Military and Veteran Degrees
America’s service members are a microcosm of the nation. Every demographic in society is represented within their ranks. For some, joining the military was the best choice for their futures. For others, it was the only choice that could get them experience and an education.
In most services, getting a college degree awards promotion points for enlisted service members. In all services, an commissioned officer must have a college degree. But why?
To obtain a college degree is no easy accomplishment. It requires countless hours of reading, study, writing, and research. Even so, the path to a college degree develops within a student’s mind the ability to analyze and synthesize information. It sharpens a student’s critical thinking abilities.
Given the inherent danger and ambiguity required of military service, Critical Thinking is most necessary for leaders at all levels of the service. From the dirt-chewing Team Leader to the Commanding General, all leaders must have the ability to take information, analyze it, and make decisions that impact the mission.
Getting a degree while in the military benefits the service member, their service, and America.
Choosing a College Degree Program
What are your career goals?
The first step to getting a college degree is deciding to get one. That’s hard enough. But then, you see the dozens of programs available, covering even more subject areas than you’ve ever heard of. Which one do you pick? What should you study?
That depends on what your career goals are. Life in the military does not last forever, and most depart their service before retirement. Your immediate and future career goals should play a large part in helping you decide what you should study.
Personal interest or past military training?
In the service, were you a medic or corpsman? Maybe that’s a path you wish to continue.
If you worked in an IT field like Cyber Security or Information Assurance, transitioning to those fields is fairly easy to do.
But what if you want to do something else?
Despite popular belief, not all Infantrymen go on to careers in law enforcement and private security. Many do because they love it. However, many service members move on to other career fields that are different from the career fields they had in the service.
If you have a past personal interest in a subject or activity, do not ignore those interests, as they may be the key to finding the path you really wish to travel. Hobbies and volunteer work are also great indicators of what your passions are.
Remember, not all career fields require high-levels of education, or even college degrees in some cases. Some job fields simply require experience and certifications.
Choosing the Right Degree Level
Once you’ve set career goals, congratulations! Most people don’t even do that.
Now, research the education level required for your goal.
One fantastic resource that can assist here is the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published and maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Before the internet became a thing, this resource was a 3-4 volume tome found in the reference sections of most libraries. Now, it’s available online.
Let’s say that you’ve decided to become an Architect. Regardless of your military experience, or even because of it, you’ve realized that this job field is where you belong.
Using the BLS entry for Architect, you discover that there are three steps you must take to achieve your career goal:
- Complete bachelor’s degree in Architecture
- Gain experience through paid internships
- Pass the Architect Registration Examination
Just using that one tool has already shown what degree level you must pursue in order to become what you want to be.
Use the Occupational Outlook Handbook to discover the degree requirements for your dream.
Next Choose a School
Okay, so you’ve chosen your desired career field, and you’ve just discovered the degree requirements for entry into that career. Now you must choose a school.
While that may sound challenging because there are so many colleges and universities today, College Recon is here to help.
To assist military and veteran students find VA-approved schools, College Recon’s School Search tool will help you find the best school for your situation. It was designed exclusively for the military community.
Using College Recon’s search tool, you can filter by many different parameters:
- Area of Study
- Type of School (public or private)
- Delivery (online or in-person)
- Campus location (urban, suburb, rural, etc.)
- Religious Affiliation
- Ethnic Affiliation
- Veteran Programs (Yellow Ribbon, Tuition Assistance, etc.)
So, continuing with our example, you’ve chosen to become an Architect, and you’ve selected that area of study in College Recon’s School Search tool. The results give you over 400 schools that offer bachelor’s degrees in Architecture.
To narrow your results further, the type of school you want is a 4-year public university that offers in-person classes, preferably in an urban environment. The results from the search now list 84 colleges.
Now, let’s say you’re a veteran from New York, and you want to narrow the results by those schools in the state that participate in the Yellow Ribbon program. Those search results are now down to 2 colleges.
You then research each school to discover which one suits you best.
Decide between online and in-person programs
In today’s society, every agency, institution, and business must have an online presence if it is going to survive.
Early adopters of online delivery for education were usually for-profit schools, like the University of Phoenix, which launched its online platform in 1989. While it went through boom-bust cycles revolving around poor graduation rates and student debt loads, most brick-and mortar universities now offer online programs.
In light of COVID-19, those schools that had not yet switched to online delivery were forced to do so to continue operating. Online learning is here to stay, and gone are the days when internet universities were ridiculed for being “diploma mills”.
Yes, there are bad schools out there.
Yes, they target veterans and military students.
However, because the Internet made online learning possible, it also brought a heightened sense of accountability.
As a military or veteran student, you will certainly face the option of taking courses online or in-person. The key is knowing what to look for when choosing one over the other.
College Recon has researched and compiled resources, like the Best Online Colleges for Veterans, that explain what makes some schools and programs different from others.
There are pros and cons to each approach, either online or on campus. Some schools have even started offering hybrid programs, where some coursework is completed online and the rest is done in person.
Only you can decide which program is best for you. And that happens best when you have the most information before making a decision.
Degrees by Level
Professional / Certificates
Many colleges offer certificate programs that condense a subject area down into an essential knowledge base. They can have as few as three courses, or as many as eight. They are designed for completion within a semester or two.
These are important for someone who is switching careers and needs to show some level of training to land an entry-level job. Or, for a recent high school graduate who wants to get the knowledge but not the degree, certificates could be the best choice.
For example, if a Veteran already has a non-IT degree, and they wish to pursue an IT career, then certificate programs are a great way to learn fundamental concepts of the new career field. It also gives the Veteran a marketable achievement to show when they apply for jobs.
Associate degrees are considered undergraduate degrees that commonly take about two years to complete. In most cases, an associate degree requires the completion of 60 semester credits.
Associate degrees are designed to give students the basic knowledge of their chosen career fields. Most two-year degrees, but not all of them, can be transferred to four-year degree programs, especially if a student remains in the same university system for both programs.
Community colleges are a hub for Associates Degrees. They offer a more practical and targeted approach to career training than some universities who focus more on theory than application.
The most common types of associate degrees are:
- Associate of Arts (AA)
- Associate of Science (AS)
- Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
- Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)
Generally speaking, the “Applied” portion of the title indicates a program that focuses on practical, vocational applications. The regular AA and AS degrees are those that focus on preparing students for transfer to higher levels of academic study. However, a student who achieves an AA or AS degree is not required to continue their studies past those degrees.
Remember, not all career fields require a 4-year degree. For example, while a Dentist requires a 4-year degree and a doctorate degree, the entry level education for a Dental Hygienist is an Associates Degree.
The Bachelor Degree is the most popular and widely held degree for college graduates. Most bachelor degrees are awarded through regionally accredited liberal arts schools. A bachelor degree is considered a “post-secondary undergraduate degree” and can also be known as a baccalaureate degree.
The most common types of bachelor degrees are:
- Bachelor of Arts (BA)
- Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
- Bachelor of Science (BS)
They are required for further graduate education at the Masters and Doctoral levels, and they have historically been the key requirement for the best paying jobs.
These degree programs are the upper level of undergraduate education and take approximately four years to complete. In most cases, a bachelor degree requires 120 semester credits to complete.
A Master’s Degree is the first step in graduate level education, also called post-graduate work. They typically require advanced study in a specific area, and they can take anywhere between 1-3 years to complete.
Some master’s programs require as few as 30 semester credits, while others require substantially more.
There are so many different types of master’s programs:
- Master of Science (MS)
- Master of Arts (MA)
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
- Master of Divinity (MDV)
- Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)
- Master of Education (MED)
- Master of Public Administration (MPA)
- Master of Public Health (MPH)
- Master of Arts in Religion (MAR)
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
In order to get into any master’s program, a student would need to first complete a bachelor’s degree. Many who pursue a master’s degree are looking for advanced knowledge in the subject area and advancement within their career field.
A common misunderstanding for master’s programs is that you must already have an undergraduate degree in the same subject. This is false.
In most cases, students who change majors at the master’s level have no problems completing the coursework. In very specialized fields like Computer Science or Accounting, for example, students may have to complete additional coursework to qualify for acceptance into a specialized program if their undergraduate degree is not in the same field.
A Doctorate Degree is considered to be the highest level of academic achievement. They are available in almost every subject, and those who complete them are considered authorities in their fields of study.
It can take anywhere from 4 to 8 years to complete a doctorate degree, but there are some programs that can be completed in less time. It depends on the course of study, the students full- or part-time status, and the school.
There are generally two types of doctorate degrees: theoretical and applied/professional. A theoretical degree can be identified by the “PhD” designation; while the applied programs are specific to a career field:
- MD (Doctor of Medicine)
- JD (Juris Doctor)
- DBA (Doctor of Business Administration)
- DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery)
The road to a doctorate degree is a long one, and it must be something you’re motivated to do. Many four-year programs require between 90-120 semester credits for completion.
Popular Degree Programs for Former Military
The following career fields are those to which many military and veterans are drawn.
Criminal Justice Degrees
Members of our military and Veterans have a natural instinct to protect. That’s why they serve. This is probably why many veteran students study Criminal Justice at college.
A degree in Criminal Justice extends beyond the local police force. With specialties in homeland security and crime scene analysis, graduates of Criminal Justice programs are well suited to become leaders at the local, state, and federal levels.
Criminal Justice is one of the top degrees for military veterans. Learn more about Criminal Justice Degree Programs.
Nursing is by and large one of the fastest growing career fields in the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for Nurse Practitioners is expected to grow 45% between 2020-2030.
Given the pandemic, and the rapidly evolving synthesis between medicine and technology, the Nursing field is a stable and reputable career choice for many in the military community.
There are different levels of nursing, each with varying degree requirements. For example, while a master’s degree is required for most Nurse Practitioner positions, the typical entry-level education for a Registered Nurse is a bachelor’s degree.
By contrast, to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), a student need only complete a diploma program in nursing. These vocational programs generally take a year to complete and are commonly offered at community colleges.
To find out more about military degrees in Nursing, read:
Emergency Medical Technician Degrees
Like all first responders, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are a key part of the safety of our communities. This career field is expected to grow faster than average over the next decade.
Many people think EMTs only ride on ambulances racing to save someone’s life. While that is true, EMTs are employed at sporting events, concerts, and theme parks. Wherever there are people, there is probably an EMT nearby.
Like some nursing positions, the typical entry-level is a post-secondary diploma, usually offered at community colleges. Some municipalities also offer paid training to those who wish to become EMTs, so be sure to check websites local to you.
Due to the specialized nature of this career field, degree programs in Paramedic Studies usually stay around the associate degree level.
For more information, check out Paramedics & EMTs: Certificates, Degrees, and Job Opportunities.
From the Navy’s legendary SeaBees to the Army’s rock-solid Corps of Engineers, many military veterans have gained invaluable experiences in construction (and destruction) throughout their careers.
Often called Construction Management, these professionals plan, budget, and supervise building projects of all scales and types. This career field is expected to grow faster than the national average over the next decade. The 2020 median pay was $97,180.
Engineering is a vast and important field in today’s world. There are as many subfields within engineering as there are medical specialists.
From the Civil Engineers who build and maintain our nation’s infrastructure, to the Aerospace Engineers who advance spacecraft and satellites, engineering is a dynamic and exciting field in which to work.
Electrical engineers design, develop, test and supervise the manufacture of electrical equipment. You may have noticed that humans use electrical devices every single day. Those phones, toasters, and automobiles exist thanks to the work of electrical engineers.
Check out Getting a Degree in Electrical Engineering for more information.
Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices. Again, machines are everywhere, and our future is guaranteed to have them as well. Those who perfect and improve the machines we use are mechanical engineers.
Read Getting Your Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering to find out more.
Teaching is likely one of the oldest professions on the planet. For as long as humans have been alive, there has been someone teaching them about new discoveries and knowledge we’ve obtained.
It is hard to imagine that you have come this far in life without having a teacher of some kind. Whether through the public school system, from homeschooling parents, a religious leader, or even a sports coach, teachers are everywhere.
As a military member or veteran, you have been a teacher to someone at some point in your career. For this reason, many military degree seekers choose Teaching as a career field. It’s stable, predictable, and rewarding.
However, one of the fastest growing fields of teaching is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Because English is considered the Lingua Franca of today’s professional and academic society, there is a growing need for teachers of English.
Breaking into this field is not as hard as one might think. Sure, today you can Get a Degree in Teaching English (TESOL) from a growing number of colleges and universities. But there are also abridged programs, like the Certificate for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Whether you choose to teach at the K-12, community college, or university level, there will always be positions in this stable career field.
Information Technology Degree
Information Technology (IT) is the fastest growing and most dynamic career field the professional world has ever seen.
Every business, non-profit, and government entity relies on their information systems every single day.
Working within the IT field can lead to any number of careers:
- Network Architects
- Computer Programmers
- Systems Analysts
- Database Administrators
- Information Security Analysts
- Network Administrators
- Software Developers
- Web Developers
- Cybersecurity Analysts
The list goes on, and it will continue to grow as we develop and harness new technology. For those Veteran and military degree seekers, the IT field is as lucrative and rewarding as they come.
For information about all levels of IT education, read Getting a Degree in Information Technology as a Veteran or Military for more information.
For those looking for specific information about graduate level education, then Getting your Master’s Degree in Information Technology is a great place to start.
Business makes the world work. Behind every idea, product, service, or creation, there are those who work to sell and deliver them.
According to the US Small Business Administration, there were 31.7 million small businesses in the United States in 2020. A small business is any independent business that has fewer than 500 employees. For comparison, there were only 20,139 large businesses during the same period.
The sheer number of businesses within our nation is likely why many veteran and military degree seekers choose to enter the business world after they leave the service.
There are business degrees at all levels of education. Business degrees for military veterans are one of the most popular programs at all degree levels.
For a breakdown of these different programs, read Getting a Degree in Business Administration for Military & Veterans. Here, College Recon outlines the various levels of education, typical jobs by degree level, and even some applicable scholarships for veterans and military.
More of our trending resources include:
- Hot Degrees for Vets: Business Administration
- Scholarships for Those Going Into Business
- How to Determine if Business School is Right for You
- Agribusiness: Degrees and Careers for Military & Veterans
CLEP Test for Military
The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) is a great way to obtain college credit for subjects you already know.
For just a fraction of the cost of a college course, military and veteran students can earn college credit through examination.
CLEP exams last between 90-120 minutes, and are administered at over 2,000 test centers around the world.
There are tests in over 30 specific tests from the following subject areas:
- Social Science
- Composition & Literature
- World Languages
Each test costs $89, and if you’re a military member, then your exam may be free.
Read CLEP tests for military to find out more.
College Credit for Military Service
Currently, there are about 1,700 military friendly colleges and universities that accept transfer credit for military service. A partnership between the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Department of Defense (DoD) allows schools to translate some military schools and training into college credit.
While it is worth noting that not all military training is worth college credit, some military degree seekers are getting between 60-90 credit hours for their military experiences. The amount transferred also depends on what the college will accept.
Check out Lessons Learned: The Reality of College Credit for Military Service to better understand what will and will not apply.
Additionally, our most recent article, College Credit for Military Experience: What You Need to Know, offers an excellent breakdown of the cost-savings that come from transferring military experience. It also outlines clearly defined steps you should take to maximize your transfer credits.
Resources on Degrees for Military
At College Recon, our mission is to empower military, Veterans, and their families through education and tuition assistance program information for colleges and universities.
Furthermore, we seek out the most relevant and actionable information that will help you achieve your education and career goals. In addition to the information offered in this article, here are some of our other most used resources:
- Getting Your Degree
- Military Friendly Colleges Covered by Military Tuition Assistance
- Military and Veteran College Scholarships and Grants
What degrees are useful in the military?
To summarize the information above, degrees that benefit active service members include: business administration, management, engineering, and nursing. Ultimately, the ability to think critically is one of the greatest benefits a college education brings to our national readiness.
What degrees are good for the military?
For those transitioning out of the service and attending college, the degree you choose should be based on your career and education goals. If you’re entering a career field that requires only an Associates degree, then choosing a Bachelor’s degree may not be the best option, as it will take longer to complete.
The degrees fields that most military veterans enter are:
- Criminal Justice
- Information Technology
That does not mean, however, that you must follow the same path. If your dream is to become a freelance writer or published author, your educational path may be different than everyone else’s.
What degrees can you get in the military?
Getting a degree while still in the military is a challenge in and of itself. Active military service is a taxing and arduous lifestyle already. Even so, thousands of active service members pursue their educational goals every year.
Almost every military installation around the world has an education center or education representative. These resources connect military students to colleges and universities who offer programs tailored to military degree seekers.
Check your local education center for specific information about these opportunities.
What is Your Military Degree?
You’ve already decided that a college degree is in your future.
You know what you want to be, and you know the steps required to get there.
Whether you’re a young adult who spent a few years in the military, or a grizzled veteran who just retired, your future career is whatever you want it to be.
Getting a degree is a lot of work, but the rewards are innumerable.
This is your mission now: get out there, work those education and career goals, and use those benefits you’ve earned.
Thank you for your service.
About the author
Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.