In 1999, when Daniel started college at Christopher Newport University, in Newport News, Va., he didn't take out any student loans. His mother was wary of his getting into debt, he says. Besides, he was going to work his way through school.
Daniel, 30, who requested that his last name not be used, decided to study information systems and got a part-time job in the university's IT department. When a full-time position opened up, he went for it, becoming a part-time student. Working was his priority, and his grades suffered. That went on for several years.
Meanwhile, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, he United States was at war. Daniel, whose father is a veteran, had always been interested in serving his country. He enlisted in the Army and left for basic training in 2004: It seemed like the right time.
His mother worried he wouldn't go back to college, but his family was supportive. He worked as a satellite-communications operator, traveling to the Philippines, Australia, and Korea.
All along, Daniel planned to serve out his commitment, then go back to college. As the end of his service drew near, he weighed his options. In The New York Times, he read an article about veterans at Columbia University, which caters to nontraditional students in its School of General Studies. He decided that was where he wanted to be.
Daniel got into Columbia and enrolled full time. A political-science major, he plans to graduate in 2013 and pursue investment banking. He has borrowed some money to help pay for school, but he is not working. This time, his focus is on academics.
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