Service members, veterans and their spouses have many reasons to seek college degrees. Some service members see it as a means to enhance their current military career, while others prepare for post-service careers. Spouses, a traditionally under-employed segment of the military community, might pursue programs in high demand careers – like teaching and nursing – that allow them to work regardless of where in the world their family calls home.
Unfortunately, earning a degree from a traditional university can be difficult for military members when faced with extended training, deployments and frequent relocations. While most military officers hold at least a bachelor’s degree, only 7% of enlisted service members have earned one, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. There are many institutions and it’s important service members find the right fit, especially when deciding where to commit their precious educational benefits. With that in mind, here are a few tips to consider when looking for a college and some of the best ways to earn a degree when serving in the military:
• Check for institutional accreditation. First and foremost, ensure the school is institutionally accredited by a regional organization like the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), which Western Governors University (WGU) is accredited through. Institutional accreditation is the gold standard for accreditation among all major universities in the United States.
• Consider online for maximum flexibility. Universities offering fully online degree programs provide service members the flexibility to work on their degrees wherever and whenever they can. They allow students to study, complete coursework and take tests on their own schedule, which is essential for military personnel and their spouses.
• See if competency-based education is right for you. Service members are familiar with the phrase, “Train to standard, not to time.” Most universities measure learning through tests administered after students spend a specific amount of time spent in the classroom. Competency-based education, however, allows students to use their previous education, training and experience to move through some courses quickly, while slowing down on others in which they aren’t as familiar.
• Maximize your options by transferring credits – Many service members have already completed college courses, so selecting a university with a generous transfer policy is an important step to ensure they get the credits they deserve. Military-focused universities like WGU can apply credit for military training – reviewed by the American Council on Education (ACE) – directly to a degree program. Military students at WGU can also use DANTES and CLEP exams to waive requirements if they match program criteria and meet minimum grading standards.
• Look for affordable tuition costs and financing options – Service members and their spouses may put off college because they think it’s too expensive. WGU strives to make earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree affordable for military personnel by offering low, flat-rate tuition ranging from $3,475 to $4,530 per six-month term, depending on program. WGU’s degree programs are also approved for VA education benefits under the GI Bill. Students can save even more money by completing as many courses as they can handle each term – without any extra fees – and earn their degrees in the high-demand fields of business, IT, health professions or K-12 education faster.
Earning a four-year degree can change the life of any service member, veteran or spouse. A degree not only typically leads to a pay increase, but also to opportunities for new leadership roles and new experiences. Whether you’re active-duty, reserve, National Guard, a veteran or a military spouse, adding an undergraduate or postgraduate degree to your invaluable military experiences will open new doors in your professional and personal life.
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