By Sarah Wright
Joining Up Rather Than Enrolling
If you're not ready for college, or you want to do something meaningful with your life before pursing the final leg of your education, you might be considering military service. This is not a bad option for those who are looking for a steady, reliable and highly regarded career track after high school. Military service can help turn immature high school students into highly competent, skilled and mature individuals. The level of personal discipline and training it takes to be a successful member of the military results in skill sets that are useful in college. It's not a bad option to consider, but there are some less pleasant things to think about that you definitely shouldn't shy away from.
The Potential Drawbacks
Though this aspect of military service is glossed over in recruitment efforts, signing up isn't a cakewalk, and it's not something to be taken lightly. First of all, being an active member of the armed forces is an enormous personal commitment. Though furloughs and leave time are a normal part of service, your personal conduct is nonetheless restricted by certain rules, even when you're on a break. Your personal appearance and behavior must be up to a certain standard. You have to be prepared to follow rules, even if you don't like what you're being told to do. Any misconduct, on or off base, will not be taken lightly.
Ultimately, as an active duty service member you are training to assist your teammates in life-or-death situations. Though plenty of service members never see a day of combat, it's difficult to know exactly what your job will be when you join any branch of the military. Though certain branches, like the Marines and the Army, carry the bulk of the active combat duties in our current military engagements, there is no guarantee that joining the military will result in a completely safe, easy ride. Even if you end up with a desk job, you will likely be separated from your friends and family, and you will have to make personal sacrifices that you should consider before joining.
Finally, if you do end up in an active combat situation, there is the very real possibility that you will end up with physical or psychological scars that will impact you for the rest of your life. Your loved ones' lives will be touched as well, and you may want to consider them while making your decision. There are many benefits to military service work, and many people find the work highly fulfilling. However, you should not join the military as a means to an end in order to pay for your education. The armed forces are not a scholarship service.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill
If you ultimately decide that the sacrifice is worth it, you'll find yourself rewarded by excellent educational benefits. A recent major revamp of the GI Bill, a piece of legislation that gives financial benefits for education to veterans, active duty service members and the families of living or deceased service members, means that going to college after serving in the military is easier than ever. The current GI Bill, referred to as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, makes improvements to the prior version of this legislation. Under the previous GI Bill, you would have to buy in to the program to receive benefits. Under the new bill, no upfront payment is necessary.
The benefits have been revamped to be more helpful, as well. Depending on the duration of your service and what school you choose to attend, you can qualify for up to 100% coverage of your tuition. Additionally, you can receive up to $1,000 for books and supplies, and if you are relocating from a rural area to attend school, you might qualify for a one-time benefit of $500 to help cover your moving costs.
There are some restrictions, though. Your benefits cannot exceed the cost of the most expensive in-state tuition at a public school in your state. Still, the benefits are good, and are definitely something to think about if you are considering military service before settling on a permanent career. For more information about the Post-9/11 GI Bill, what benefits you can receive and any other questions you might have about what is and isn't covered under the bill, visit the bill's website through the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs website.
If your parents and family are expecting you to attend college right out of high school, it might be hard to tell them that you're considering other options, including the military. It might not be the easiest conversation, but there are good ways to go about telling your family you don't want to go to college quite yet.