By Michael Farnum

Imagine a roomful of seasoned professionals, award-winning masters of industry, each with a title such as doctor, professor or CEO. Next, imagine their reaction when you instruct them to remove their titles and throw them in the trash. And then, when you ask them to have a seat with students fresh out of high school, and tell them this is their new peer group.

This is what it can feel like for members of the Armed Forces who transition out of the service and into higher education: Ask us to take off our uniforms and begin anew as a student, and we lose our self-identity.

So why do we feel this loss? It is estimated that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, to be identified as a professional in a field. Most service members have spent 40,000 hours—or more—coming up through the ranks, perfecting a craft. To ask a service member to just “take all that off” is as unnatural as asking any doctor, professor or CEO to give up everything he or she worked so hard to achieve.

As a fellow student veteran, my advice is this: Sure; take off your uniform— but keep all your knowledge, skills and abilities. Keep your experiences. Bring everything that you are into your new college career. Find things that make you who you are, and fold them into your new academic pathway.

For me, that meant taking the land-navigation skills of a reconnaissance soldier and using them to master geographic information-systems software to make maps.

I used my battlefield intelligence-collection knowledge, skills and abilities to leverage the techniques and procedures of conducting scientific data collection in the environmental and natural-resources fields.

Be a leader. Don’t sit around waiting for life to happen. Capitalize on your leadership skills by actively seeking out additional experiential learning, work and volunteer opportunities. These will add up to resume highlights that will set you above your peers when it comes time to apply for a job or start your own veteran-owned business.

Start preparing for graduation now by taking advantage of free workshops—How to Build a Resume, Master the Interview or Professional Networking Via Social Media. Build a document with resume bullet points now:

  • Successfully managed a 20-person team in a high-stress environment over arduous terrain for 12 months to accomplish institutional goals.
  • Experience with scanning electron microscope.
  • President of the PLU Student Veterans Association.

But most importantly, remember this: You are not alone. We, your fellow veteran students the PLU faculty and staff, all are here to assist you as you start your new mission. We want you to be successful just as much as you do.

Welcome home!