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Supplemental Education and Training for Military

Now, Later, or Not at All?

by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor

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transitioning military hired for operations management Additional education and specialized training will often increase the odds of a successful military career, but will it also improve the odds of a successful military-to-civilian transition and civilian career? Before attempting to answer that question, you should first answer these three:

1. Why are you thinking about enhanced education? People may pursue this goal for many reasons, so it is important for you to identify your motivators, such as the following:

- Improving your prospects of promotion during your military career.

- Having a strong interest in a particular field and wanting to learn more about it.

- Searching for meaning in your life and choosing to spend more time in an academic environment to help you find it.

- Seeking a second chance to redeem yourself from a poor previous academic performance.

- Wanting to give academic pursuits one more try.

- Completing an unfinished degree or course of study.

- Believing that your current academic profile is insufficient to get you a good job.

- Lacking the credentials in your current educational profile to pursue a job or career path that interests you.

- Wanting to postpone making decisions about your future, since going back to school will allow you to take a break without creating a hole on your resume.

- Not wanting to waste your GI Bill education benefits.

- Having other motivations of a more personal nature. Review the list. Determine which ones apply to you and which ones are actually relevant to enhancing your professional or career development.

2. What is the current state of your educational and training profile? Do an inventory. List all post-high school formal and informal academic, professional, and technical training. Indicate whether or not courses were completed, degrees were conferred, licenses were issued, certificates were awarded, or requirements were met. Include both the basics and specifics of the courses of study, and indications of academic success or accolades. Beyond the official curricula and coursework, try to identify what you actually learned. This thorough educational background check is important because an understanding of where you are must precede the question of where you want to go.

3. Are you eligible for college credit for your military service? The answer is most likely yes. The American Council on Education (ACE) (ACEnet.edu/military) evaluates military schools, training, correspondence courses and occupations to determine the amount of academic credit to be awarded. The ACE program is funded by the Department of Defense and administered through the DANTES program (Dantes.DODed.mil). You start by requesting a transcript from your service branch, since each handles the request differently. The Army’s system is called AARTS. The Marine Corps and Navy use the SMART system. For the Air Force, the program is administered through the CCAF and the Coast Guard utilizes its CGI. You can learn more by visiting the DANTES website or the educational services office at your command.

Now that you have completed your inventory and identified your motivators, you can better judge the importance of, or need for, additional time in the classroom. Do you have a specific employment goal in mind? If so, do your research to determine the educational qualifications necessary for consideration in that field. Look at your inventory. Are you currently qualified or not?

For example, let’s say you want to be an architect. Do you have at least a bachelor’s degree in architecture? If you have the requisite academic qualifications in place, you are all set. If you do not, and if you are focused on and passionate about that field, you really have no choice - go back to school and get those credentials. The same can be said for other specific positions, such as network engineer, emergency medical technician, law enforcement officer, corporate financial analyst, airline pilot, etc. However, consider a more general classification, such as personnel manager. Does your existing academic profile and professional experience give you access to that field or do you need additional academic credentials to be competitive?

Weigh other factors. The cost of that academic pause in your career, both direct (tuition, books, lab fees, living expenses, benefits) and indirect (lost income) has to be considered. Are you making selfish decisions or are there others to consider? In some cases, this will be like starting over. Are you able to do that at this point in your life?

If cost is a factor, consider funding options sponsored by the military, the federal government, or the private sector. Although tuition assistance and military-funded programs are available, the payback requirements have to be considered. The GI Bill and similar college funds can help. Many private organizations will pay for college courses or technical training, generally with payback requirements.

If attending or returning to college is your choice, you should pay particular attention to veteran-friendly schools. Visit MilitaryTimes.com/Best-for-Vets for a list of many of them. Some colleges award direct credit for military service. For one such program, visit CollegeCreditforHeroes.com. A number of schools treat veterans as transfer students rather than new enrollees, which not only saves you money but also simplifies the admissions process. The University of North Carolina-Wilmington is an early adopter of this approach: www.uncw.edu/admissions/military.html.

You should also be aware that some colleges are under scrutiny for less-than-honorable recruitment and treatment of veterans as students. Since this is a hot topic, it is one that is easy to research on the Internet. But you should also contact any school you have questions about directly as they should have resources available on this topic.

Let’s revisit that opening question: Is additional education appropriate for you now, later, or not at all? No one-size-fits-all answer exists for this question, but conventional wisdom does offer this rule of thumb. If your current academic inventory and professional experience gives you access to something you want to do, put off any additional academic endeavors for now and go do it. Reevaluate your professional direction after a couple of years and, if necessary, make a course adjustment through modification of your academic profile. On the other hand, if you are highly focused on a specialty for which you are not currently qualified or competitive, go back to class and fix the problem, provided you have the financial resources and support systems in place.

A final thought and a warning: many people spend a lot of time and money to supplement their education and training, only to find themselves in jobs for which they were already qualified. Do your homework before you go to class. Identify your goals and motivations. Conduct your academic inventory. Compare the two categories, and see if supplemental education or training is necessary at this point in your career.

GOOD HUNTING!

Tom Wolfe is contributing editor & columnist for Military Transition News and author of ‘Out Of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition.’

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