Thinking about pursuing a degree while serving in the military? If so, then it's really all about finding the right balance between your military service and the pursuit of higher education. While the idea of completing a degree program while serving your country may seem daunting, the reality is that many service members do successfully obtain bachelor's and even master's degrees while active-duty.
These days, virtual schooling makes higher education more accessible for service members—but being able to juggle coursework and military duty will require some foresight and planning on your part.
Why Finding Your Balance Matters
More than likely, your military service is already a full-time position. You have a lot on your plate, and pursuing a degree on top of that can put a lot of strain on your already limited free time. By finding your ideal balance between military duty and schoolwork, you can avoid unnecessary stress and burnout.
What Challenges Might You Face?
Time management is the biggest challenge you'll face when pursuing a degree as an active-duty service member. Depending on the demands of your military work, your free time may be limited—and your hours may be less than ideal. Finding time to work in school and meet academic deadlines can further disrupt your schedule and consume much of your free time.
Likewise, taking on too much coursework at once could cause you to become overwhelmed. Your performance in your military service may suffer, which could lead to demerits or other unintended consequences. Meanwhile, you may have a hard time keeping up with your school deadlines, and your academic performance may suffer.
Cost is another obstacle for many service members wanting to pursue a degree. The average cost of a bachelor’s degree in the United States is about $35,500 annually. Being in the Army and paying for college can be difficult, especially when you consider that the average base pay for an Army service member is just over $21,000 per year.
Benefits of Military Service and College Education
Despite the challenges, there are some major advantages to both serving in the military and pursuing an education.
Military Service Benefits
Being an active-duty service member comes with all kinds of practical benefits, ranging from excellent and low-cost healthcare to hefty enlistment bonuses and more. Likewise, completing your service in the military may also entitle you to some great retirement and pension plans, as well as other benefits like special home loan options (including VA loans).
When it comes to military and Army college benefits, service members are also eligible for a number of grants and other programs to make paying for school easier. The Montgomery Bill, Army Tuition Assistance, and GI Bill programs are all options to consider to help you afford your education while serving.
Likewise, serving in the military can be a very rewarding experience. You'll build camaraderie with others while learning a wide range of skills that can serve you later in life. You'll also be serving your country with pride, fulfilling a calling that drew you toward military service in the first place.
College Education Benefits
Of course, having a degree can also serve you well—especially in today's economy. These days, more employers are looking to hire workers who have a college degree. In this sense, having a degree can open more job opportunities for you later in life and after you've completed your military service. Consider, too, that college graduates earn an average of 65% more than people who only completed high school.
Pursuing a degree allows you to focus on an area of study that genuinely interests you, building your knowledge and expertise so you can work in your desired industry down the road.
How They Can Work Together
As difficult as it may seem, working toward a college degree while serving in the military can help you reap a combination of these benefits. The persistence, dedication, and other skills you learn from your military service will serve you well in school. Likewise, the knowledge you take away from your courses may be applicable to your work in the military. Regardless, striking that ideal balance between military service and higher education can allow you to achieve personal, military, and long-term career goals.
Strategies to Help You Find Your Balance
So, what are some tips you should keep in mind as you strive to find your ideal balance between the military and college?
Research Military-Friendly Schools
Start by finding the right school. Ideally, you'll want to find one that caters specifically to active-duty military members. This means not just offering online programs but also having instructors and faculty members who understand the unique challenges of pursuing a degree while serving your country. Ideally, the school that you choose will also offer specific benefits for service members, such as an online network that can connect you with other active-duty students.
Explore Online Classes
Finding a degree program that can be completed 100% online will also be a must if you're planning to attend school while serving in the military. Online courses are a great way to learn at your own pace and on your own schedule, making it easier for you to work around your military duties. Look for a program option that's mostly asynchronous, so you can access course materials at your own pace and won't need to attend any real-time course discussions or lectures.
Find Your Support System
Finding your ideal balance between military service and school is hard, but having a network of support can make all the difference. "Traditional" college students rely on a close network of friends, peers, and family members to get through their programs—and being an active-duty service member is no different. You need to build your own network of academic advisors, peers, and possibly even fellow service members who can help you stay on track and accountable for both your schoolwork and your military work.
Moving Forward in Your Military Career
What else do you need to keep in mind as you prepare to enroll in a degree program? From your short- and long-term goals to your potential future in the military, there's a lot to take into consideration. Here are a couple of practical tips for planning your schooling while moving forward with your military career.
Know Your Goals
Take some time to set a few realistic goals for yourself, both in the short- and long-term. Realistic is the key term here, as you cannot expect to succeed if you have too much on your plate. Many service members find more success taking a part-time courseload (such as one or two classes) to start, rather than overwhelming themselves with too many classes.
Find Your Military Path
Consider, too, your future with the military. Do you plan to use your degree to further your military rank and career—or do you plan to go into a different industry completely once you finish your service? This will help you decide what type of degree program may be right for you.
Cumberlands Supports Military Members in Furthering Education
At University of the Cumberlands, we believe that you shouldn't have to choose between the military or college. With support from our dedicated team and programs designed specifically with your needs in mind, you can have the best of both worlds. Get in touch today to learn more about our offerings for military students!