Why and How to Pursue Your Degree While on Active Duty

Soldier studying

It's 0500, and you're up and ready to meet the challenges of a new day. Physical training, working in your military occupational specialty (MOS), developing basic soldiering skills -- you push it all day. It may sometimes seem like there is little time for anything else.

Today, though, more and more active-duty service members are going to school to further their education. Why do they do it? And how?

The Benefits of Furthering Your Education While Serving

Whether you plan to stay in the military after your expiration-term of service (ETS) or go into civilian life, pursuing an education while you are still serving can make a lot of sense. Here are five reasons to pursue education now.

1. If you stay in the military, you are more likely to get promoted. Taking courses in your MOS can develop your skills faster than just getting military training. That means you will be a more desirable candidate for a promotion within your specialty area.

2. The military gives promotion points (also known as promotion credits or advancement credits) for each college credit you earn. So, no matter what you study, you can rank up faster.

3. If you aspire to be an officer, you will most likely need a four-year degree. Just because you didn't start your career on a track to become an officer doesn't mean you can't do so now. The most common way that enlisted service members become officers is to enroll in an officer training program. To get accepted, you need a four-year degree.

4. If you decide to transition to civilian life, you'll have a head start. It's easy to feel like you are "behind" when entering the civilian world after serving in the military. You may be surrounded by people your age who already have degrees or are well into their careers. However, when you earn a diploma or degree while you are in the service, you essentially "make up time"-- you don't have to start at square one after leaving the military.

5. You will likely have more career opportunities and the potential for higher earnings. According to a study by Georgetown University, 65% of the job openings through 2020 will require a degree or some college. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2019, those with a bachelor's degree earned on average $26,000 more per year than those with only a high school diploma. Bottom line? Earning a degree or diploma while serving is an excellent career move.

Make It Work with Online Learning

Working toward a degree or certificate while in the military isn't something new. In the past, service members attended whatever school was nearby and were limited to that school's course offerings and schedules for the program they were studying.

Online learning has changed all that. No matter where you are stationed, you have options. You don't have to study psychology when what you're interested in is a business degree.

But perhaps even more important is the fact that online learning makes pursuing an education while serving workable. One of the hallmarks of online programs is their flexibility. You can take courses on your own time, nights, weekends or even before you start your workday. You can take classes in your own space, in the barracks, at the mess hall, or anywhere with an internet connection. And you can learn at your own pace.

But BEWARE: Not all online schools are alike. It's important to know what to look for when choosing a program.

Here are some guidelines:

Look for a school that is experienced in online learning. More and more schools are offering online programs these days, often out of necessity. Because many of these schools are still refining their programs, you might find yourself subject to some growing pains.

Look for a school that is military friendly. Some schools put a premium on taking care of active-duty members and veterans alike. They understand that you are in a unique situation and help guide you through the education process.

Look for a school that has a wide variety of offerings at different degree levels. Did you know that about one-third of students in college change majors in the first three years? If you're not 100% sure about what you want from your education, it's wise to keep your options open.

Make sure the school is accredited. Accreditation is essentially a stamp of approval that shows the school has met specific standards of quality. You can feel confident that you are getting a solid education when you attend an accredited school.

Keep Up With Your Education Benefits

Whether you need a guide on how to use your GI Bill, want to take advantage of tuition assistance and scholarships, or get the lowdown on education benefits available for your family, Military.com can help. Sign up for a free Military.com membership to have education tips and benefits updates delivered directly to your inbox.

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