PEPPERELL -- Samantha Hardy has never been content with being average.

Hardy graduated from Curry College last month, where she captained the soccer team, maintained a 3.5 GPA and participated in the ROTC program. She received a bachelor's degree in psychology, with a minor in communication.

In August, she will begin working toward a doctorate in military psychology at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, while being a member of the Army Reserves.

"I didn't want to do the normal college thing. I always wanted more of a challenge," she said. "I've tried to set a good example for my younger siblings, tried to set the bar high for them."

For Hardy, joining the ROTC began as a logical path, a way to pay for college and be guaranteed a job after graduation.

But it became a passion, with the ultimate goal of helping ensure that those in the military would have access to counseling in the wake of traumatic wartime experiences. She plans to be a military psychologist for an army battalion after she receives her degree.

Hardy said that the increase in servicemembers with post-traumatic stress disorder has raised the demand for psychologists. In fact, she said, psychology is the only department in the military that has grown despite budget cuts.

"This war is so different from other wars. Having to look people in the eyes and shoot them... The military is having to compensate with providing different types of counseling," she said.

Psychology is a career path Hardy has wanted to pursue for years. As she puts it, "As the oldest of five, I've always sort of been a psychologist."

But while ROTC has become the path to her future career, Hardy said her primary reason for choosing Curry College was the soccer program, which recruited her to play out of high school.

Curry College soccer coach Jason Tassinari, who coached Hardy during her senior year, said she was a natural leader who made his job easy as a new coach.

"As much as she was a great goalkeeper for me, she was also a great role model and leader with maturity, work ethic and an ability to get her teammates to respond," Tassinari said.

He also said Hardy balanced her commitments seamlessly, without ever missing a game.

"The fact that I hardly even noticed her involvement in ROTC is a testament to the fact that she handled it so well. We understood from the beginning that she was going to have to miss certain days, but she was always very communicative and up front about it," Tassinari said.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Bower was Hardy's senior year ROTC advisor.

"We look for three different attributes -- scholars, athletes and leaders, and Sam definitely embodied all three of those. She did very well academically, well enough to be granted an educational delay. She was a standout as a soccer goalie and performed well athletically in ROTC, and she excelled as a leader, especially with leading underclassmen through our field training exercises."

Bower said Hardy's chosen path was unique. She was the only one in her ROTC class to ask for an educational delay, which allows her to put off her required years of military service to continue her higher education. According to Bower, when students do ask for educational delays, they most choose to study medicine or law.

"Getting her Ph. D. in psychology is unique and different, and I'm happy for her that it's working out. She is going to be a fantastic army psychologist and do very well in her program and beyond when she actually goes into the army to counsel soldiers," Bower said.

For Hardy, her time in ROTC, as well as the challenge of also juggling academics and athletics, has helped her become a stronger person.

"I've changed a lot between freshman year and now," she said. "I'm not afraid of anything, I'm more confident. I can accomplish anything I want. It was just about getting over the fear."

Follow Chelsea Feinstein at Twitter.com/CEFeinstein.