One of the biggest challenges of the military lifestyle is finding time to prepare for life after the armed forces. Returning to civilian life brings a return to civilian pressures, including family responsibilities and a new job. And jobs often don’t provide accommodations for educational goals at nearly the same level that the military does.
If you want to earn a degree, therefore, it’s smart to do it while you’re still enlisted. Follow this step-by-step guide to getting your degree and you’ll leave the armed forces knowing you’ve served to the best of your ability, and are more prepared for the next stage of your life, with a degree in hand.
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1. Pay a Visit to Your Branch’s Education Service Office
Each branch of the military offers an education office with counselors on hand to talk you through your goals and make the best plan for achieving them. Don’t be shy telling your counselor you’re preparing for life after the military. Most people don’t stay in forever, and you won’t be judged. You’ll simply get the help you need.
2. Make a Post-Military Career Plan
While working with the counselor, make a full plan for after you leave the military. This should include what you want to do, who you want to do it for, where you want to work and any other details you can think of. This will make it much easier to choose a career field and academic program.
3. Enroll in Classes
Once you’ve defined your plan, it’s time to start tackling each goal within it. Your education counselor can help you find the right academic program and enroll in classes, or research online educational options.
4. Make Use of Online Learning
Online learning is an incredibly powerful tool in the 21st century. While mail-order or, “distance” courses, have been popular for more than a century, online learning makes it possible to study efficiently from anywhere, at any time.
You can leverage the power of online learning toward your own goals. Many online schools offer fully digital degrees. That lets you study when you want, where you want.
You can also take College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) exams to earn college credits, free for military personnel.
5. Set a Steady Pace
It’s important to pace yourself when earning your degree. That pace can be slow, or it can be fast; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can maintain it over the long haul. Going too quickly can lead to burnout. Plodding on too slowly through the material will make you lose your enthusiasm. The key is to find the middle ground – the sweet spot of a steady pace – to keep you motivated and engaged.
6. Apply Your Knowledge to Your Current Military Career
There’s no need to leave military life behind before you begin applying your new knowledge. Chances are good you’ll pick up a number of important skills while earning your degree, and your military superiors would probably be impressed if you offer to use those skills for the good of your unit, and your country.
No matter what approach you take, there’s no time like the present to begin earning that degree.