What kinds of professional certificates for veterans are available to those who want to make the transition from a military career to a civilian one?
When it comes to veteran education benefits, a lot of attention is paid to GI Bill benefits for colleges and universities, but your federal and state veteran education benefits can pay for many other options for professional certifications. And many of those options don’t require four-year degree programs.
What Is A Professional Certificate?
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) defines professional certification as programs that “formally recognize your development and commitment to advancing your knowledge and skills in a particular field of interest”.
A four-year degree may have many diverse components to it, but a certification program narrows this field of study down. For example, a four-year undergraduate degree in a medical specialty may have you studying areas of math and chemistry that could be applicable across a wide range of disciplines.
Compare that to a professional certification for pharmacy technicians, which may require elements of math and chemistry but more focused for its relevance for the specific duties required when you work in a pharmacy tech job.
With a pharmacy tech certification you could go from classroom to workforce in a year or less–compare that to less entry-level medical jobs that would require the undergrad degree, plus continuing education or other career-field specific requirements.
Earning Professional Certificates
As the example above suggests, there are lots of certification programs that technically help you get into the workforce faster than with a four-year degree program. The actual length and complexity of the certifications you seek will vary.
The pharmacy technician certification mentioned above might not be as long as for pilot training, aircraft maintenance training, etc. Much will depend on the complexity of the job, the standards you must meet in order to become certified, and whether or not on-the-job training is required as a condition of certification.
State and Federal veteran education benefits can help pay for these certification programs. Depending on circumstances you may be eligible to have the cost of the program itself paid for and/or the cost of any required certification testing up to a VA-imposed cap on federal benefits. State-level veterans benefits may also be capped depending on state law and the nature of the program.
In 2021, the VA reimbursement rate cap per certification test was listed as $2,000. This number is always subject to change and is listed here as an example of the caps as offered in the past.
GI Bill Options to Pay For Professional Certificates
For some, there is confusion over the VA official site’s information about professional certifications and what can be paid for using the GI Bill. In the VA’s official site where certification testing reimbursement is discussed, the following line advises, that when it comes to test reimbursement, the VA will not “…pay for fees or costs related to getting the actual license or certification document.”
This might lead some to believe they cannot use the GI Bill to pay for the cost of taking classes to earn certain professional certifications such as HVAC technician, IT, etc. But the VA does have a “Non-College Degree Programs” section on its official site which states clearly:
“You may be eligible for education benefits through the GI Bill if you meet both of the requirements listed below. Both of these must be true:
- You qualify for the GI Bill, and
- You enroll, or plan to enroll, in a non-degree program at an approved school.”
VA benefits for qualifying veterans who want to apply for a non-college degree program at a VA-approved school include, as described on the VA official site, “Help paying for tuition” and “Money for books and supplies” listed in 2021 as being just over $80 a month. This dollar amount will change from time to time and is listed here as an example of past offerings only.
Does the non-college degree program you’re looking into include a professional certificate or act as the prerequisite for taking a test to get that professional certificate? These circumstances may vary greatly depending on the institution, the program, and the current state/federal laws that may govern certifications in that career field or industry.
There are some VA programs that offer help for non-college degree programs in high-tech areas including:
- Life science or physical science
- Engineering (all fields)
- Engineering and science technology
- Computer specialties
It’s best to call the VA directly to ask about a specific program or the availability of a specific certificate near you or via distance learning and ask whether that certification would have features allowing VA benefits to be used for these high-tech programs.
Types Of Professional Certifications For Veterans
There are too many certifications to list comprehensively, but for those with military experience a lot of these have a very familiar ring to them, and some careers may allow or even require you to have a certification while serving that you may need to extend or renew into your civilian career post-military.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a GI Bill comparison tool that allows you to look at a wide range of schools and institutions–this can be a very good place to start exploring your options for certification.
If you are a veteran who wants to work in a particular highly specialized field, finding what’s required for you professionally might not be a terrible chore–those who specialize in network security have specific training required and there are highly visible and well-established educational career paths to explore.
Those who have experience in their field likely have been briefed or have access to subject matter experts who can help them decide what certifications might best suit them in the future.
But those who do not have experience in a given field or are not even sure they want to commit to a certain type of employment might be interested in getting a certification that will make them more employable before or shortly after getting out of the military. In cases such as these where a veteran hasn’t made up her mind yet, there are some role-specific job certifications that can help.
The recruiting agency Glassdoor.com says certain role-specific certificates are the full attention of employment recruiters and hiring managers. Some of these certificates are not required for employment but do help the applicant stand apart from those who do not carry them. A good example? Human resources certifications such as SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP can be quite helpful, especially in cases where the certifications are directly related to the applicant’s career progression.
Another very helpful certification for those who want to power up a resume but want to try to be a bit more generalist? Project Management Certifications. Anyone applying for a job as a manager or team lead could benefit from this type of certification and according to some sources, having these types of certificates implies that the potential hire brings a more sophisticated approach to teams and project management in general.
Those who are considering a career in sales should definitely look into certification for sales; some popular versions include Sandler Training, and Spin Selling. These certificates might not be considered a requirement depending on the job you seek but having this training could give a potential new hire a big advantage in the interviewing process.
Some types of certificates are not impressive for hiring managers seeking upper-management candidates–but the same certificates possessed by a newcomer to the industry could help quite a bit. If you are interested in help desk work you’ll want to explore your A+ options and other network analyst or desktop analyst certifications. These can help an entry-level newcomer stand apart from the pool of applicants who don’t carry them.
Some IT jobs require network certifications that are non-negotiable. Some of these jobs don’t require more advanced certifications but if you have them, you’ll want to use them to your advantage.
Glassdoor.com uses an example for those applying for network engineer jobs. If you didn’t carry a certification appropriate for those jobs (CCNA or CCNP for example) you would likely not stand a chance…but those who carry one of those AND an additional level of Cisco certifications for network infrastructure would have an even better chance of making it to the next round of interviews.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News