Enlisting in the United States military is often a dream-come-true endeavor for many men and women who serve our nation admirably and protect the many freedoms we take for granted each and every day.
While some of those who enlist serve for an entire career, the majority of service members bid farewell to the military with many years of potential education and working life left in the tank – pun fully intended.
How Long Do Enlisted Military Members Typically Serve?
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 3 to 6 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.
Military Service May Translate to College Credit
In many cases, active-duty military personnel and veterans who pursue higher education can use some of their military training 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 amount of transfer credits.
- Carefully review your military transcripts for an overview of what you've completed as a service member.
- Have your school of choice review your military transcripts and records form any other schools as soon as possible.
- Talk to an academic advisor. Found out which majors and course tracks would be best for you - and which classes you may be exempt from taking.
- Follow up with the school 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 courses from the to-do-list within your specific curriculum.
How Can a College Degree Help Military Members & Veterans?
If you are an active-duty military member, a college degree can help you:
- Gain more confidence
- Learn new skills and knowledge to become more proficient in your job
- Become a stronger, more effective leader to advance in rank or move into an officer position in the military
- Prepare to smoothly transition to civilian life and a new career
- Give you the opportunity to participate in work/study or internship programs in unique environments to help you hone your professional skills and interests
If you are a veteran, a college degree can help you:
- Start a new career different from your previous military training
- Move to the next level in your current job
- Expand your knowledge of a particular academic discipline
Of course, there are reasons for earning a college degree that have nothing to do with your next career move or salary increase. Many working professionals commit the time and effort to earning a degree to be role models for their children, others to keep a promise to a family member or to fulfill a lifelong dream.
The beauty of higher education is that even if you are not totally sure of your next step in life, a college degree gives you ample options. It can open doors to possibilities that you never knew existed.
How College Degrees Pay Off
In our complex global economy, the demand for skilled employees has never been greater. A 2016 Lumina Foundation Report indicated that 2 million jobs were unfilled in the U.S. because of the lack of qualified applicants for them. With two-thirds of all jobs being created requiring some form of post-secondary education or training, this gap will only increase in the years to come.
At the same time, statistics indicate that the pay gap between college graduates and those who do not possess degrees continues to grow. Figures from the U.S. Department of Education show that higher education attainment is associated with higher median earnings and lower unemployment rates.
Other Benefits of a College Degree
Research conducted by the College Board indicates that college, in general, improves the quality of people’s lives and of society as a whole. College-educated adults are:
- More likely to receive health insurance and pension benefits
- More active citizens, including more likely to vote and to participate om volunteer activities
- Have healthier lifestyles and reduced health care costs (less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise)
- Spend more time on their children's activities (mothers)
- More likely to move up the socioeconomic ladder
Benefits of Online Programs for Military Members and Veterans
Is the on-campus college experience important to you? Do you learn best face-to-face in a typical classroom setting? If so, a traditional, campus-based program may be the right fit for you to ensure you receive all of your desired goals out of your higher education endeavors.
However, if you are active military or a veteran with a career and family obligations, you might want to consider enrolling in an online-based education program. Online programs provide greater flexibility to organize and maintain your busy life while going to school. And if your duty station changes or you are deployed, it is possible to continue your studies without interruption, keeping you on the path to degree completion in a timely manner.
Some other important reasons to opt for an online program include:
- Year-round terms so you can start your program any time
- Ability to study from locations around the world with internet access
- Accessibility to a broader range of programs and specialization that may not be available at a local college or university
- Convenience to study on your own timetable
- Additional study time gained by eliminating travel to and from campus
- An abundance of academic resources and student services to help you succeed
- Engaging coursework with opportunities to interact with faculty and other students
Without a doubt, online education has become mainstream for good reason, and the number of adults enrolling in online courses goes up significantly every year.
Are You Ready For Online Learning?
Despite the advantages and high satisfaction rates of online learning, it is not for everyone. Taking courses online can present certain unique challenges than traditional classroom learning processes and procedures.
What Are Online Classes Really Like?
Online education is not intended to replicate a classroom lecture and reading it word-for-word on a computer screen or tablet. Rather, quality online courses are carefully designed to directly engage students with the course content at-hand, their fellow classmates, and their instructor.
Many college students feel more engaged in online courses than they ever did in traditional classes. No one can sit in the back of a large lecture hall and hide to avoid revealing that they didn’t do their required reading from the textbook the night before class. Instead, in an online setting, all students must participate by answering questions from the instructor, posting regularly to discussion boards, and completing assignments and exams that have specific deadlines. And just as in face-to-face classes, online courses often include collaborating with other students on group projects.
What Is Expected of Online Students?
Regardless of the field of study that you intend to pursue, from creative writing or cyber security to criminal justice or psychology, an online degree program requires you to:
- Make the time: Because online academic terms are shorter and more intense than on-campus semesters, online classes can often be more challenging that classroom-based courses. Online students typically spend between 9 and 12 hours per week on each course.
- Be self-motivated: Online education puts more responsibility on you, the student. You need to stay on top of assignments without the structure of a traditional classroom to guide you through each course, creating study habits and a study calendar, and then sticking to them.
- Be organized: Organization is imperative. Not only does it enable you to do your best work and complete assignments on time, but it also helps to eliminate stress when your days are exceptionally busy.
- Have an above-average comfort level with technology: You do not need to be a technology guru with many years of computer programming experience under your belt to be successful in an online program. Plus, you do not need sophisticated or expensive hardware and software. However, you do need a relatively up-to-date computer and a reliable, high-speed internet connection when it's time to log onto the course portal and complete an assignment or exam. You should also possess some basic technical skills and be comfortable navigating online.
- Have strong reading and writing skills: Strong reading and writing skills are essential to being a successful online student. Textbooks may be used in online courses, but you will also be reading digital materials online, such as PDFs, and this is obviously different from reading books. Additionally, since most communication is in text form, including classroom discussions, you should be prepared to do a lot of college-level writing that has some though and depth to it, unlike simple Facebook statuses or tweets.
Leverage Your Military Skills
While attaining a college degree means meeting high academic expectations, you can be confident that with your military background, you already possess a number of strengths that will greatly assist you in pursuing a degree online. Leveraging these attributes that you have honed during your military experience will help you be successful – and could actually give you a leg up compared to your fellow classmates who haven’t had the opportunities you already have had in your life.
Such military-related skills include:
- Time Management: Since routine and structure are integral to your military lifestyle, you know how to manage your time, which is critical to being an efficient college student. it's even more critical for online learners.
- Organization: Being organized is imperative to managing multiple assignments, courses, and deadlines, in addition to work and family responsibilities.
- Teamwork: Even in online courses, group projects are often part of the curriculum.
- Ability to prioritize: You already understand how to break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable goals and complete them according to their priority.
- Ability to make decisions: You understand what it takes to make both simple and important decisions. You don't waver. You assess, decide, and move forward.
- Perspective: Your life experiences and global perspective not only add value to class discussions and enrich the academic environment for your fellow classmates, but they also enable you to understand the relevance of coursework in the real world.
- Resiliency: You have dealt with the real world long enough to know how to bounce back from challenges and setbacks.
- Discipline: You know how to keep yourself focused and on task, even when you're under pressure to finish course assignments
As you can see, there are a number of fantastic reasons why military members and veterans should explore the possibility of earning a college degree. From solidifying a career track to aiding in their return to civilian life, there is no question that a degree can transform the quality of life for a service member after he or she valiantly serves our nation.
Consider Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University has a proud and rich history of educating both active-duty military members and veterans. In fact, we offer a number of online learning opportunities and Education Centers on several military bases around the United States.
Learn more on our military and veteran student services page.