By Peter Sessum
I initially wrote this for tumblr, but thought it could be useful information to be shared on the website. After seeing a few questions being asked about education benefits in the military, I thought I would throw my two cents in. Here is what I posted. There is an update at the bottom for those that read this on tumblr.
First, always ask your recruiter about education benefits. If it isn’t in your contract, you don’t have it. The GI Bill is something they offer one time in basic, you have one shot to get it so take it! If you don’t you are a complete idiot and please never speak to me.
Here is how the GI Bill works (or at least worked) They take out $100 a month for a year. That turns into money for four years of college. The new GI Bill fucking rocks if you are active. (It is still good, but not as good if you are reserve or NG) But let me cover that in a second.
So try and get college loan repayment if you have current loans or money for college for when you get out. Go talk to a recruiter in a more affluent area because they know they have to work harder to get people. As much as it sucks, in a low income area they figure people are happy to get out of there and don’t offer as much.
Okay, so now you joined and are at your first duty station. First thing, hit the military education center. Trust me on this. Sign up for military correspondence courses that are for your MOS. It is free, they send you a couple books, you take the test and send it in. Then they send you a new book for every completed test you send it.
Here is why you do that. First, you don’t know what your training schedule is like and if you can handle taking classes. Second, it will reflect well upon you because so few people do it. Your chain of command will think you are a hard working soldier right out the gate. Third, it gives you time to practice study habits when you aren’t wasting any money. And most importantly, it is promotion points. In a couple years while everyone else is scrambling for promotion points, you will be maxed out on military education. 50 promotion points might be the difference between making rank and not.
Now that you have good study habits and know how much off duty time you have. Go to the civilian education center and check out the classes there. They have the University of Maryland and something else, I can’t remember offhand. Take what classes you can. Get all your knucklehead stuff out the way so your time at college will be easier. Since you have shown that you are a hard charger, your chain of command might be a little flexible on your schedule to let you take the classes.
When you get out, man that time flew by, check out GI Jobs list of military friendly schools. Some states, like Illinois, give free tuition to vets for state school. Some colleges give tuition breaks for vets. University of Washington (UW) gives 50 percent off for either your bachelors or Masters but not both. With the education you have from your time in, hopefully you will speed through school.
Get your ATARS, it is a military transcript. It will give you college credit for your time in the military. Basic training will cover all PE credits. You MOS school might cover some electives or more. I know a guy that got 35 credits for his military training because it was kind of in the field he was going. He had the GI Bill, kicker and college fund. He was making $3,500 a month going to school.
You should also join the national guard or reserves when you get out. It will keep you connected with military people so there won’t be the culture shock getting out. Also, the Tuition Assistance (TA) will help pay for school. “But I have the GI Bill, it pays for school” you say. That might be true, but you can get that money in your pocket if you are smart. I went to UW and they gave me half off tuition, TA covered the rest. The GI Bill tuition money went into my pocket at the start of each quarter.
So there is the lesson. Take whatever education benefits you can get. Even if you don’t feel like doing college now, you have 10 years after you get out to use them. Take military and civilian education if you can fit it in. Then go to town on college when you get out. Now go spread the word.
Update: Keep in mind, as for as the military is concerned, you are joining to become a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine. You can join the military to go to college later but you cannot join to be a college student. If you only want to be a college student, then go to college.
Because the military will put your job above all else, there is no promise that you will get the chance to take college classes. Someone that reads this will have a jerk squad leader that will give him or her duty on the night of classes just to be a jerk. Sure, he will say it is because the military comes first, but really he is just being a dick.
On the flip side, there are also great NCOs that will fight for their Soldier/Sailor/Airman/Marine to go to school. The Navy brings college professors on floats with them to teach classes out at sea. From what I gather, the Navy is pretty big on continuing education. Of course there is little else to do on a boat for six months and idle hands and all that.
Also, anyone that goes to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) will leave not just with a new language but enough credits to get an associate’s degree in that country/region that the language is spoken in. For example, leaning Russian will give an AA in Russian studies.
In the end it is great to go in with a plan. People that join with a plan and those that improve themselves while in have a better time in the military. A military career really is what you make it. However, be flexible. Some people might find out that their job takes up too much time to want to try and do college while serving. That is fine too. Priorities change after a while so the best thing is to have a pan, but be open to change. No matter what, good luck. And seriously, if you don’t do the GI Bill after I have told you, we can never speak again.