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Military and College: 7 Reasons Active-Duty Members Need a Degree

A photo showing a military student at Saint Leo UniversityEnlisting in the United States military is often a dream-come-true endeavor for many men and women who go on to admirably serve our nation and protect the many freedoms we take for granted each and every day as Americans.

While there are some who enlist and serve for an entire career, the majority of service members move on to a civilian life with many years’ worth of time for higher education and working life. This is why active-duty military and college education can make for a great marriage. Check out the reasons an active member of the armed forces should seriously consider attaining a college degree.

1. Military members generally only serve for a limited time.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the required enlistment service time for military personnel is between 2 and 6 years. Of course, there are many factors that determine this, and each branch is unique in certain rules.

For all branches, the average enlistment time is just shy of 15 years. On average, military officers stay in the armed forces for about 11 years. As for those who are members of the reserves, most are committed for between only three and six years.

These enlistment figures demonstrate that a large percentage of military members will return to civilian life with many years to devote to another occupation. As such, attaining a college degree within your field of choice can significantly aid in your professional pursuits, career advancement, and a higher quality of life.

2. Military service time sometimes qualifies as college credit.

In many cases, active-duty military personnel who pursue higher education can use some of the military training coursework they have completed toward course credits within a degree program at a college or university.

The American Council on Education, which is made up of over 1,800 colleges and universities, suggests individuals who have served in the military should follow these steps to determine if any of their military work could help reduce their college course loads by transferring hours:

  • Do your homework. Be certain that you can make the most out of your military experience by finding a school that will offer the highest number of transfer credits.
  • Carefully review your military transcripts for an overview of what you’ve completed as a service member.
  • Have your school(s) of choice review your military transcripts and records from any other schools as soon as possible.
  • Talk to an academic advisor. Find out which majors and course tracks would be best for you – and which classes you may be completely exempt from taking.
  • Follow up with the school you enroll in to ensure all credits are transferred successfully in a timely manner.
  • Research the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) to determine if there are tests you can take to cross off certain basic courses from the to-do list within your specific curriculum.

3. A degree can help you learn new skills and knowledge to become more proficient in your role within the military.

While military training can be quite comprehensive, there are still certain skills you can’t always learn while serving. This is where experience in the military and college coursework can be a nice combination.

Do you want to become a better leader? Are you looking to improve your communication and presentation skills? Is writing something you could use some guidance on? Going to college – whether you choose to do it in a regular classroom setting, through a blended format, or via an online degree program – comes with all types of opportunities to beef up skills you already have or even add new ones to your toolbox.

4. Become a stronger, more effective leader to advance in rank or move into an officer position in the military.

If you intend to stay in the armed forces for the foreseeable future, earning a college degree can greatly benefit you in helping to open doors to advancement. To become a commissioned officer in most of the branches, active-duty military personnel are required to have a four-year college degree. This designation can help you increase your salary, job responsibilities, and future opportunities within your branch and upon entering the civilian workforce.

5. Increase your chances of post-military employment.

Many companies across a number of industries often consider military veterans for positions over applicants without military service. But if you also add a college degree to your resume, this combination of service in the military and college education can be tough for prospective employers to pass up.

That’s why you can increase your chances of finding gainful employment in a field you will enjoy. To further this point, the number of job interviews you’ll have to do should also be a bit less than what it might be for those without a college degree.

6. The military will likely cover most, if not all, of your college education.

If you’re an active-duty member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, you are entitled to tuition assistance from your particular branch.

There’s a chance your branch might pay up to 100 percent of your college tuition expenses incurred toward earning a degree. If the full amount is not covered by this tuition assistance, you might be eligible to use the GI Bill as well. This scenario is known as using the “top-up program.” This additional funding often covers the difference on any remaining tuition amount for college coursework.

7. Prepare to smoothly transition to civilian life and a new career

Research has shown that when someone transitions from an active-duty military life to being a civilian, there can be quite an adjustment period. Serving in the military can be quite different than working in a traditional office setting or other type of environment.

By completing a college degree, you should be able to make this process easier and faster. First off, active-duty military members who go to college are already exposing themselves to civilian life. This is because most of their classes will probably include a large percentage of civilian students, professors, and others with whom one may interact.

Plus, a college degree can get you thinking about a civilian career and what you’ll need in terms of skills to succeed outside of the military.

In essence, starting and ultimately completing a degree program can serve as a bridge between two unique avenues within your life.

LEARN MORE: Check out the ultimate guide on why active-duty military members and veterans should earn a college degree.

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