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From the Field to the Classroom: Apply Your Skills Anywhere

Student Health 101

Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 19:02

image transitions From the field to the classroom

Illustration by Amy Martin/MCT


There are many students returning to studies after being in the workforce or providing service in the military. While this transition can be daunting, there are many benefits to returning to school. To maximize your success, you’ll want to figure out how to translate your service, skills, and experiences into academic and career goals.

Evaluate and Articulate

Your Strengths

Start by taking some time to evaluate your experiences. This can help you prepare for situations that will challenge your strengths in new ways.

Ashley Wayman, veteran access advisor at Ashford University online, suggests that students consider their own interests along with personal strengths. “It may be useful for students to reflect on what they enjoydoing,” she says. After a student identifies strengths, he or she can then use these in their studies or career choice. Wayman explains, “Students who can put these talents to work generally fare better in school [and] work.”

Many returning students fail to recognize a number of their skills. My father, Dr. Anthony Ray Everette Sr., earned a doctorate of philosophy over the course of his 26-year military career. He says the strengths people most often don’t acknowledge are leadership and management skills.

If you are a veteran, maybe you don’t know how to translate your experiences into terms that will be understood outside the military.

For students coming from the civilian workforce, there is a common misperception that academic responsibilities are quite different from those in a job, and therefore you may discount the skills you have obtained. But recognizing your talents can boost your confidence and ability to succeed in school.

Apply Your Skills

To make an effective transition to school you need to figure out how to take what you’ve learned in the field and apply it to your current goals.

Building On Your Past

Some students feel that they need to stay focused in their current field forever. If you love your work, great! Perhaps you are returning to school to refine your skills and earn a degree that will offer you greater leadership opportunities or earning power.

Many schools grant college credit for military experience or work in the private sector. Some programs will allow applicants to skip courses or other requirements if they can demonstrate proficiency in them. This is especially true if your degree builds on what you already know.

Your workplace may offer benefits for employees that go back to school, especially if the program relates to your current role. The cost of courses may be covered in part or in full, or scheduling accommodations may be made. To find out more, speak with your supervisor or someone in your organization’s human resources department.

There are also financial opportunities for those who have served in the military. In addition to education and on-the-job training while on active duty, veterans are usually entitled to educational benefits once discharged.

Anna C., a senior at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, notes that benefits may also be available for the dependents of those who have served. She says, “I know military spouses who get training for jobs on their post or base, and that can often be translated into credits. For example, government training to work in the child development center can sometimes count as credit towards a child development degree.”

Pursuing a New Direction

Returning to school is also a great time to reevaluate your interests. Since you already have experience under your belt, you can examine which tasks you accomplish with relative ease, and which are more of a challenge.

Spend time thoroughly evaluating everything you did in your work or the military, to figure out what you liked and didn’t like, and what skills you’d like to develop. Don’t just focus on the things you did everyday, but also those you did occasionally and really enjoyed, or wished you could learn more about.

Everyone has a variety of interests, so acknowledge your versatility and ability to multi-task. Are there aspects of your “unofficial” responsibilities that you’d love to spend more time on? Do you have skills that could be applied to a new field?

Chad Lozier, career services specialist at Ashford University online, thinks there are advantages to changing paths. He says, “Previous experience in another field can help [you] take a different approach or look through a different lens.”

Outside the Classroom

Many students wish, or need, to keep working while attending school. You might stay in your most recent position or find another that offers opportunities that better match your new goals, or provides more flexibility. The same is true once you’re done with your education and are looking into your career options.

Another way to explore is to seek out internships, or get involved with an organization. See if you can shadow someone, get involved with student groups, or discuss your interests with professors. These are good ways to expand your network and try on a variety of “hats.” 

Find Support

Your program may have a dean or other staff specifically dedicated to helping students transition from work or military service to school and new careers. Many instructors are familiar with the concerns of students returning to school, too.

Career services are not only available when you’re looking for a job, but they can also help you apply your skills to your schoolwork. There may be mentoring programs, a commuter student lounge, or online discussion groups.

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