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A Veteran Graduate’s View on Online Learning

by Scott Christopher

Nov 13, 2019, 9:00 AM.

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A firsthand look.

My first day of boot camp was the official start of the War on Terrorism in 2003 and I was stationed on the USS John F. Kennedy Aircraft carrier in Mayport, FL. During my military career, I cross-trained in all aspects of mass communication, so when my contract was up, I decided to leave the Navy in 2007 and go back to school on the GI Bill, and pursue my education in the same field.

After completing my bachelor’s degree, I did a lot of searching and decided on Florida International University for my master’s degree because it’s a major university with high rankings in the state of Florida and it had the online program I was interested in. At the time, I also worked as an academic advisor at another Florida university, mid-state, and advised many veterans like myself.

Different Mindset

My background as a veteran makes my experience a little different than other online students. Through the military, I understood the rigorous nature of learning something new, fast, and I had developed the discipline to accomplish goals. Even though it can take a veteran a little time to acclimate to the civilian environment or college experience, in the military, not showing up to class is simply not an option, so this mentality works well for online learning.

Secondly, from my own experience, and from working with countless veteran students, I saw one factor that stood out among those who were successful. Veterans who did not seclude themselves only to other vets but got involved in other available opportunities (clubs or campus events) seemed to transition better. 

I had a friend who was an active duty Marine that was a former drill instructor. He was in countless study groups and always coaching fellow classmates along, they loved him because instead of being condescending, he was more of a mentor. That was a great leadership approach to college, and his influence led to a successful transition for many fellow vets as well as his own.

Online Was a Good Fit

I decided online was the right way to go for my master’s because, as an academic advisor, I was comfortable navigating in the online environment. My location and the accelerated nature of my program were also factors for me in choosing FIU Online. I had one year left on my Post 9/11 GI Bill and wanted an accelerated, full-time option graduate degree in mass communication. It was perfect.

GI Bill Tips

I have used my G.I. Bill at three Florida colleges (A.A., B.S., and M.S.). Here is my advice:

  1. Do your research on the program you want, and plan for the next step (AA to bachelor’s degree, etc.).
  2. Call the 1-888-GI-BILL1 number. The advisors are fantastic. All the info you need is online or call the advisors and ask detailed questions. I learned everything I needed from them.
  3. Plug in. Find the FIU Veterans Resource Center on campus (for me, I just had to call). The number is 305-348-2838. 
  4. Nothing is perfect, there will be issues along the way, but submit your paperwork ahead of time and you’ll be fine. Follow-up yourself! Don’t wait for things to become an issue.

The Online Program

I really liked the eight-week accelerated courses and lack of long breaks with the MS in Mass Communication: Global Strategic Communications program. It’s important to have support as a veteran, so surround yourself with other veterans and family members who can help encourage you. If you’re a veteran who lives close to campus, my advice is that you get involved or meet other veterans at the local campus, even if you attend school fully online.

For me, my FIU online program was a great experience. In about 17 months, I completed my master’s degree and I interviewed for communications positions. I just acquired a position with a university to teach as an adjunct instructor. I’m looking forward to what the future will bring and feel that my education has brought me full circle from my early days in the military.  What I learned through the military guided me to further my education, and what I learned with FIU Online will continue to help me as I make my way to the future.