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Get A SMART Start On Your Education

smart start on your education

Are you thinking about what’s next after the military? Planning your transition and reintegration can be daunting, but there are some steps you can take to make the process less stressful and increase your chances for a successful civilian life.

Planning For Change

Practically speaking, planning a career change is not unlike a planning military mission, it takes clearly defined objectives, strategic, logistic, and tactical planning – not to mention lots of support, rules of engagement, and an exit plan. The first thing you need to do is determine your objective – what you want to do in your post-military career. Whatever career choice you make, chances are it is going to require a degree, certification, or Licensure – in other words, you’re likely going back to school.

Earning a degree takes hard work, planning, time, and money. Thankfully the time and cost can be greatly reduced by using your military education benefits and your GI Bill.

Like a military mission, the first step to planning your education is to clearly define your objective. As a famous NY Yankees player and coach used to say, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

Step-by-Step: Getting A SMART Start On Your Education

I have personally helped hundreds of service members and veterans focus their goals by using the process known as “SMART” goal setting, which is an acronym for making your goals: Specific, Measurable. Action Oriented, Realistic and Time-Driven.

SPECIFIC: Your goals need to be clear, focused, concise, and well defined. Using general terms leads to mission creep (costing you extra time and money). Keep your goals as detailed as you can.

MEASURABLE: Your goal needs time frames, dates, dollar amounts, number of credits, etc. to ensure your success. Think of it as setting a course with no way to check your progress; even the slightest error can throw you way off your course (again, costing you time and money).

ACTION ORIENTED: Your goal must require action, not reaction. Actively working to achieve your goals ensures your success.

REALISTIC: Your goals must be practical, achievable, and credible. You have to believe your goals can reached or you could lose your motivation when the inevitable difficulties pop up.

TIME DRIVEN: Your goals must clearly define a starting point, layout a timeline, and include an ending point.

Your goals can also be broken down into smaller objectives.

  • SHORT-TERM (completed in the next six to 12 months)
  • MEDIUM-TERM (within one to five years)
  • LONG-TERM (within the next five to 10 years)

More Tips for Successful Goal Setting

  • Write your goals down in down in positive terms. Studies show that using negative terms can have a impact on your success.
  • Post your goals where you will see and read them on a regular basis.
  • Be flexible circumstances change, often outside of your control – be willing to adjust fire as needed.

SMART Goal Example

Here’s a SMART Goal setting example for getting your degree.

Starting next semester I will take 12 units a semester and use a combination of CLEP exams, ACE college credits, Military Tuition assistance, and the GI Bill to save time and money to complete my bachelor’s in science degree in 3 years.

Learn more about finding the right college or university and how to use your military and VA benefits to earn your degree.




About the author

Terry Howell is a retired Coast Guard veteran, where he served for 20 years.

He is currently the Executive Director for Veterans' Legacies, a non-profit that works to preserve veterans personal stories to help educate our youth.

Terry is also the author of The Military Advantage, an annually updated guide to military and veteran benefits.