Education is freedom. It provides more opportunities and fewer restrictions in the workforce. While deciding whether or not to obtain a degree may not be a question for some service members, it might be an outlier for others.
Completion prior to transition versus post-military is a consistent conundrum. A lot of active duty military ask us, “Can you go to college while still in the military?” Hopefully, this post will help you figure that out. Truth be told, there are pluses to both sides. But if you have the time while you are in the service, why not complete it and get a jump-start?
During the increased ops tempo, it may be difficult to focus on getting your education, but the DoD is committed to helping you get your degree. The military offers mobile testing sites, underway classrooms, the Internet, and many other ways for you to get your college degree while still in the military.
Most importantly, the DoD offers Tuition Assistance, allowing you to get the most out of the GI Bill. That’s what Air Force veteran Jesse Morse did, and he urges active duty service members to do the same. “The more credits you can finish without using your GI Bill, the further the GI Bill benefits will extend. By taking a few online classes a year during my enlistment, I was able to use the GI Bill to pay for my entire undergraduate degree and one year of law school, which saved me a ton,” says Morse, 28, who is now in his second year at Stetson University College of Law in Tampa Bay, Fla.
Military branches vary as to whether or not degrees help you climb the ranks (mandatory next steps, etc.), but the end-state goal of finishing your degree to improve your freedom later upon transition is equal across the board.
With GI Bill benefits, it is feasible for a member to exit the service and live off of the housing allowance until they complete their schooling. Still, pursuing a degree full time may put hardship on a family without another working spouse. The other option would be to attend school part time and work part time, but the completion time will be longer and may prolong the hardship.
For more information on the GI Bill and the best ways to use it, check out these related articles:
If the ability to attend school while in the service is viable, that would be the first recommendation. If a graduate degree is your goal, that could be your next step once you exit. If you have time while in the service to obtain a master’s degree, it can help set you up for a higher pay scale.
The ideal scenario is to have a bachelor’s degree prior to exiting the service to help with navigating the human resources systems down the line. Your bachelor’s degree subject area will not matter nearly as much as you might think (psychology versus business). Your graduate education tends to be the more specialized area of study, so do not feel that you need to know what field you are most interested in before you start working on your general studies. The exceptions to these rules are for more technical fields such as electrical engineering, computer science, etc.
Maximizing time while in the service is likely the best protocol for at least your undergraduate (or associate) studies. View it as a kickstart to your educational pursuits — but know that if for some reason you cannot go back to school after transition, you already have that part covered.
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