Published Date

June 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 34: Shall I Go Back to School? (1945)

A word of warning may be put in at this point. Educational counselors believe that the serviceman shouldn’t try to shorten his program too much. The worker who is prepared in only one very narrow specialty may be unable to keep up with shifting occupational trends or he may find that the personal values of everyday life havebeen neglected. Ignoring the development of the personal aspects of living discussed in the last few pages may lead to dissatisfaction and boredom even though one may have a good job.

Not all soldiers who are interested in enrolling in colleges will have graduated from high school. To meet this situation, many high schools plan to grant diplomas so that such servicemen will be able to continue their education in college. Men who do not have a high school diploma but who have the necessary ability will be admitted to many colleges without having to go back to finish high school. In this way they can get some higher education in a more mature atmosphere than high school affords-and avoid embarrassment on both sides. The soldier should write to the college for further information.

Trade schools and employer and labor groups are giving special consideration to the problems which face returning veterans. Among the plans which these trade groups have completed are those which will give apprenticeship credit for appropriate trade training and experience received in the Army. Some of these groups also plan to allow credit for special abilities, and for evidences of leadership shown in the Army.

You may feel confident that the training and experience you receive in military service will form a link between your previous schooling and your future plans. You may, therefore, count upon making the most of your Army record in getting ahead with your, educational plans. The counselors available in the Veterans Administration, colleges, and other agencies may be consulted about the details of converting Army instruction to civilian educational requirements. (See p. 44.)


What can you do best?

Before you decide between taking a job or going back to school, you should know something about how your interests and aptitudes fit you for various fields of employment. In general, other things being equal, competent vocational counselors usually advise choosing a line of work in terms of aptitudes, experiences, and interests. Research studies indicate that it is possible to predict fairly accurately, through the use of tests, the general or particular types. of work for which a man is best suited.

Many workers by taking the first job that comes along fail to get the kind for which they are best qualified. Instead they may take one for which they have only limited aptitudes. This is one of the main reasons why in many cases the job and the man don’t fit together. The trouble can often be remedied by changing to another kind of work which uses the man’s interests and abilities more completely.

Most persons know little about the special abilities required in various types of jobs and less about the thousands of different kinds of jobs in which Americans are employed. Many persons have been surprised to discover that their hobbies and leisure-time interests and pursuits may be converted into jobs which sometimes pay very well. Often the person with unusual talents has never thought about the possibility of earning a living by means of what he did in his off hours for his own pleasure.

Often a soldier’s talents have been well utilized in his civilian work or in the Army. But just as civilian skills are not always useful in the Army, special skills developed by the Army are not always useful in civilian occupations.

The counselors who are available for assisting soldiers to decide about work, school, or other matters have been trained in discovering and sizing up aptitudes and interests. They also know about most kinds of jobs and the requirements for these jobs. With this information they can give advice about jobs to fit individual abilities.

Hobbies have helped to put many men in the jobs they most enjoy or to play a musical instrument, you like to write, or to work with tools, or to do photography, or to follow any one of hundreds of possible hobbies and if you have real skill or talent at it—you may be able to turn what seems like play into a job that pays. Countless men have done it before this. Maybe you can do it too.

Does age matter?

Age is one of the important personal considerations that bear on a decision about going back to school. It is related to most of the other personal factors, such as marital status end health. Generally speaking, the older a man is the more likely he is to want to start working right away.

A man should consider his age in relation to the average age of the men he will be working and competing with. If he is as old as or older than his fellow workers, he may feel he cannot afford to take time out to go to school for very long. On the-other hand, he may feel that a few months spent in a retraining or refresher course will put him in a favorable position to compete for the job he wants. This may be particularly true if the work requires certain skills which in his case have become rusty from disuse while he was in the Army.

The man who is younger than other workers in the same field may be better able to take time out for a brush-up course. On the other hand, he may be farther ahead in, the long run if he takes a job and establishes his rights to it. He should study the job he wants in order to see whether age is an important factor. In some jobs men are employed only while they are relatively young. But the proverb, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” does not apply to all types of job training nor does it necessarily apply to general education.

Another side of the age question to consider is the comparison with students now in school. The soldier may be older than his classmates or he may feel that while his age is about the same as theirs, he will be older in experience and worldly outlook. If this is true, he may be in a better position to profit from school because what he knows gives him more hooks on which to hang the things he must learn. In this way age and experience are an advantage.

Finally, how old you were when you entered the Army makes a difference in getting more than one year of the educational benefits under the GI Bill of Rights. If you were not over 25 years old, you are automatically eligible for the extra years because the law presumes that induction “impeded, delayed, interrupted, or interfered with” your education or training. It’s a little different if you were over 25. Then you must show proof that you were in school at the time of induction, for example, or that your education was in some other way actually interrupted or delayed by your entrance into the Army.

How about marriage?

The marital status of the serviceman is the second important personal factor which may have an influence upon his decision. The married man faces the problems of supporting his family and of reestablishing his family life as soon as he is out of the Army. Whether he wishes to do so or not, he may have to go to work almost immediately, either in his former job or a new one.

Yet there are other possibilities. The program for unemployment compensation will help to give a breathing spell to those who are entering a new field of employment and who may need a little time to make the change. It will be possible for veterans who strongly desire additional training to make financial arrangements for supporting their families while they are going to school. One source of help is the GI Bill of Rights which provides additional subsistence for men with dependents who go to school. Others may use savings, get help from the family, or from an employed wife. In some respects the unmarried man is in a better position to take advantage of the training programs, available to servicemen. However, he may have other problems to decide, such as whether he will have to postpone marriage or the establishment of a home if he goes to school. Each man must make up his own mind, but a counselor may be able to help him work out a satisfactory decision.

Marriage in itself will not handicap most men who want further training. Besides the ways which have been mentioned of meeting the financial problems, there are other alternatives. Training on the job is one possibility. A division of time between work and school is another. Counselors can give fuller information about these alternatives. On-the-job training, both for apprentices and for workers who are interested in advancement into jobs requiring higher skills, is gaining ground in industry. Part-time school and part-time work schedules, or evening classes along with a full-time job, offer possible solutions to men who must earn a living and perhaps support a family while getting further education.

Some other factors

Many other personal factors are involved in thinking through this problem of whether to go back to school or not. They will vary for each man. Several of the more important personal factors are mentioned in the following pages. But this list by no means exhausts the possibilities, as a soldier will discover if he consults with a trained counselor.

1. Should health and general physical condition influence the decision? If a soldier has any disabilities, he will probably need to take them into account. If a man is healthy and able-bodied, he may not have to think much about this factor in planning for the future. If he has any special physical handicap, it may be essential that he be retrained for some type of work in which the disability will not interfere.

2. Will it be hard to get used to school again? Even if he wants to go to school, a soldier may hesitate for a number of reasons. For example, will he feel at ease in school with other students who have not had experiences like his? Most soldiers will readily recognize that the shift to civilian life is more than the simple matter of exchanging an Army uniform for civvies.

After months or years of the discipline which is essential to the well-being and efficiency of a large modern army, servicemen may discover that they need to retrain some of their habits to conform with civilian customs. For most soldiers this period of transition will be short and easy-if they retain a sense of humor and of balance. Soldiers will soon find that they are more mature and worldly wise than other students. This will be an advantage if they use their backgrounds of experience as a basis for profiting more from their studies.

Some schools and colleges are planning classes for veterans only. Others are studying how best to adjust everybody concerned to classes made up partly of battle-hardened veterans and partly of comparatively immature youngsters. There will undoubtedly be some problems along that line, but most soldiers who go back to school may confidently expect to fit into the student groups with little difficulty.

Adjustments to classmates ought not to present problems which are essentially different from those encountered in adjustment to employment or to community life. Indeed, these adjustments may be easier to achieve in school than in any other environment because the school specializes in training both the young and the mature. The association of veterans with younger civilian students will be a test of tact on both sides.

3. Can you get the training you want near home? There are other personal factors which may be important influences. In some cases the location of a man’s home community may give rise to difficulties. The man who lives in a small town may be unable to get the training there which he wants and needs. Counselors will be able to help in solving such a problem because of their knowledge of the location of training centers and job opportunities in other communities.

4. How much education have you had already? The amount of a man’s previous education may be a factor in reaching a decision. The average soldier in World War II has completed four more years of school than the average soldier of World War I. This increase in the general educational level has affected job requirements. Workmen need more specialized and advanced training for successful competition in jobs today. A serviceman should consider whether “streamlined” courses will be enough or whether he will need relatively long and extensive training. This will depend largely upon his goals, and each soldier must figure the answer in terms of his own capabilities and ambitions.

Next section: What’s It Like to Go Back to School?