- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Back to School: Is it Right for You?

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You’ve amassed experience in the military, and you’re a proven professional in your field. So is extra schooling even necessary? Wouldn’t it be better to jump into a civilian job without spending time in a classroom?


It depends, say student recruiters at military-friendly universities. There are indeed situations when you can do just fine with your current qualifications, but some fields require a degree. When you consider the big-picture prospects of career ladder climbing, expertise pertaining to the job niche can result in higher financial rewards.


Here is a four-step process to help you determine whether to go back to school:


Step One: Gather intelligence about your field. Don’t take classes in a vacuum. You could spin your wheels and potentially lose time and money. Figure out what you want to do first. Then find out if a degree is necessary for that specific career, says Dr. Jeff Cropsey, Grantham University Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and External Relations. Cropsey also is President of the Council of College of Military



This will be more obvious in some fields than others. Cropsey was a military policeman when he exited the Army in 1972, but he knew he wanted to be a history teacher, a vastly different field. Other situations are not as clear-cut. Talk to as many people as possible, like recruiters at career fairs. Ask about the corporation’s educational requirements for your “dream job,” Cropsey says. You also can make connections on LinkedIn. Ask veterans who are already working in the profession whether a degree served them well. And talk to career counselors at TAP offices. Or call professional organizations for their educational recommendations.


In some instances, obtaining a license or certification is sufficient, Cropsey says. For example, “Microsoft certification is a gold ticket, regardless of your background educationally, and that can be completed in a year or less stateside,” he says.


Check out the websites of the VA ( and the Department of Labor (, which offer extensive information to help you determine educational, license and certification requirements for various careers. Technical schools offer a wide range of classes to help you obtain certification and licensure.


“Get a sense of what’s out there, who’s hiring, and get the requirements. When you have at least two years to go on active duty, it’s time to get education or training lined up,” Cropsey says.


Step Two: Crunch the numbers on your potential income with a degree. Pay can significantly increase in some fields with a degree but will remain stagnant without one. A good example is nursing, says Bill Vinson, President of Herzing University’s Madison, Wis. campus. The school’s “Vet2RN” program creates an accessible path for military combat medics to parlay their active duty experience into a nursing degree or RN license in as short as one year.


“Financially it’s significantly different. They make significantly more with the initials ‘R.N.’ behind their name,” Vinson says. “If they liked what they were doing as a medic, I suggest they go back to school and pursue it to the next level.”


Military medics are outperforming other nursing students at Herzing. Whether you’re a medic or in another career field altogether, do not undersell the value of your real-world experience during your military service, Vinson adds. Combining it with a degree will set you up for more career options.


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