Serving in the military requires a great deal of time and determination – so it’s clear you’re no stranger to hard work and commitment. Whether you see yourself pursuing a long-term career in the military or returning to civilian life down the road, a college degree can work to your advantage.
But can you go to college while in the military? Absolutely. In fact, it is becoming increasingly common for active duty and veteran members of the military to pursue college degrees. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 836,834 veterans took advantage of VA education benefits in 2021 alone.
While juggling school and the demands of military service will require some perseverance on your part, it absolutely can be done—and there are so many benefits to completing a college program as a service member.
College While in the Military
You can pursue the military in college and vice versa, but it's important to understand that not all schools are created equal. Specifically, you'll want to be on the lookout for colleges that have earned designations for being military-friendly and that accept military tuition assistance.
So, what exactly is a military-friendly college? Generally speaking, a military-friendly school is one that is committed to working with service members (both active duty and veterans) and supporting them in their educational journeys and beyond. These schools must meet important criteria when it comes to retention rates, job placement rates, and loan repayment rates.
Enrolling in a program through a military-friendly college can give you some added peace of mind and ensure that you have access to the support and resources you'll need as you pursue a degree while in the military. These programs also tend to have online options that make it possible for service members to complete their schooling from anywhere in the world on their own time.
Military Tuition Assistance
It's no secret that paying for school is expensive. In fact, according to research by the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of a four-year degree program in the United States now exceeds $36,000 per year.
The good news? There are plenty of education benefits and other assistance programs available exclusively to military members and veterans alike. These programs are available to all branches of the military, including the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy—and they can cover up to 100 percent of your college tuition.
In addition to programs for active-duty service members, there are also assistance programs offered to veterans to help offset and cover the costs of a college education.
Advantages of Pursuing a Degree While in the Military
If you're still not convinced that pursuing a degree while serving in the military is right for you, there are a few benefits to consider that may help sway your decision.
For starters, consider that the military offers promotion points or advancement credits for every college credit you earn. This means that regardless of your course of study, you can use your college experience to rank up faster while you're in the military. According to Veteran.com, some college and professional courses can be worth as many as 80 promotion points. These can add up quickly to help you build your rank while you gain valuable skills and knowledge that can help you in your future career.
Officers Need a Four-Year Degree
If you aspire to become a military officer, you should be aware that you'll need a minimum of a bachelor's degree to even be considered for this position. In fact, even enrolling in an officer training program within the military will require a four-year degree—so it's better to get the ball rolling on this now if you want to reach this rank during your military career. There are other positions within the military that may also require a certain level of education, so keep education expectations in mind when considering your military career prospects.
No matter what your specialty or area of the military may be, the reality is that active-duty members with college experience are more likely to get promoted than those without a college degree or any experience in higher education. A lot of this has to do with the fact that college courses help you develop the skills you'll need to succeed in ways that on-the-job training simply cannot.
Earn Your Degree Online or On-Base
These days, it's easier than ever to get a college degree—even while you're actively serving in the military. Long gone are the days of needing to be physically present on a college campus to attend classes. Instead, military students now have the option to earn their degrees online if they so choose; these flexible online programs make higher education more accessible to military members who may be based outside the country.
Of course, for those who prefer a more hands-on experience, in-person programs are still available. In some cases, a combination of both online and in-person classes may also be feasible. Regardless, military members now have more options than ever when it comes to pursuing their degrees and working around their already-demanding schedules.
Financial Help and Scholarship Availability
With plenty of financial aid and scholarship opportunities available, affording college as a military service member or veteran is easier than you might think. The Department of Defense Military Tuition Assistance program, for example, offers financial assistance to active-duty service members up to the amount of $250 per semester credit hour (with a limit of $4,500 per year). For many military students, this can pay for the majority or even all of a college program.
Likewise, many military-friendly schools offer special scholarships and other financial aid opportunities to make higher education more affordable for military students.
Opportunities for Military Students
In addition to the benefits listed above, there are some other advantages and unique career opportunities that you may be able to enjoy when you pursue your college degree in the military. From gaining a competitive edge over other job applicants to higher earning potential, military students have a lot going for them after they complete their respective programs.
Get a Head Start When You Transition to Civilian Life
If you have plans to return to civilian life and embark on a new career down the road, then pursuing your college degree now will help you expedite your transition after you complete your military service. Rather than waiting to enroll until after you're done serving in the military, obtaining your degree while you're active duty means that you'll be ready for the shift to civilian life right away.
Rather than spending years in college after completing your military service, you can use the degree you've already earned to begin applying for jobs in your desired field immediately.
Enjoy Higher Earnings and Career Potential
According to research by the United States Social Security Administration (SSA), people with bachelor's degrees earn between $630,000 and $900,000 more in their lifetimes than those with high school diplomas alone. If you're serious about maximizing your earnings, then there's no reason to wait until after you complete your military service to pursue your degree. Instead, getting your degree now will allow you to start earning more earlier in life, which will add up. Whether you decide to stay in a military position to explore a civilian career, your earnings potential will always be higher when you have a formal degree under your belt.
In addition to the potential to earn more money, people with college degrees also tend to have an easier time finding jobs in their preferred fields. Today, more employers than ever are looking for candidates with at least some kind of college education—so completing a college program while in the military can prepare you for more success in the job market later.
Get Job Training During Your Service
Depending on the program in which you enroll, pursuing a college degree while in the military can also empower you to gain some valuable job training during your military service. This training can pay off by helping you build practical skills that are relevant to your studies.
Being enrolled in college while you're serving in the military also presents a great opportunity to start building your work-related skills that can help set you apart from your competition.
What Else Do You Need to Know?
As you can see, there are so many benefits to pursuing your college degree while you're in the military. Of course, it's also important to acknowledge the inherent challenges of taking college courses while meeting the demands of your military service.
As you begin exploring your options for a school and higher education program, there are some things worth keeping in mind. For starters, ensure you have a solid support system. Whether it's fellow military members, family members, friends, or a combination thereof, having people you can count on to keep you motivated makes all the difference.
Likewise, take the time to research your college options and choose the one that will best serve you as a military student. Explore military-friendly colleges for the resources and support you'll need throughout your educational journey—and make sure that the school you're considering offers the degree or area of study that you're interested in.
Last but certainly not least, be sure that the school you end up selecting is accredited. Accreditation refers to a voluntary process that some undergo to assure students that their programs have met or exceeded certain quality standards across the board. Having a degree from an accredited institution will give your degree more clout and bearing when it comes time to apply for jobs in your field.
Begin Pursuing a Higher Education Today
Whether you envision yourself continuing your military career or returning to civilian life, having a college degree can enhance your job prospects while improving your earnings potential and preparing you for long-term success. If you're serious about your college career and military readiness, seeking a degree from a military-friendly school can make all the difference.
At Lindenwood University Online, we're proud to support military students and their commitment to service, offering the resources and learning opportunities they need to build their technical and leadership skills. Plus, with plenty of fully online programs to choose from, you can select one that works with your demanding schedule.
Ready to learn more about all that Lindenwood University Online has to offer military students - including special military tuition rates and other educational benefits? Get in touch today to request more information!