Posted by: Dan | June 11, 2012


Throughout your military career, your path was mostly dictated to you. Go to boot camp. Go to infantry school. Go to Fort Bragg and join the 82nd Airborne. Go to Iraq. Return home briefly. Go to Afghanistan. Repeat.

Now, you’re transitioning from the military. No one will dictate your path. Without guidance, the options can feel overwhelming.  You’re faced with a lot of choices. Should you seek a job with a role similar to the one you had in the military? Should you try a new role?  Should you earn a degree?

College can serve as one path into the civilian business world and can provide substantial benefits. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce published a study in 2011. They found that those who earn a bachelor’s degree could earn an average of $2.3 million over their lifetime, while those with only a high school diploma earn an average of $1.3 million (approximately $15/hour). However, college may not be the right choice for everyone. Here are some ways to find out what is best for you.

1. Do your homework. What types of careers are you interested in? All degrees won’t lead to your desired career. It’s important to research career options and starting salaries for majors that you’re interested in. Some college graduates aren’t finding work, and some who find work have to settle for jobs unrelated to their major. Starting salaries in the last 2-3 years are lower for college graduates than they have previously been.  Many jobs require a bachelor’s degree, so earning one will make it possible to apply to more jobs.  In addition, if you choose a vocational major (accounting, criminal justice, computer science, cybersecurity, nursing, etc), college could help you develop professional skills, which could make you even more desirable to employers. Also, earning a college degree makes you well-rounded which may enable you to take on a wider variety of roles.

2. What are your interests? Consider working part-time during college to learn more about your interests and what college programs match those interests. Class advisors and professors can help you find a major that’s right for you and will lead you to a successful career. Or, if you have concerns balancing a full-time program, consider attending school part-time. This will give you experience in a new profession while also earning your degree.

3. Alternative education programs. You could pursue a trade school to develop vocational or technical skills. There are automotive, plumbing, and electrician trade school programs, among others.  Congress recently passed the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program which offers up to 12 months training assistance to unemployed veterans.  Last, community colleges often provide a less expensive option to earn a quality degree, while providing you with more flexibility with your class schedule.

No matter which option you pursue, it is critical to understand the details of the 9/11 GI Bill and speak with school financial aid offices to learn how much coverage you will receive. Click here to learn more about the 9/11 GI Bill.

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