If you are not sure whether you want to join the military or go to college, the good news is you have options to do both. If you decide to join and go to college, you can also take our free College Search Test to discover the type of college setting that’s right for you.
You can join the military part-time and go to college: You can serve in the military part-time (called the reserves), get free career training, train a weekend a month and two weeks a year (called annual training), and earn money while you go to college. The military not only pays you for the time you work during your weekend a month and two-week annual training, but they also pay you extra money on a monthly basis while you go to school. This extra college money is called the GI Bill (link opens in a new window). In addition to that, part (or all) of your tuition at a state-run college or university may be funded as well.
You can join the military full time and go to college at the same time: There are many colleges that cater to the military, so you don’t have to choose the military or college. You can join the military full-time and then take online college courses or attend college near your duty station. As more colleges offer robust degree programs online, joining full-time and taking courses part-time is a feasible option. There are tons of benefits to this option as well. If you choose a career in the military that is also applicable in the ‘civilian’ world, you can be trained by the military for free, gain experience, and land a job when you leave the service. For example, if you went into the military as an air traffic controller, you’d gain the school and experience necessary to work as an air traffic controller in the civilian world.
Go to college full time then join the military after graduation: You can also go to college full time and join an ROTC program. This option will allow you to serve in the military after you obtain your college degree and enter the military as an officer. You can also focus solely on your studies and not join an ROTC program at all, graduate from college, then join the military. Many healthcare professionals are recruited this way as the military offers to pay off part (or all) of your college tuition if you serve upon graduation.
Serve the military full time, fulfill your service commitment, then go to college: Of course, you may not know what you want to go to college for or be undecided if you even want to go. You may also want to make a life-long career out of the military and retire. Either way, if you join the military and fulfill your commitment, the military provides funding for you to attend college at that point as well.
Joining the Military
If the military is an appealing option, there are multiple branches to choose from to include the Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, Army, and Air Force. These branches also have part-time reserve components where you work your civilian job, yet go to drill a weekend a month and two full-weeks a year. You must meet an age requirement, which varies by branch and pass a health screening and vocational aptitude (ASVAB) test. The health screening prevents many recruits from enlisting; no-goes include diabetes, asthma, and even color-blindness.
As your rank in the military increases, so does your pay. There are other variables that can impact your wages to include if you receive a sign-on bonus when you enlist. The highest earners however are commissioned officers. There are a few paths you can take to become an officer. One such path is to graduate college with your bachelor’s degree then attend Officer Candidate School (OCS). No matter the position you have in the military, if you are serving in the military full-time, you get housed for free to include utilities – all of that is on top of your salary.
Prepare for the ASVAB Test
Be prepared to study for the ASVAB test. Studying for the ASVAB is crucial to qualify for more military branch options and careers. Don’t stress out too much though, if you take the test and wished you had scored higher, you are able to take the test again. Also, if you have a college degree, you may be able to enlist at a higher rank.
If you have children, you will need a guardian who is willing to provide care while you are away. You will attend basic training and your schooling, on a full-time basis, away from your family. Even if joining the reserves, you have to complete basic training and your tech school. Each military branch basic training length varies and tech school length depends on your career choice. Some schools are as quick as eight weeks, while others are one year long.
Research Military Careers
There are numerous careers in the military but some transfer to civilian employment better than others once you leave the service. Of course, life is about happiness so choose a position you would love to do in the military. If that military career does not align perfectly with a civilian occupation, you can always take college classes while serving. Many universities cater to a military clientele.
If you are interested in choosing a career that will directly help you land a job upon separating, researching military careers that require a civilian certification is a great start. Air traffic controllers, truck drivers, crane operators, and mechanics all gain certifications, and there are many more. Union jobs such as electricians are great too. There are also plenty of in demand civilian careers the military has as well such as cyber-security. It’s important to call out that many companies prefer hiring veterans and government agencies may give veteran preference when seeking out candidates.
Money for College
Whether full-time or reserves, the military also offers tuition assistance and supplemental monthly income (called the GI Bill or the Post-9/11 GI Bill) when going to school. The Armed Forces Tuition Assistance Program (link opens in a new tab) is a benefit that pays up to 100 percent of tuition expenses (up to a specified point). The school must be accredited and the person’s branch of service pays the school directly. In most branches, this can equal up to thousands of dollars a year towards your eduction. That does not even count the GI Bill.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill is available to military service members who served at least 90 days of active duty since September 11, 2001. The amount an individual qualifies for varies, so it is important to ask a recruiter how this works. Those who are joining the reserves (or National Guard Reserve) who may not be activated for 90 days, can qualify to receive a supplemental monthly income through the Montgomery GI Bill. This does not pay as much as the Post 9/11 GI Bill.