Getting a College Education in the Military

By Dr. Scott A. Ostrow (Lt Col, USAF, Retired)
One of the many attractive benefits the military has to offer is providing financial help with college tuition. But is it really possible to earn a college degree while serving in the military? The answer is yes, but you’ve got to really want it!

Many years ago, perhaps too many for my liking, I enlisted in the Navy, mostly because my parents could not afford to send me to college. That was back in 1978 when not every high school graduate was expected to go to college. Many of my classmates did go, but many also went straight to work, went to a trade school, or enlisted in the military. Almost immediately after enlisting I realized that if I wanted to make the military a career I wanted to do it as an officer, and that meant earning a bachelor’s degree.

After receiving my military training as a Poseidon Missile Technician I began my pursuit of a college degree. Back in the early 1980s, going to college meant sitting in classes on a college campus, and luckily I found a local college with a great evening degree program. I received 27 credits for my military training and picked up another 12 credits by taking College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams. I was able to complete my degree in less than four years and, best of all, through the military’s Tuition Assistance program (and a grant from the state of South Carolina) I had absolutely no out-of-pocket expenses.

I went on to earn a master’s degree, also through the use of Tuition Assistance, and, after retirement, a doctoral degree through the use of the GI Bill. So is it possible to earn a college degree while serving in the military? The answer, once again is, yes! However, there are several important things to consider.

If you are contemplating enlisting and taking advantage of the military’s educational benefits, that’s great, there’s no greater place to start than by serving your country. Nevertheless, you must consider how you will have the time to get your degree, so consider the following:
• Do I want to attend school at a college campus or online?
• What type of schedule will my military job require? Will there be shift work, or, will I work a regular day shift?
• How much travel will be required; how much time will I spend away from my home station?

Colleges have become more accessible with the advent of online education, but will you have access to an internet in a deployed location? Perhaps you’ll get lucky enough to be stationed near a college that you want to attend, but will your work schedule allow it? If you choose to go online, will you be able to major in the subject you desire? When I went for my bachelor’s degree I majored in business simply because more business classes were offered and I could complete my degree faster. All of these things need to be considered when you choose a military branch and a specific military job.

So, earning a college degree while serving in the military is very possible, but it requires hard work, determination, and persistence; you’ve got to really want it!

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