception. For the vast majority of college students, the number one challenge they face is managing their time.
So, as a military-related student, what can you do to make the most out of your college experience?
Here are three simple steps you can take to help you better manage your time while earning your degree.
1. Commit to college and your coursework like you commit to a job.
That’s right, treat college like you would a part-time job. If you are going to an academically credible college, you will need to commit about five to eight hours per course — depending on the length of the term — to complete your course “work.” So, even as a part-time student taking a couple of courses per term, you will need to commit upwards to 16 hours per week to be successful. Considering yourself as a part-time “academic employee” means you need to make a schedule so you know when to be at work.
2. Use a calendar to schedule your academic work.
Use the same calendar that you use to keep track of your life to also record when your assignments are due. The course syllabus or class schedule should provide you with the dates and times of when the assignments, midterm and final exam are due. Also, use the calendar to schedule your study time. By using the same calendar, you can quickly see where there are conflicts or competing events for your time. This gives you the opportunity to reach out to your “academic boss” — your professor — and make arrangements to make up your work. All bosses are basically the same, meaning it is better to work things out with them in advance rather than at the last minute. This is particularly true for the student using military educational benefits to fund their education. Prior planning will help you to avoid the possibility of having to repay military tuition assistance or GI Bill funds if you have to drop from a course or fail it because you didn’t communicate with your professor in the event the military has other plans for your time.
3. Find a place where you can focus on your schoolwork with minimal interruptions.
Alright, you’ve made the commitment to your academic job, and you have made your academic work schedule. Now, you need to find or create a location in which you can do your job. This has everything to do with your own personal situation and what will work for you. Even though I have a home office, when I was working on my master’s degree, I could not do my academic work at home for a number of reasons. So, I needed to find a place that I could go to at the time I scheduled my work. For me, this was my local Starbucks Coffee House. With my laptop, textbook, and a bold coffee in hand, I “worked” every Tuesday and Thursday night from 7:30 pm to 10:00 pm and every Saturday from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. This allowed me to focus on what I needed to accomplish for my course work without interruption. This method worked for me, but you may not be able to do this and there may not be a library close by. So, you may need to find a room or place in your home that you call your “office” and go there to do your academic job. Make sure everyone in your family or support system knows this is your “place of work” and to treat as such, just like you are at your primary job.
As a military-related student — whether you are still serving or making the transition from the military to civilian life — making the commitment to treat your college studies like a job will allow you to maximize your educational benefits and get the most from them. The main reward for “doing a good job” — besides a great deal of personal satisfaction — will be earning your degree and helping you to become fully prepared for that next stage: life after the military.
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