Going back to college can be the right choice for a lot of military spouses, but there is a lot of information out there and you can become a little overwhelmed. Here is a military spouse’s guide to going back to school to help you on your way.
As a military spouse, you may have had to put your own career on hold. You got married to your service member, and found yourself far from home. A few years have gone by and your children are a little older. Now you’re ready to figure out what you want to do.
Military Spouse’s Guide to Going Back To School
Here’s CollegeRecon’s helpful guide to determine if you should go back to school, what to study and the different ways you can pay for it.
Figure Out If Now Is The Time
You need to ask yourself if now is the time to go to school. Are you about to PCS somewhere new? Will you be going overseas in the near future? Will your service member be deployed sometime soon? There are a lot of factors that can go into your decision.
While a PCS or a deployment shouldn’t stop you from starting school, there are factors that can influence if now is the right time. If you want to start a nursing program but know you will PCS across the country in a year, you won’t be able to finish the program unless you stay behind. PCSing to Germany? Your options for school can be limited.
If you are really interested in going to school and it doesn’t feel like the right time, things can change and in a few months or even a few years it might just be the right time to go. Doing researching on what you want to do may still be a smart idea so you can form some type of a plan for your future.
Figure Out What You Want To Do
You also need to figure out what you want to do. Is there a particular career path you want to follow, or do you want to work on getting a degree, and are not sure what type yet? If you are starting college for the first time, you have time to figure out what you want to do as you work on your general education requirements.
When you are trying to figure out what direction to go in, think about what has interested you in the past. Can you see yourself as a nurse, or a teacher, or working with animals in some way? What school subjects have always interested you? Were you more a fan of science or writing? Did you struggle in math or did it come easy to you? Asking yourself these questions can help you figure out what you want to do.
Pick Your Program
Once you know what you want to do, you are going to have to figure out what program you will pursue to get that degree. For example, if you want to be a nurse, you will need to decide if you want to get your LPN, RN, BSN, or even a masters. There are many different options. You would also need to decide where you are going to go to nursing school, and where to get your prerequisites done at.
There are certain certificate programs you can could complete in a couple of months. Getting your associate’s degree will take you about two years if you go full-time and it will take you four years to earn your bachelor’s degree if you go full-time.
A master’s degree can be done in about a year but that depends on the program. For military spouses, taking on a longer program can be a risky thing to do because you don’t know how long you will be living in your current location.
Benefits of Going To School Online
Another option for military spouses is to attend school online. There are many benefits to going this route as then you can continue school if you move, or do school work around your children’s and service member’s schedule. There is a lot more flexibility to going to school online but it might not be a good option for every major.
Even if there isn’t a college or university in your exact area, you might be able to attend classes on your military post. Many school offer this and can make for an easier road to getting your education when you are a military spouse. Check with your local education center to see what they offer there.
How Will You Pay
One of the biggest questions about going back to school is how you are going to pay for your schooling. As a military spouse, you do have some options:
MYCAA stands for My Career Advancement Account Scholarship and with this program you would be able to receive $4,000 towards your education. This might be able to pay for an entire certificate program or get you started with your education.
In order to qualify you will need to be a spouse of an active duty service member with a rank of E-1 to E-5, W-1 to W-2, O-1 to O-2, have completed high school, and your spouse needs to be on Title 10 orders. National guard and reserves spouses in these pay grades are also eligible while their spouse is on active duty.
MYCAA will pay for your tuition for associate’s degrees (excluding general studies, liberal arts, and interdisciplinary studies without a concentration,) obtaining a license, obtaining a certificate or certification, an approved testing organization that expands employment or portable career opportunities for military spouses. MYCAA does not pay for bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
Here is more information on MYCAA.
Scholarships for Military Spouses
Did you know there are scholarships just for military spouses? Winning a scholarship is a great way to pay for school. Some may be based on merit or financial need. Others are based on an essay, or even on the fact that you are a military spouse.
It would be a good idea to research what scholarships you can apply for and start filling out the applications. Be aware of when the application is due and if you missed a deadline. Make sure to keep an eye out for that scholarship the next year.
Here is a list of military spouse scholarships you can apply for:
FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. With FAFSA you can find money for college with federal grants you don’t have to repay, work-study, and loans. You can apply for free and can do so online. Applying for FAFSA is a good idea even if you are going to be using money from other sources.
Here is more information on FAFSA.
Student loans are money for college that you will eventually have to pay back. The good news is that student loans typically have a lower interest rate. Additionally, you don’t have to start paying them until you are done with school.
Federal loans have a grace period of six months after you graduate. This gives you some time to look for a job before you have to start paying.
Through FAFSA you can qualify for Federal student loans. Other options you can also go with are student loans through banks or other private companies. They can be a good idea if you have already filled out your FAFSA but still need additional funds.
Here is information on student loans for military spouses.
Transferring the Post 9/11 GI Bill
If your spouse is not going to use any or a portion of their Post 9/11 GI Bill, it can be transferred to you. That way, you can use it for your own schooling.
You can use the GI Bill on almost anything a veteran can to include:
- College-degree programs
- On-the-job/apprenticeship training
- Licensing and certification reimbursement
- National testing programs
- Flight training
As a spouse with a transferred GI Bill, you can start to use the benefit immediately. You may use the benefit while your spouse is actively serving or after separation.
You are not eligible for the monthly housing allowance or books and supplies stipend while your service member is serving. However, you are eligible for the monthly housing allowance after your service member has separated. You can use the GI Bill for up to 15 years after your spouse separates from active duty.
Please note that there will also be some changes to transferring a GI Bill in July of this year that you should be aware of.
Here is more information on transferring a GI Bill.
Making the decision to go back to school is a smart decision for many military spouses. If there is something you want to do, don’t be afraid to go for it. This applies even if your spouse is serving on active duty.
While military life can make going to school a little more difficult, it shouldn’t keep you away from doing so. There are many options to getting your degree and furthering your career.
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