Choosing a Degree as a Veteran

Updated: March 7, 2021

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    Choosing a degree as a veteran shouldn’t be difficult, but it often is. Those who retire or separate from military service have two basic choices to make that inform a lot of other decisions down the line when seeking a college degree, a certificate program, licensure opportunity, etc. That choice involves either sticking with the career field the veteran worked in before or trying something new.

    Choosing A Degree As A Veteran Deciding on a new career field can be intimidating, which is why some refer to government resources such as the Bureau of Labor and Statistics Occupational Outlook to start reviewing options. Others will skip this entirely and move right to researching colleges and other institutions to see what is being offered currently and whether that appeals to the future student.

    Assessing Your Options

    Some might feel a sense of duty in continuing a career that began in the military but the most important thing when trying to decide which way to go has more to do with what you really want than it does what you did in the past.

    Don’t get continuing education in a career field you are burned out in unless you’re hoping to move to a different aspect of that career that you want to explore.

    Some have to “give themselves permission” to try something new after having served for 10 or even 20 years as a military member. This is especially true of those who choose to pursue creative arts, becoming an educator, or choosing a radically different (and oftentimes easier) type of employment.

    Don’t assume that what you want–even if what you want is to learn the guitar and begin a career as a professional musician–is impractical, unrealistic, etc.

    In the 21st century, colleges have many options including academic career tracks for those who prefer to do self-motivated studies, independent study, or who wish to take up an extremely specialized degree in something like printmaking, textiles, farm operations, or even graphic design.

    You don’t have to default to something practical like accounting or chemistry if your heart is really elsewhere.

    Choosing A Degree As A Veteran

    The first thing to do is to ask yourself what your real passion is. Some will definitely want to continue the same career they had while serving. If you worked in security forces while in uniform and want to work with law enforcement professionals as a civilian, ask yourself what part of that very large career field you’d like to get into.

    Forensics, crime scene investigative work, street patrolling, drug interdiction, and many other options may have requirements you can anticipate in your academic career.

    For example, someone who knows they want to be a police photographer might consider pursuing a dual major in Criminal Justice and digital photography. But if you weren’t sure that’s the approach you wanted, a discussion with an admissions counselor could help.

    Getting A Different Degree

    If you don’t want to get a degree in the type of work you did on duty, learning how your military skills and experience translate into private-sector experience will help you decide on the specific kinds of classes to try and maybe even the type of degree you want.

    There are very good reasons to use resources like The American Council on Education, which can help you evaluate how much and what kind of college coursework to pursue relevant to your past experience and current interests.

    You’ll not only want to know what the private sector thinks of your experience and how to best supplement that experience with school work, but you’ll also want to know approximately how much of your experience translates directly into college credit.

    That’s why it’s good to talk to an admissions counselor long before you are actually ready to fill out applications and pay the associated fees. Your experience is worth college credit, and your military education may be, too.

    Arguments For Getting A Degree For Your Old Military Job

    No veteran should continue working as a Civil Engineer when they really want to train into a job doing IT or cybersecurity. But some aren’t sure they want to make the jump. Worse for some others?

    The amount of training, experience, and military education may provide them far more credits and a much faster academic path to completion by sticking with “the old job” in terms of choosing a degree.

    That may sound like a compromise, but it isn’t always. What if you didn’t want to do the front line work of your old career field anymore, but did have an interest in teaching? This is one compelling reason to get a degree related to the old work you did while serving. Another is that some don’t really care as much about the type of degree they get as the fact that they get one, and fast.

    Those competing for certain government jobs that generally require a degree can sympathize with this; so can those who don’t plan on stopping at the graduate level and just want to get a Bachelor’s degree so they can move into a field that requires any undergrad degree in order to get started.

    A good example of this? The rules vary by state but those seeking Licensed Clinical Counselor Master’s Degrees will learn (at some schools) that the undergrad degree isn’t restricted to a certain type–any one will do if you are otherwise eligible for the program.

    Northeastern University in Illinois is one such college that has, in the past, accepted students into their counseling programs regardless of the undergraduate degree they hold. In these cases, a required amount of on-the-job training and other requirements must be met as a condition of being awarded the degree.

    Still Can’t Decide?

    If you aren’t sure about choosing a degree as a veteran, you may wish to consider that a four-year traditional program is not for you. VA educational benefits such as the GI Bill offer pathways to certifications that don’t require a traditional program. You can get GI Bill benefits for certification, testing and credentialing, and much more.

    Try looking at a wide range of academic options including distance learning, job training versus classroom work, internship programs and more.

    You may also wish to delay a final decision on your degree and concentrate on eliminating prerequisites via classroom work or CLEP testing / DANTES testing for college credit. Some might not be able to make up their minds right away but still want to make some kind of academic progress and testing out of prerequisites or simply taking them in person or online can help.

    You can learn more about testing out of certain classes, plus other education opportunities at the DANTES official site.

    You can get information about CLEP tests at your college’s official site. In both cases (DANTES and CLEP), be advised that it’s up to the college’s discretion which credits by examination may be accepted and which may not meet that school’s standards. Talk to an admissions rep before trying to CLEP out or take a DANTES test for college credit.


    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


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