Should You Go to College After the Military?

Those leaving the military have several choices. For many, the Post-9/11 GI Bill makes heading back to school a very attractive choice. But even if college sounds good, you might still be struggling to make the decision. How do you choose what to do? How do you know what school to attend?

It’s important to take some time to consider your options, gather information, conduct a self-assessment, think through possible outcomes and assess risks and rewards. Making education choices requires some soul searching and honest conversations with people in your life who care about you.

Don’t know where to start? Consider the following as you work through the decision-making process:

Making a Choice

Considering your unique circumstances, motives and goals, and having listened to and learned from others, you’re now ready to make your decision. It should align with the reality of who you are, what you care about and what you want to achieve. If the factors you used in making your decision change, then it’s perfectly fine for your decision to change, too. Finally, give your decision one final check to make sure you’re ready to move forward.

Higher education can be something that changes the direction of your life, providing opportunities you might not have had with no degree. Particularly for veterans, using your benefits to get a degree can help you build on the skills you learned in the military and create a new post-military career for yourself.

You may not have all the answers yet, but if you decide to go to college, you have concrete goals you want to achieve and a clear sense of how a college degree will impact your life, you will get the most out of college.

How We Choose

Decision-making is a skill, not an ability, and it’s important to learn how to look objectively at the pros and cons to make sound choices. Knowing who you are and what you want to accomplish in life is extremely valuable as you decide if college is a right choice for you.


Most of the decisions we make are expressions of the values we hold. Identify for yourself and articulate clearly what really matters to you. Make a personal list of what values matter most to you. Narrow down your list with people you trust to four to six core personal values.

Options and Opportunities

Thanks to the post-9/11 GI Bill, the option to go to college doesn’t go away. While going right after exiting service is the right answer for many veterans — but it is not the only choice. Rather than go too soon, reflect on your list of core values and professional/personal goals. What paths might you take to achieve them? Is college the only way? Is another path more realistic?

Talking it Through

Connect with people who really know you, have your best interests at heart and have valuable insights into the decision you’re trying to make. Just like in the military, rely on those you trust and who you know have your back and then look at that group objectively. Determine if you need to add to it to find additional guidance.

The Logical Next Step

Why not do something else? College is a serious investment of time and effort. It’s often a time of financial scarcity, despite robust VA benefits. A good exercise is to list your professional and personal goals. Leaning on people you trust, narrow down your list to four to six meaningful goals.

Help for Military Spouses Going Back to School

A college degree may lead to better job opportunities and better pay. In fact, earning a bachelor’s or graduate degree increases one’s average hourly wage compared to those with only a high school diploma, according to a Rand Corp. survey.

However, going back to school for military spouses is a sizable time commitment and an expensive financial obligation. What’s more, constant relocation may cause a spouse to lose credits if he or she transfers to another college. But there are financial and credit-transfer programs available to spouses to help spouses get an education.

Here are a few programs that offer financial assistance:

  • The Coast Guard Mutual Assistance program (CGMA) offers a supplemental education grant of $150 per year. This grant is applicable to any family member’s educational expenses. However, CGMA does not cover tuition expenses.
  • The General George S. Brown Spouse Tuition Assistance Program (STAP) offers partial tuition assistance (50 percent of course tuition with a maximum of $1,500 per academic year) to spouses of active-duty Air Force members stationed overseas.
  • The General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program provides $1,500 in grants to selected children of active duty Air Force members and spouses stationed overseas through the Air Force Aid Society. To qualify, the spouse must be a full- or part-time student studying for a vocational certificate, undergraduate degree or graduate degree. The funds granted range from $1,500 a year for an undergraduate degree to $1,750 a year for a graduate degree.

These programs assist with transferring class credits:

  • The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges for the navy (SOCNAV) is similar to the SOCAD, but offers associate and bachelor’s degree programs on or accessible to Navy installations.
  • The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOCAD) program is a consortium of more than 1,500 colleges and universities that offer associate and bachelor’s degree in the United States. This program transfers credits between the colleges allowing the student to continue with his or her education and not retake any classes. SOCAD is ideal for military spouses who might have to relocate several times.

Each program varies from service to service but all provide the proper resources to help military family members obtain a high level of education.

10 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an Online University

For many active military members and their spouses, earning an online degree is becoming increasingly attractive. The flexibility and convenience of online universities allow those juggling work and family responsibilities to advance their education without putting their lives on hold. Finding a reputable, accredited online university that offers a program that meets your needs requires doing some homework. Here are ten questions you need to ask before you choose a school.

  1. Is the school accredited? Online universities should have regional accreditation, just like campus-based institutions. A good online school may also have national accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), and individual degree programs like Education and Nursing should also be accredited by bodies such as the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and by the Commission for Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
  2. Does the school offer the degree program you need to advance your education and career? If you’re considering a teaching or nursing degree, will it prepare you to be licensed?  Is there a master’s degree program that will help you progress in your profession?
  3. Are the programs challenging and rigorous enough? Going to college requires a significant investment of time and money, be sure to find out all you can about the coursework, quality of resources, and degree requirements. Easy isn’t a good thing in this instance—you want to know that you’ve successfully completed a demanding program that prepares you for success.
  4. Are employers willing to hire graduates of this online university? Ask the enrollment staff at the university you’re considering to share feedback (surveys, placement statistics, etc.) from employers who’ve hired their grads.
  5. How does the degree program work, what is the learning process? Be sure you understand how you’ll be expected to study, learn, and complete tests and assignments. Online universities use several different academic models:
    • Traditional college courses – led by instructors – are delivered online, requiring students to attend at set times. School terms are generally divided into traditional semesters, and students may only start work at the beginning of these terms. Students earn credit for time spent in class and completion of assignments and tests.
    • Competency-based programs provide students with learning resources in degree subject matter, allowing students to study and learn on their own schedules, advancing as they demonstrate content mastery.
    • Combined online/traditional programs, which require students to attend class both online and in person, are also available.
  6. What type of help and support does the school offer its enrolled students? Because the student won’t be on campus in most instances, it is important to make sure that the school provides the necessary support. Ask if each student is assigned an advisor or mentor, how often the student will be able to communicate with an advisor, and who will be available to provide extra support if needed? Is there an online student community? Are online study groups available?
  7. What kind of time commitment will the program demand? Going to school online demands that you study independently and motivate yourself to complete your studies, so make sure you’re ready to put in the time and effort needed to be successful. Getting a college degree isn’t meant to be easy, so be prepared for hard work.
  8. Does the degree program you’re considering include relevant certifications, or does it prepare you for licensure? In some fields, particularly IT, certifications can be almost more important that a degree. And, if you are considering Education or Nursing, you’ll want to make sure that your investment will lead you toward licensure. Be sure to find out if the university you’re considering offers key certifications if the career you’ve chosen requires licensure.
  9. Does the university offer support for alumni? Like traditional universities, the best online schools offer support for alumni, with networking and career counseling. It’s worth checking before you choose—having that kind of support after you graduate can help you advance in your career, get advice and stay connected.
  10. How much will it cost? Some online universities charge tuition rates twice as high as those of a public institution. While almost all offer financial aid, make sure to choose wisely to avoid incurring unnecessary debt. Students who wish to accelerate their degree programs should look for schools with programs that allow acceleration—this can help save overall costs. And, ask if the university offers scholarships.