MilSpouses: Going Back to School

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We all know that furthering your education can boost your earning power, help you climb the career ladder, and widen the range of jobs available to you. But it can be rough when you’re a Military Spouse. PCSing and the strains of Military life can make it seem impossible to get the degree you want. Here are some tips from the Military Community & Family Policy:

 

SECO

The Department of Defense (DoD) Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program offers all Military Spouses assistance with career exploration by identifying education, training, and financial aid resources as well as linking Spouses to potential employment. You can speak with a SECO Education and Career Counselor through  Military OneSource.

Education or Continuing Education Office

Most installations have an Education or Continuing Education Office that can provide information about local or online colleges and universities as well as community-based training programs. Many also offer General Educational Development (GED) and college preparatory classes as well as college-level classes.

Career & Education Goal Setting

Ask yourself these questions:

What’s my personal goal? By setting personal goals, you can see whether or not going back to school is really necessary.  If your true personal goal is to travel the world with your family or dedicate yourself to your children by being a full-time, stay-at-home mom, maybe grounding yourself into a career isn’t the answer. It’s OK to be honest with yourself about what you want out of life.

What’s my career goal? Let’s say you’ve determined that part of your personal goal includes going back to school. You then need to get an idea of what your career goal is. Is it high pay, a good work-life balance, job satisfaction?

What education do I need to reach my  goal? What are the minimum education requirements of the career you want to go into? You may need a full Bachelor’s degree, an associates, or maybe a certificate. Not everything requires 4 years of school. Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook to see the education and training needed for certain occupations.

Are there jobs in my field?  How many positions there are in your field determines if you have to relocate or can find something locally. You have to figure out if you’re willing, or even can, relocate for a job before you get started down the path of your career goal.  Also consider whether that job market is expected to grow, shrink, or stay about the same a few years down the road. For example, being an Editor for a traditional hardcopy newspaper may not be your best bet – try getting training in digital editing instead.

Is now the best time to go back to school? Consider family and work responsibilities as well as the benefits available through your Spouse. Does it make sense to go back to school at this time in your life? Will there be a better time to go back to school later? It can be frustrating to have to say “yeah, now isn’t the time,” but it will be better for you and your family in the long run.

Choosing a Program of Study

Depending on the career path you choose, you may be required to obtain an occupational license issued by the state in which you will be employed.  Other requirements may be certification of training, a degree from a 2 or 4 year college, or a graduate degree. Typically, you will take more courses to earn a degree than you will to earn a certificate. Here’s how it breaks down:

Certification: Some skilled professions are taught at community colleges or technical schools. The requirements for certification are set by professional or industry organizations. Before enrolling, call the Spouse Career Center to make sure the school is accredited and licensed.

Associate degree: In most cases, you can  earn an associate’s degree after completing about twenty classes. Typically, students will earn an associate degree from a 2 year community college.

Bachelor degree: 4 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 area of professional practice beyond the requirements of a bachelor’s degree.  Master’s degrees in education, social work, and physical therapy are often required in order to obtain a state license to practice; a master’s in business administration (MBA) is a popular advanced degree needed to work in business management.  Other advanced professional degrees are required for practice in a specific field such as a doctor of medicine, juris doctor (a law degree), and doctor of optometry.  A doctoral degree is the highest academic degree level.

PCSing

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) let you continue your studies without losing credit if you move. With distance learning, coursework is delivered electronically through the Internet or via mail.

Cost

We’re not going to lie, 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.  Call a SECO counselor at Military OneSource for more information on any of the following programs that can  help offset some of the costs:

Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MYCAA): MyCAA is a program for Spouses of Junior Servicemembers (E1-E5, O1-O2, W1-W2) serving on Title 10 active duty  that can help cover the costs — up to $4,000 — if you are seeking an associate degree or a license or credential in a portable career field such as nursing, dental hygienist, or K-12 education.

Post-9/11 GI Bill: Eligible Military personnel may be able to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their Spouse.

Scholarships: Military OneSource can assist you with identifying schools and private organizations that offer Military Spouses scholarship opportunities.

In-state college tuition: All states receiving federal funds are required to offer active-duty Servicemembers and their families in-state tuition rates if they are stationed in their state.

Federal financial aid : The 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, which is 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 Service branch offers financial assistance to Spouses who reside with Servicemembers stationed overseas. Assistance is awarded based on financial need.

 

You can also visit the Education Office on your installation for more information on financial aid, scholarships, grants, and loans to help pay for your education. If you aren’t near an installation, National Guard Family Assistance Centers are available in every state. The Local Community Resource Finder at the National Guard Family Program will identify your closest center. Many websites also provide advice on making college affordable. Be sure to look at financial aid programs at the Department of Education.

 

We hope this helps! Do you have tips for Spouses looking to further their education?

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