Military personnel – veterans, active duty and reservists – have an increasing number of options available to them for continuing their education, whether they ultimately seek a career in the military or intend to go into the private sector.

Programs like the Servicemembers Opportunities Colleges, intended for military members who have trouble completing degrees because of their frequent moves, and the tech-enabled mushrooming of online learning are making education easier to access. In addition, tuition assistance and GI Bill benefits remove much of the financial burden of earning a degree.

Before seeking financial aid, however, military students should put some serious thought into what degree program they will seek, considering things like their current career and future career opportunities, the amount of flexibility and time the degree program requires and the level of education aspired to. 

Staying the Course with Your Current Career?

Your options in selecting a degree path are relatively simple if you decide you’re happy with the career you’ve developed so far. The next step will be to decide which degree lines up best with the career.

Some aspiring students may need help effectively translating their military occupation into a civilian job, along with an idea of future salaries, training required and upward mobility that can be anticipated.  This information is attainable through many sources, including free counseling from your education service officer, VA, and school admissions counselors.

Your military experience can be translated into college credit toward your degree, which means you may be able to get your degree in a shorter amount of time. Active members and veterans of the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and, soon, the Coast Guard, can utilize the new Joint Service Transcript, which awards academic credits for military experience. Air Force personnel can use Community College of the Air Force (CCAF).

If a New Career Holds Allure

Perhaps you’re ready for a new challenge and want to embark on a new career path. Fortunately, your military training and experience have positioned you for a wide range of civilian careers. A variety of military specialties translate into experience in careers like office administration, human resource management, data entry, maintenance and computer software engineering. This experience provides you with the opportunity to pick and choose a civilian career that best suits you and your goals.

Guiding your decision should be an understanding of anticipated job growth and salary levels of the career areas in which you have an interest. Some of the hottest jobs identified by the U.S. Department of Labor include accountant, health diagnosis technician, registered nurse, network systems administrator/analyst, law enforcement and computer software engineers.

Timing and Flexibility Issues

Some degree seekers may be less concerned with the degree focus and more on speeding up the process of securing it. In this case, look for a degree where you can apply your military experience for academic credit, or earn credits through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). CLEP covers a group of standardized tests assessing college-level knowledge in several areas, administered at more than 1,700 colleges and universities across the United States.  

In terms of flexibility, consider a master’s degree in business administration, which is generally the fastest and most flexible. These degree programs can be narrow or broadly focused on specific business areas, and are offered by nearly every college.

To avoid being overwhelmed, it’s important to set a pace that works for you. Choosing a flexible degree program and employing a strategy that combines one or two classes with additional earned credits through programs like CLEP, can speed up the time to graduation.

What Level of Education to Pursue

This issue is predicated to some degree on the career path you’ve decided to follow, and the level of education that is required to succeed there. Prospective students are highly encouraged to conduct their own research as government rulings and regulations change with each year, and job availability and growth may vary depending on location, education, environment and other factors. For the most accurate and up-to-date information, please consult an education service officer.

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