A career in the military is at once demanding and rewarding. It takes a lot of your energy and effort to protect and serve the country. As a reward for your service, you can get help paying for your education. In fact, as you know, it’s one of the reasons many people choose to enlist. Earning a degree while in the military takes a special type of dedication, but it’s an affordable and effective way to get a bachelor’s degree and position yourself for an effective civilian career.
With your bachelor’s degree in hand and your military experience on your resume, your re-entry to civilian life will be easier. Yet you are going to need to follow a few strategies for earning an education while in the military. Here is a guide to help you make the most out of your education benefits and earn your degree while you’re enlisted.
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Talk Over Your Options
Pay your branch’s education service office a visit to talk through your options. Here, you’ll find education counselors that can help you weigh your goals and the tools you can use to reach them. These counselors also understand the challenges of education while in the military, such as how you can balance going to school while on active duty or what type of coursework can work around your military schedule. They also know the eligible education benefits you can apply to receive and how to ensure you get them.
While talking to the counselor, be sure to discuss the goals you have for both your military experience and your education. This will help the counselor outline a degree path that will help you achieve them both. For example, do you intend to remain in the military for a full career, or are you using your time in the military simply as a vehicle to get your degree more affordably? Do you have a specific bachelor’s degree or career path you want to follow, or are your goals more general? The answers to these types of questions will help you discover the right path for your unique journey.
Talk through your options for school, as well. You should choose a military-friendly school for your degree. This will ensure that your school has the right support in place to help you achieve your goals while still fulfilling your military responsibilities. Military-friendly schools often award college credit for some of your military experience, provide support to those getting a degree while in the military, and offer flexible learning options.
Set Educational Goals
Before you start any degree path, make sure you have a goal. What do you want to achieve? How quickly do you want to achieve it? Your discussion with the education counselor will help guide the answers to these questions, but you are going to need to make some decisions.
Keep in mind that getting a degree while on active duty is not easy. You have many things vying for your attention with your military career and that leaves little time for your education. You may need to slow down your timeline for degree completion.
Your goals will serve as your road map. They will help you enroll in the right classes, use your time wisely, and find a program that will get you where you want to be. Take time on this step so you have a clear idea in mind of where you are going to end up.
Once you have your educational goals, use them to help you stay on target. The process of getting your degree and serving your country can be hectic, and you will find some distractions that will pull your attention off of your plans.
The demands on you professionally and educationally will be intense while you’re earning your degree. You are going to need to be highly organized during this time. There are three ways you need to get organized. These are:
1. Organize Your Paperwork
Using your tuition assistance benefit also requires organization. There is a lot of paperwork involved in claiming this benefit, and you need to keep track of it to ensure it’s turned in on time. The educational counselor can help you with this paperwork but keep copies on hand to ensure you turn everything in on time.
2. Organize Your Assignments
Your courses are going to come with a syllabus. If you need to, print it, but you can also bookmark it online. Keep this on hand to ensure that you’re up to date with your assignments.
Use a calendar app or a paper calendar to keep track of your assignments and check them off as you finish them. This will help you see how much you need to accomplish each week. Pay attention to large assignments that will take additional time, such as research papers, and break them down into smaller tasks. Set alarms on your phone to help remind you when it’s time to do coursework.
3. Organize Your Time
You are going to need a tight schedule to accomplish everything you need to accomplish. Thankfully, you are used to strict scheduling due to your military service. Put that discipline to work as you plan how you will accomplish everything you need to accomplish to finish your schoolwork.
Flexibility is critical when earning a degree and participating in the military at the same time. First, look for a program that offers some flexibility, such as a flexible enrollment schedule or flexible deadlines. Similarly, look for flexibility in where you take your classes. You may not be able to be in the classroom on campus because of your military commitment, or you may need to find a college that has a campus near your post.
Not only does your school need to be flexible, but you will need to be flexible too. The planning you put in when you started preparing for school is important, but you may find that it needs to change as you get into the degree program. Perhaps you over-estimated the amount of time you would have free for your studies, or maybe you have a change in plans for your education. Be willing to make adjustments as you go through the process.
Take Online Courses
Today, members of the military who wish to go to school have a greater amount of flexibility than ever before. Online courses can go with you overseas or to your active duty station. You can continue pursuing your degree no matter where your next PCS is.
As you look for an online program, do your homework carefully. Many colleges offer online courses, but the full degree is not available online. On-campus requirements may not be something you can do while in the military. Look for a program that offers a fully online degree.
In addition, consider the format of the online program. Some require students to log in at specific times for virtual lectures, while others use video and online chats to teach, providing flexibility to do the coursework at your convenience. Active duty military members need the flexibility to do their coursework on their own schedule. This is the best type of program for going to school while on active duty.
Utilize What You Already Know
Finally, take advantage of the knowledge you already have. Your military service has taught you many skills and facts that you can use in your future career. Use this knowledge to test out of some courses.
There are two ways to do this. The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) program and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) allow you to get college credit by testing out of a required class. These tests are free to military members.
The American Council on Education and the Department of Defense have collaborated to create programs that allow military members to receive military transfer credit for their service experience. This means that some of the training you receive in the service can be transferred into college credits. This program operates under the assumption that skills, competencies, and knowledge gained during certain types of military experience are similar to the skills, competencies, and knowledge gained in the classroom, and therefore students do not need to repeat these activities in school. ACE has several recommendations on its website to help students understand what skills may transfer through this program. Browse through these to see what skills you can apply toward your degree.
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