By Dennis White
Che Guevara inspired me to go to college. Well, not exactly, but my plan to go to college began in 2009. While I sat on the bench, playing second string to the Rangers in Iraq, I read books about Latin American politics and history.
These books took me far away from the sands of Iraq, and I wanted to learn about countries as far away from there as possible. Indeed, when I left Fort Hood with discharge papers in hand, I drove to the UT campus in Austin and went straight to the admissions office assuming my direct admission to this selective college.
I found, though, that the transition from the military service to a university was filled with roadblocks and misinformation. I hope sharing my experiences can answer many common questions about this transition for veterans, many of whom have little to no experience navigating the complex college admissions process.
My first road block to college was based in my naiveté about what it took to get into a great school.
As it turned out, reading a few books about Che Guevara does not qualify you for admission to a prestigious four-year university. When I marched into the office at UT Austin, a kind admission officer suggested I earn 30 hours of transferable college credits with a high GPA before submitting my application. Admittedly, I was distraught and thought I would never make it at a top 20 university.
I felt like an idiot but still determined, so I got in my car and drove across town to Austin Community College and enrolled in my first semester.
Initially I assumed this was a total failure. I felt deflated, like I was taking two steps backward instead of one forward. However, it ended up being the fork in the road which led me to Wesleyan University, where I am now enrolled.
In community college, my next setback was an “Intro to Economics” course well beyond my capability.
I had no idea how to calculate a slope, manage data, or even how to graph a line. The high school I attended in rural West Virginia was badly underfunded and had no idea how to deal with a kid with a bad attitude. The poor academics, combined with my inexplicable hatred for authority, was a recipe for disaster.
Luckily, the infantry instilled in me a resilience few colleges’ students can match. The military cliche of “improvise, adapt, and overcome” may sound corny, but when put into action, results in the flexibility and determination one needs to excel in college.
My first quiz grades in economics were C- or worse. The military taught me resilience and grit, and I wasn’t about to let these initial setbacks keep me down. I utilized tutors, frequented office hours, and did all the homework. However, I simply did not understand the economics course material due to my poor math skills.
The military also taught me when to fight and when to take a knee and rethink my strategy. So I decided it was better just to withdraw from the course and take it at a later time when my math skills caught up. My economics class was taking up 20 hours or more per week and withdrawing allowed me to concentrate on my other courses.
I completed that semester with 4.0 and maintained that GPA all the way until I applied to Wesleyan University. I was able to acquire enough of the math skills I had been lacking through the excellent remedial Math program at Austin Community college, and all of this culminated in my enrollment at my current university. It’s ironic to me — but if I had stuck it out in that first economics course and accepted a C- for my grade, I would most likely not be taking “Intro to Economics” at Wesleyan University today.
Dennis White served in the Army for 8 years as an infantryman. He is a Freshman at Wesleyan University and plans to major in Government. Dennis was a Service to School Applicant and is now a Service to School Ambassador.