Service Members: Pick an Education Program That's Right For You

Jun 16, 2011

If you're a service member looking into higher ed options, you know there are a lot of different academic and training programs available. What may be less clear, though, is the extent to which your military experience should factor in choosing a program. Learn about some considerations to keep in mind while making your decision.

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By Douglas Fehlen

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1. What are your career goals? Many service members choose to stay in the Armed Forces indefinitely. If that's what you're planning, choose a program that builds skills that will help you progress through the ranks. If you want to work in the civilian world, pursue studies that will ready you for a preferred career field.

2. What are your skills? Being in the military, you've likely taken various aptitude assessments. When choosing an education program, you might want to consider what these surveys revealed. Of course, you may have unrelated strengths you'd rather utilize in college. Let aptitude tests be just one factor in your overall decision making process.

3. What are your interests? Aptitude for a discipline can be an predictor of higher ed success, but genuine interest in a subject is also important. If you're engaged with a program, you're likely to perform better and make the most of its opportunities. Consider your interests in making a choice about your education.

4. How much time are you willing to devote to your education? Some people are eager to gain knowledge and skills quickly so that they can enter the workforce as soon as possible. Others want to savor the experience of earning a degree. As you consider certificate or degree programs, consider the experience you want.

5. What financial resources are you willing to commit to your education? Financial factors play an important part in higher ed decisions for most students. Many service members qualify for G.I. Bill benfits, of course, which can minimize college costs. But depending on the school and degree you want to pursue, you may be responsible for some of the education costs. It's important to be aware of the financial implications of your decision.

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6. Are you planning to pursue a graduate degree? Whether or not you plan to pursue a graduate degree could have a significant effect on the education route you take right now. Some grad programs are only accessible to those with a specific undergraduate experience.

7. Are there life circumstances to consider? College is never easy, but enrolling in an intensive degree program while having a lot of other responsibilities can be especially difficult. That shouldn't stop you from pursuing the degree you want, but you may want to consider all options. For example, a night/weekend program or online classes may work best for individuals who serve on active duty, work a lot or have family responsibilities.

8. Will you receive credit for your military experience? Many education programs allow service members to transfer military duties into college credits. Often service time can be counted toward electives in various subject areas. This is most often true in associate's and bachelor's programs. Getting credit for military duties can help reduce the cost and duration of education programs.

9. What is the outlook for the job market? With unemployment rates extremely high, these are difficult times to be searching for a job. One way to put yourself in a better position to find work is to pursue an education program that equips you with skills to work in high-demand areas. Fields set for expanded growth in the near future include education, healthcare, environmental management, computer engineering/networking and human resources.

10. What do others suggest? If you have a lot of uncertainty about which education program might be right for you, get some advice. Check with fellow service members, military counselors, family members or others familiar with education programs. You can also check out advice websites for service members, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, G.I. Jobs and Military.com.

Not sure where you want to go to school? Check out ten college questions for service members.

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