Comparing Career Transitions of Midlife and College Student Veterans

By Heather Robertson

The Winter 2014 issue of NCDA’s Career Developments magazine entitled “Servicing the Career Needs of Military Veterans” contained multiple articles pertaining to the career development of veterans, including those with disabilities, those in higher education, military families and school children, as well as career tools for military veterans. NCDA has long recognized the need to service our veterans regarding career development post-military service. NCDA’s Veterans Committee, chaired by Robert Miles, was originally formed in 2010 as a Task Force by then-NCDA-president Cheri Butler. The task force currently has 80 active members (Miles & Lehman, 2014), and many of the task force members contributed to the special issue of Career Developments. Many conference sessions, both at the state and national level, have focused on the career development needs of veterans. One such session at the upcoming NCDA Career Development Conference in Denver is entitled “Comparing Career Transitions of Midlife and College Student Veterans” (#405, July 1, 2015). In this presentation, results from two different studies will be discussed regarding their career transition strengths and barriers, as well as their life satisfaction. A preview of the presentation is offered below:


Midlife veterans (n=136, mean age = 51) and college student veterans (n = 141, mean age = 35) were surveyed utilizing the Career Transition Inventory (CTI; Heppner, 1991) and the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS; Diener, Emmons, and Larsen, 1985). While the two groups were similar in number, the groups varied in terms of demographic features, with the student veteran group being more diverse than the midlife veteran group.  Key demographic differences included the number of enlisted versus officer respondents (midlife group = 47% officer and 44% enlisted; college group = 7% officer, 91% enlisted), as well as gender (midlife group = 86% male and 11% female; college group = 75% male and 22% female) and marital status (midlife group = 86% married and 4% single; college group = 52% married and 22% single). Utilizing Schlossberg’s (1997) stages of transition, respondents were asked to identify their stage of transition, including pre-transition, mid-transition, or post-transition. Again, in relation to transition, the college student group provided more diversity than the midlife group (midlife group = 8% pre, 4% mid, 80% post; college group = 1% pre, 42% mid, 42% post, 13% reservist). Questions were added in the college student survey to address Reserve components of the military. Nearly 30% of respondents in the college student group indicated Reserve affiliations with the military. Examining these differences is important, in that the college student group appears to be a more accurate representation of the diversity and distribution within the military. Researchers are often challenged to gather data that accurately reflects the diversity of the desired population.


Preliminary Results

Preliminary results of the studies indicate that midlife veterans had greater life satisfaction than college student veterans. Utilizing the SWLS scales of highly satisfied, satisfied, average, below average dissatisfied, and extremely dissatisfied (Diener, Emmons, and Larsen, 1985), the mean score of midlife veterans was “satisfied” while the mean score for college student veterans was “below average” to “average.” Midlife veterans also felt as if they had more control over the transition process. Student veterans rated their support for the transition higher than midlife veterans, as well as their ability to make independent decisions. Both groups scored “low” in terms of feeling ready for the transition out of the military.  Complete results and analyses will be presented in the conference session.


Comparing the life stage of transitioning veterans is an essential component to providing proper career services to our military members. It is important for career practitioners to consider the veteran’s life stage, including young adulthood, middle adulthood, or retirement. It is also important to account for the military member’s stage of transition, including those pre, mid, and post military separation. The service member’s ability to focus on post-military career needs may be impacted by their stage of transition. In addition, career practitioners must incorporate the veteran’s life roles, such as parent, child, student, worker, soldier, or reservist, in to their work. Life roles, as well as individual and military culture, will shape the decision independence of the military client, which may impact their career decisions.  Finally, career counselors must be prepared to help military members prepare for both the logistics of the career transition, as well as the emotion of the transition (Robertson & Brott, 2014). Military populations in both surveys indicated that the transition was often tougher than anticipated. Despite the demographic differences, both groups indicated low scores for readiness and motivation regarding their career transition process.



Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. L., & Griffin, S. (1985). The Satisfaction with Life Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71-75.

Heppner, M. J. (1991). The career transitions inventory. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri.

Miles, R.A. & Lehman, C. (2014). Veterans and career development: Challenges and opportunities for professionals and NCDA. Career Developments, 31(1), 12-14.

Robertson, H.C. and Brott, P.E.  (2014). Military veteran’s midlife career transition and life satisfaction. The Professional Counselor, 4, 139-149.

Schlossberg, N. K. (1985). Adult career development theories: ways to illuminate the adult experience. In L. Leiowitz & H.D. Lea (Eds.), Adult career development (pp. 2-16). Alexandria, VA: National Career Development Association.



Heather Robertson, PhD, NCC, CRC. Dr. Heather Robertson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education Specialties and Counseling St. John’s University, where she teaches in the School Counseling and Clinical Mental Health Counseling programs. She is a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC), a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), and a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Connecticut.  Dr. Robertson currently provides part-time counseling to veterans in a substance abuse treatment facility.  She is a member of NCDA’s Veterans Committee, and the advisor for Chi Sigma Iota (CSI)  Sigma Tau Upsilon chapter. She earned a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision from Virginia Tech, an M.S. in Counseling and Guidance from Texas A & M University at Corpus Christi, and a B.A. in Policy Studies from Syracuse University. She can be reached at robertsh@stjohns.edu


Printer-Friendly Version


Mary Beth Schaefer   on Sunday 03/01/2015 at 10:19 PM

I'm so glad this article touched upon the emotional component of military members' transitions. I would love to read a more complete description of this study and its important findings.

Joseph Salacki   on Sunday 03/22/2015 at 11:58 AM

Thank you Ms. Robertson. I am a Veterans Counselor here at Fort Meade, MD and your article was most pertinent.

Military career    on Tuesday 08/17/2021 at 12:10 PM

Army Needs You is the world's largest military career Opportunities company specializing in the design and implementation of customized recruiting solutions that deliver proven, dependable Leaders and Technicians transitioning into the military. Our services are completely flexible and tailored to match our corporate clients' needs while safeguarding benefits of a soldier.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.