Your military career is coming to an end, you can see your ETS date approaching and have been thinking about what you want to do after this chapter ends. Or, you are a military spouse, your kids are all school age now, and you want to start focusing on your own career.
What about going back to school? Or maybe you never had the chance to start in the first place?
Going to College: 10 Step Guide
If this is something you have thought about, here is a 10-step guide for going to college:
Step 1: Should you go back to school?
The first question you have to answer is if you should go back to school in the first place. Ask yourself why you would want to go to school, what you would do, and what you going back to school would look like for your family.
- Will you need to find childcare for the kids?
- How long will it take you to finish?
- What would your end goal be?
Once you figure out that you actually do want to go back to school, you can move on to step 2.
Step 2: Where should you go to school?
You now need to decide where you are going to go to school. Here are some factors that can go into deciding where you should go to school:
- Where you live
- If you want to go to school online or not
- What your military installation offers
- What program you want to go into
- What the class schedules are like
- What the rating of the schools you can choose from are
- If you can move to a new city or not
- How military friendly the college is
The best thing to do is look at all of your options, make a list of pros and cons, talk to your spouse if you have one, and come up with the best plan for your education.
Step 3: Time to apply for college
Applications for colleges can seem a bit overwhelming. The most important thing is to know exactly what you need to send in and when the application deadlines are. Make a list of everything you need to do, from filling out paperwork, to writing an essay if that is required. Each school will have its own specific dates and never assume you know what they are based on past experience. If you do have questions about the application process you can always talk to someone in the admissions department at the school you would like to attend. In today’s world, you should be able to complete your applications online, making the process a little easier than applying for college used to be.
Step 4: Send in those transcripts
As apart of the application process, you need to figure out if you will have to send in any transcripts. If you have taken college classes in the past, this will be a must. Colleges will also most likely want to see your high school transcripts. Most schools will want them sent directly from the school, not from you. Sending in your transcripts will let you know what you still need to take and what will apply towards the new program you are going towards.
For example, if you want to get into an RN nursing program, but you have an AA degree from another college or university, you can probably transfer some of those classes and not have to take as many prerequisites as you if you didn’t have that educational experience in your background.
In order to send your transcripts, you will need to contact your previous schools. Some will have an online form that you can fill out, or will have you go through a 3rd party to get those sent. There could also be schools that are more old-fashioned when it comes to your transcripts and you might have to send in a letter requesting them. Talk to the school you want to attend to find out the exact address they need to be sent to and make sure to follow up so you know that they have received them.
If you are a service member, you can also submit your Joint Services Transcript (JST) or your Community College of the Air Force Transcript (CCAF) which will show your military service and training allowing you to receive college credit based on your time and what you learned by serving in the military. These transcripts are official records and more than 2,300 colleges and universities will accept them.
Step 5: FAFSA
FAFSA is federal financial aid for students. No matter who you are, it would be a good idea to apply. You can use FAFSA with the GI Bill and you can use FAFSA with MYCAA. With FAFSA, the money you receive can be in the form of grants, scholarships, or unsubsidized or subsidized loans. What you receive will depend on the need-based and non-need based aspects of your application. You can apply for FAFSA on their website.
Step 6: Using the GI Bill and MYCAA
The GI Bill has been helping veterans in some form, since 1944. Today, with the Post 9/11 GI Bill, veterans can have their education paid for, as well as receiving money for books, and even a GI Bill Housing Benefit. Service members can transfer their GI Bill to their spouse or even their child and allow them to use this benefit. There is also still the option of using the Montgomery GI Bill which is a slightly different educational benefit.
MYCAA is for military spouses that qualify for this benefit. Spouses can receive $2,000 a year, for two years for certain educational programs and degrees. In order to qualify a spouse will need to be married to an active duty service member in the ranks of E-1 through E-5, W-1 through W-2, or O-1 through O-2. They will also need to have completed high school, and have a spouse on Title 10 orders. National Guard and Reservist spouses can qualify if their spouse goes on active duty.
Step 7: Now that you are accepted to college
After you send in your application, you might have to wait a bit before you hear that you are accepted to the college you want to go to. Once you hear from all the colleges you have applied for, you will need to make your decision.
There might be one school that you wanted to go to above others, and in that case, you don’t have to decide anything. You just need to let the school know you do plan to attend there. If you got into more than one school that you would like to go to, you will have to make a decision.
Again, you should go back over the pros and cons of each school, what they can offer you, and what would be best for your own personal situation as well as educational goals.
Step 8: Know your dates
After you have decided on the school you are going to attend, make sure you know the dates for everything you will need to do moving forward. You will have to turn in certain paperwork and there will be things you have to do when it comes to financial aid. You could have an orientation you have to attend, you might need to meet with an advisor, and you should figure out what you have to do in order to sign up for your classes on time.
Having a separate calendar just for school deadlines and dates would be a good idea. Staying organized is a must. You don’t want to miss out on something or miss an important deadline.
Step 9: You need supplies
Before your first day of class, you need to make sure you have all the supplies you need to have a good school year. The number one supply you are going to have to buy is your textbooks. Most schools let you search for your textbooks based on what classes you are taking.
If you have the Post 9/11 GI Bill you will receive $1,000 per year for supplies. You can use this money for textbooks or other supplies you might need. You can also find cheap ways to buy textbooks using different sources such as searching comparable websites or buying used.
You might need a new computer for your schooling as well as basic supplies such as folders, notebooks, pens and pencils. Also, make sure that you are aware of any extra expenses that can come from different classes or programs and budget for those purchases as well.
Step 10: First day of school
Eventually, it will be time to start your first day of school. If you are attending classes in person, going on a trial run before your first day would be a good idea. That way, you can figure out parking, and where your classes will be. You don’t want to be wandering around campus, unsure of where to go, on the first day of school.
Most of all, enjoy your journey. Whether you are going to college for the first time, or going back to get an advanced degree. Going back to school can be stressful, but being organized will help you go a long way.
If you have an education center on post, that can be a good place to start if you are unsure of what you want to do in the future. There are many options for service members, veterans, and spouses who are looking for ways to further their education and career goals.