The rewards of going back to school are many: furthering your education can boost your earning power, help you climb the career ladder, and widen the range of jobs available to you. Although military spouses face frequent relocations and other challenges that can make it harder to complete an education program, assistance is available. Check out these tips and resources that can help you get back in the classroom and reap the many near- and long-term rewards of investing in yourself, your career, and your future.
Questions to consider
The DoD Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program is designed to help military spouses define their career goals, including offering support with information about education programs and financial aid options. SECO consultants (1-800-342-9647) are bachelor and master-level advisors and counselors who can help you consider your options for going back to school and how a particular license, certification, or degree program will help you reach your goals. Here are some questions you may want to discuss with a SECO consultant:
- What is your career goal? An ideal goal is something that interests you professionally and personally and offers a desirable work-life balance, pay level, and job satisfaction.
- Do you have the education to reach your career goal? If not, what type of license, certification, or course of study do you need to meet your goal? The Occupational Outlook Handbook and the Department of Labor's (DoL) Career OneStop website list the education and training needed for portable career occupations.
- What are your personal goals? Will going back to school help you reach them? Do you enjoy learning new things? Will you enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a degree? Do you need more education to qualify for a new job or advance along the career ladders that interest you most?
- What new opportunities does higher continuing education provide? Going back to school can point you toward careers you may not have considered before. A license, certificate, or degree may present new opportunities for advancement within your chosen career field.
- What is the job market in your chosen field? Are there many openings in your field? If so, are there jobs available in the geographic location where you will most likely live as a military family? If there are few job openings in your field, you may decide that it's not worth the time and money to pursue education in that career field, or you may want to look into a related program of study leading to more plentiful or lucrative jobs. Also consider whether that job market is expected to grow, shrink, or stay about the same five, ten, or more years down the road. Visit DoL's Career OneStop website for job market forecasts and salary information for various geographic areas.
- Is this the best time to go back to school? Consider family and work responsibilities, as well as education benefits, which may be available through your military spouse (e.g., Post 911 Education Benefit Transfer). Does it make sense to go back to school at this time in your life?
Choosing a program of study
Depending on the career path you choose, you may need to seek a professional license or earn a certification, a degree from a two- or four-year college, or a graduate degree. Typically, you will take more courses to earn a degree than you will to earn a certificate.
- Certification. Some skilled professions are taught at community colleges or technical schools. The requirements for certification are set by professional and industry organizations. Before enrolling, make sure the school is accredited, licensed, and respected by employers. Workforce development initiatives, coordinated in partnership with local employers, community colleges and technical schools, and local DoL Career OneStop Centers, can provide expert advice.
- Associate degree. For some positions, you will need an associate degree which, in most cases, you will earn after completing about twenty classes. Typically, students will earn an associate degree from a two-year community college.
- Bachelor's degree. Four-year colleges or universities award a bachelor of arts or science degree to students who complete about forty classes.
- Advanced degree. Advanced degrees are awarded for completing a program in a specific field of study or profession beyond the requirements of a bachelor's degree.
Help for common obstacles
You may be concerned about fitting school into your life. Fortunately, there are resources available to help military spouses overcome some obstacles to a higher education.
- Frequent relocation. Will you be able to transfer your credits from one institution to another if you move? What if you can't find a similar degree program in your new location? Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) and distance learning programs. such as the Great Plains IDEA University Passport Program (1-785-532-6848). let you continue your studies without losing credit if you move. With distance learning, coursework is delivered electronically or through the mail. Participating schools also accept each other's academic credit through reciprocal academic partnership agreements — ideal for your mobile military lifestyle.
- Cost. Going back to school can be expensive; in addition to program costs, there may be book, transportation and child care expenses. If going back to school means leaving your job or reducing your hours, you will need to factor in the lost income when you make your decision. The following programs may help offset some of the costs:
- Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MyCAA). MyCAA is a program for military spouses that can help cover the costs — up to $4,000 — if you are seeking an associate degree or a license or credential.
- Post-9/11 GI Bill. Eligible military personnel may be able to transfer some or all of their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouse.
- Scholarships. The American Legion's Need a Lift resource is a comprehensive educational financial aid resource. SECO Education and Career counselors (1-800-342-9647) have additional referral information.
- In-state college tuition. Many state colleges and universities offer nonresident active-duty service members and their families in-state tuition rates if they are stationed in their state. Visit the U.S. Army Education website or call state Department of Education agency where your military spouse is stationed to find out if you're eligible for in-state tuition.
- Federal financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education provides billions of dollars in financial aid to qualified students each year.
- Education loans. Depending on your income, you may qualify for a low-interest student loan, payable after you finish your degree. Loans are available through the federal government, privately through many banks, and through other lending institutions.
- Spouse education assistance programs. Each military Service branch offers financial assistance to spouses who reside with service members stationed overseas. Assistance is awarded based on financial need.
Contact a SECO consultant, online or by telephone (1-800-342-9647), for more information on financial aid, scholarships, grants, and loans to help pay for your education. Many websites also provide advice on making college affordable. Be sure to look at financial aid programs at the Department of Education and use the Know Before You Owe student loan consumer awareness tool to compare the cost of education at each school you are considering before you enroll in a program of study.