When should I start an advanced degree program?

If you are a new military member, you will get fire-hosed with military indoctrination and job position training when you first enter the military. This can take from several months to several years depending on your service and military career field.

Once you’re through the initial training, I suggest taking a month or two to let things settle down and think about things. Then talk yourself (and family, friends and supervisor for support) into a commitment to get started on your college degree.

(In the Air Force, you are automatically entered into an associate degree program through CCAF. In other services, you continue training also, and much of that can transfer into college credit.)

Here are some points to consider for starting a degree program as soon as possible:

  • It takes 6-10 years for a service member to finish a bachelor’s degree. Military statistics show this, and it’s mainly because you will have competing military-related priorities (increased ops tempo, deployments, moves, etc.)
  • Your responsibilities increase with time. Increased job requirements, possibly a family, etc. may start taking away from your available study time, possibly making it more difficult to work a degree program into your schedule.
  • Many military education benefits are available to you. Military members receive annual tuition assistance (TA) money of $4,500 per year. But note, you can’t recover the annual unused funds. So each year that you don’t work on your degree, it’s like leaving money on the table. Also, many schools offer military benefits, like scholarships and discounts, specifically to service members.
  • The new Post 9/11 GI Bill allows you to pass on benefits to dependents. The more of your education you pay for using TA funds, the more you can pass on to your family. Also, many schools offer military spouse benefits.
  • The material you learn in college courses will often be useful immediately. This helps you in your current job, and it can help with promotions. It also helps you know whether you are really on a career path you like. If you realize you’re not, it provides you more time to change direction.

Here are some tips from me about how to approach your studies:

  • It is often easier to take one course at a time with periodic breaks (even if you are deployed) than to try to take several courses at a time with no breaks later on in your career.
  • Once you start, try to keep a steady completion pace. Take periodic breaks for things like holiday seasons or summer vacations. This can help keep you fresh and motivated.
  • Consider talking to a good friend about going to school with you. This can really help in the motivation area.
  • Make sure you do periodic career planning that includes what education objectives you need to achieve to be successful in competing for future jobs both in and out of the military. This will help set a schedule for what you need to take and when.  Advanced education should be a life-long journey, not every month of every year but a steady pace that will position you for promotions and career changes. (See my Career Planning Advice for Military Members series, Part 1 and Part 2)

Also see the other two articles in this series, Why do I Need an Advanced Degree? and How Can I Pay for a College Degree?

Any comments or questions – please add to this blog post or contact me directly at paul.capicik@americansentinel.edu or 800-470-3743.

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