Academic boot camp eases transition to college for military-connected students

The Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) offers summer boot camps that prepare enlisted service members and veterans to transition from active duty to four-year undergraduate programs, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Since its inception in 2012, these one- to two-week summer academic boot camps have equipped students with the skills and confidence they need to thrive at highly competitive universities. 

Related: Warrior-Scholar Project ‘changed my life,’ says Georgetown student >

Hosted by more than two dozen college and university partners, including Georgetown University, the boot camps aim to ensure military-connected students feel more at home at highly selective schools both academically and socially.

Related: McCourt School expands scholarships that provide financial support for military-connected students >

A large share of student veterans enroll in community colleges, online for-profit institutions, and regional public colleges. Student veterans make up just 1% of the undergraduate population in the U.S. News and World Report’s top 20 colleges, The Chronicle notes. Although 2.6 million veterans and their dependents have used the Post/9-11 GI Bill® to pay for school or job training, barely 10,000 of them have enrolled at an Ivy League institution, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Service members may hesitate to enroll at selective institutions because, compared to high school students who have access to guidance counselors, they are not getting enough preparation for academic life, experts say. Before leaving active duty, service members are required to take part in the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which provides them with the information, resources, and tools they and their families need to transition to life as a civilian.

TAP includes two-day courses on service members’ potential next steps, such as employment or pursuing higher education, but the two-day education track is optional for all except those flagged as most needing assistance, The Chronicle says. Some students complete the track online as a four-hour course. Experts say that with such minimal support, military-connected students are more likely to feel isolated on campus and are twice as likely as traditional students to change their major, which potentially wastes educational benefits.

Offering better support

WSP aims to fill that gap in preparation by providing sessions in the humanities, STEM, and business and entrepreneurship, and allowing students to attend seminars and workshops on study skills, analytical skills, and time management. WSP participants also receive tutoring from university professors and learn about the challenges they will face as student-veterans. Students live and eat on campus so they become acclimated to college life and interact with alumni, who lead study groups and college-success seminars. 

WSP’s more comprehensive support has led to better outcomes for military-connected students. Since its founding in 2012, WSP has served 2,131 veteran students through academic boot camps and workshops. Over 90% of program alumni have graduated or are on track to earn a college degree within six years, compared with 72% of all veterans and 65% of traditional undergraduates. WSP plans to expand its program into the Southeast, Northwest, and more rural parts of the country, and will collaborate with Yale University and Coursera to offer online, on-demand courses. 

While the program prepares students for the academic rigors of highly selective institutions, the main goal, says Ryan Pavel, chief executive of the Warrior-Scholar Project, “is to build students’ confidence that they can go anywhere,” The Chronicle reports. 

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Explore more information provided by the U.S. government about education benefits offered through the VA.

Topics in this story

Next Up

Why are so many undocumented students missing the benefits of dual enrollment? 

Dual enrollment courses provide high school students with a head start on higher education, but some state policies prevent thousands of undocumented students from accessing these pathways to college success.