Editor’s note: This article was contributed by Nicholas Robson, a Syracuse University student. Find more at https://ivmf.syracuse.edu/.

Having served 10 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, I find myself still learning how to transition to life outside of the military.

I had attempted to be proactive in my transition. I applied for jobs on USAJobs.gov, Monster and Indeed. I even pestered my social and professional network for employment opportunities.

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It didn’t go as I’d hoped.

It took at least a year for me to hear back about the applications on USAJobs ― much longer than I had expected. Many of my job applications got a standard “thanks for applying, but we filled the position” response. The best opportunity I found was the Wounded Warrior Project’s Transition Training Academy. Here I earned my A+ certification for computer repair, which led to a job at Geek Squad approximately 5 months after I separated.

My experience led me to conclude that launching a good career required two things I was missing: opportunity and formal education.

Although veterans often have many opportunities available to them, I quickly realized that I was limited by the local job market. The small town I had gone back home to didn’t have a very strong economy, and finding a job that paid enough to support my family was very hard.

As for education, I learned leadership and technical skills in the military. But many employers expected proof that I could apply this knowledge. The civilian world wanted a formal education to go along with my experience.

This was frustrating to me at first. Ten years of military service didn’t really count for much when applying for jobs.

But my experience with Geek Squad helped me understand how the civilian job market worked. My veteran background wasn’t enough to give Geek Squad confidence that I had the skills required for the job. The certification I earned through the Wounded Warrior Project’s academy ― just a small piece of paper ― gave them confidence in my abilities. I had taken the time to prove to a recognized organization that I had well-developed skills in the field, and that made the difference.

A degree from a college or university works much the same way.

After learning this lesson, I quickly applied to school. I was very nervous about applying because of my age and because I had separated well after the application deadlines. This was when I discovered one of the benefits of being a veteran in higher education. Syracuse University treats veteran students very differently from the rest of the student population. Vets aren’t necessarily bound by the same application and acceptance deadlines as everyone else at the school. Soon after applying, I was admitted by the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and I began working on my degree.

Having been in college for a year and a half has given me time to reflect on my disappointing initial transition, when I tried for a career immediately after separating. I had been upset that my military background alone didn’t land me the career I wanted. My military experience is not to be dismissed, but failing to put in the time for education earlier in life caught up to me when I was trying to apply to companies that require a degree from all employees, without exception.

At first, going back to school felt like a choice of last resort. But now I feel more empowered. Being a veteran with a degree will make me unstoppable in the future.