Are you a former or current serviceperson considering your next steps after military life? Nursing offers a meaningful career for veterans who want to help others and make a difference. However, going from active duty to college life can be a difficult transition. Here are some potential challenges veterans face in nursing school and what you can do to overcome them.

Download our guide to discover which nursing degree is right for you.

Download Your Guide

Common Challenges

1. Culture Differences

Regardless of where you were placed in the military, campus culture is very different from what you’re used to as a veteran. Military vets are coming from a regimented environment with strict etiquette, which makes reintegration into a civilian culture a difficult process. Many veterans have a hard time adjusting to a more relaxed, informal setting. Instead of following orders they’re expected to carve out their own educational path, independently seek out campus resources, and explore a variety of interests.

2. Difficulty of Nursing Programs

Nursing programs are known for being highly competitive with rigorous curriculums. Even people who have related experience, such as army medics and CNAs, need to absorb a lot of new information about healthcare policies and best practices. Nursing school incorporates a great deal of hands-on clinical work and draws from a wide range of disciplines, including math, science, humanities, and psychology.

No matter what type of background you have, be prepared to deal with the high stress and demanding coursework. However, in many cases military service has provided students with skills that can help them navigate the fast pace and high accountability of a nursing program.

3. Relational Challenges

Approximately 85% of veterans who pursue a degree are between the ages of 24 and 40, according to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute. This age barrier can make it difficult for military veterans to relate to fellow students. Many of your peers will be young adults fresh out of high school. It is most likely that they will not have full-time jobs or family obligations to manage.

4. Boredom

Student life can seem very mundane after active duty. Depending on your military experiences, you may have traveled, overcome many unique obstacles, and developed a diverse skill set. Not to mention, life as a serviceperson introduces you to a lifelong camaraderie that isn’t easy to replicate in the civilian world. While some veterans welcome a change in environment, others may feel bored by the repetitiveness and lack of excitement in college.

5. Motivation

The freeform nature of college may test your motivation and make you feel isolated. In the military, servicepeople are driven by both a leadership mentality and a commitment to making decisions that benefit the entire unit. But in college, you will be driven by personal stakes, and it might be harder to stay focused on the big picture.

6. Mental Health Challenges

Some veterans struggle with mental health issues, such as PTSD and depression. Campuses and classrooms are busy, crowded environments, which can be difficult for veterans suffering from service-connected trauma.

7. External Obligations

Attending nursing school as an older adult often means juggling a lot of responsibilities. If you’re caring for family members and working a full-time job, you’ll need to work harder to find the right work-life balance.

Support is Key

As you explore veteran nursing programs, find out what resources each college offers to support servicepeople. Follow these tips to manage your transition to nursing school.

Learn What the Institution Offers

Every year, VIQTORY publishes a list of military-friendly colleges to help veterans find institutions that have a strong track record of supporting servicepeople. You can use this list to search for degree programs that will be most beneficial for you. Once you enroll, get in touch with the college’s veteran’s center to learn about events and resources tailored to your needs. It is also important to be active on campus so you’re less likely to feel disconnected from student life.

Relational Support

Get in touch with student groups in the same cohort as you. That way, you can meet other veterans and build relationships with people who relate to your experiences. Talking to peers with similar backgrounds is a good way to manage stress from your life obligations while also staying on track with your coursework.


Identify people you can turn to for encouragement and career advice. Whether your go-to person is a professor, advisor, or peer, a mentorship can be a huge help to veterans in higher education. Mentors can offer guidance on what to prioritize, especially if your workload becomes overwhelming.

Financial Support

If you’re concerned about the financial cost of nursing school, make sure you familiarize yourself with the benefits available to you. For example, the Post-9/11 GI Bill® offers expanded financial support for veterans and service people who plan to earn a degree, including additional funding for specific majors. While the Yellow Ribbon Program helps to cover the higher cost of attending foreign, private, or out-of-state schools.

Don’t Be Intimidated

While it’s true that many veterans have unique challenges to deal with, their military training has also equipped them with the determination and discipline to perform well in college environments. A study of college enrollment found that veterans outperform their peers with an average GPA of 3.34 out of 4.00, compared to 2.94 for non-veteran students. Veteran nursing programs are tough, but with the right preparation you can not only succeed as a nursing student, but also as a healthcare professional.

Download The Free Nursing Guide

 GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website.

Published Date