Military spouses who have the desire to go back to school have more options than ever before to achieve their goal. Going back to school is a daunting task for anyone, but a military spouse who has the added worry of PCS’ing at a moments notice, a full time family, and the exciting opportunity to choose a career that is portable but still in the range of their interests can be downright terrifying. I have spent years navigating the college system and educational benefits provided by the military. I have some sure fire tips that will help make the process a little less painful.
Find out what you want to do before you enroll
In the beginning of my brand new college journey, I thought “I’ll just go for a bit and then I’ll make my decision about what I want to major in.” I’ve wasted thousands of dollars going to school and changing my mind. When you are put on time limits, as with most military scholarships, you can’t afford to waste time so it’s in your best interest to come up with a plan first. Come up with a general idea of the field you want to begin studying. You don’t have to nail down exactly what you’re going to do with your life, just find a general area of study and start there.
Beware of the deadly deadlines
As with everything in the military and college, there are numerous deadlines that must be strictly followed. If you miss one you could be out for an entire semester if not year. All scholarships are the exact same way. I personally missed out on the GI Bill benefits due to being a week late on attempting to transfer my husband’s credits to me. The importance of being on time, or better, early, cannot be stressed enough. Be sure to leave enough time for corrections as well. Even if you’ve double and triple checked all of your information, there is normally something that will need to be clarified or more documentation that will be required, be prepared for anything.
Research all the financial aid available
There are numerous ways to pay for college if you just take the time to look. Some of the completely online colleges offer larger military benefits than traditional colleges, but they may not offer the area of study you are interested in. Before applying for financial aid, make sure the school you have selected cater to your major and area of interest. Some financial aid may be available for your major specifically, and not tied to the military. Those are also viable scholarships and an excellent way to get help paying for your education.
Be realistic with your schedule
I know that beginning a new adventure such as higher education can be incredibly exciting and we can be tempted to take on way more than we can handle. When choosing your classes, take into consideration the time you have available for school. You aren’t going to make any progress by taking on more than you can handle and struggle with every aspect of your life. Your college journey should be an empowering and positive experience, not a stress filled struggle to survive. Keep your workload in check and you will be doing yourself and your family a bigger favor in the long run.
Don’t give up
It will be hard, very hard at times. There may be times when you are so frustrated with the applying and stressing over financial aid and time that you wonder why you ever started in the first place. But when you push through, the sense of accomplishment and pride will be enough to make all the headache worth it. If you give up during the process of bettering yourself you will always wonder, “what if?” My personal journey has been interrupted by work, financial hardship, PCS’ing and a baby but the pride I feel every time I walk into a classroom assures me that I’m on the right path and I would like every one of you to feel that joy and elation.
Just get started
Get started now! As soon as you get done reading this, pull up google, type in “insert interest and ways to make money doing it.” This should give you a jumping off point in the search for your major. If you already have an idea of what you want to do, even better. Find a school that offers the major you want and start looking into their scholarships and what they offer to students with a military association. Just getting started is the hardest part for some and the easiest for others. If you need more motivation, look around you right now. Do you have what you want? Are you happy with what you’re doing every day? If not, there’s your motivation for change and here is the push you need, you’ll never know what you do until you try. Cliché, yes. But, clichés are clichés for a reason, because they are a common truth, just get started on your new future today.
Jenny is a military spouse, currently attending college and her husband serves in the National Guard.