Let’s Try This Again: A Guide for Spouses Heading Back to School
By Maranatha Bivens, Communications Editor
For military spouses, learning new things quickly becomes second nature. The same flexibility and versatility you apply to your everyday life could also apply to your education. Going back to school can help you get specialized training that would increase your salary, allow you more room for advancement in your organization, or simply provide you with a stronger skill set that allows you to be competitive in a broad range of job markets.
The road back to the classroom, like most adventures, starts with a solid plan, and like my dad taught me, plans are shaped by the questions that need answering. Just as students rush to the Exchange with their parents for school supplies this fall, here are some things to consider as you make your way back to school.
Can I find the time?
The carefree days of having nothing to do but go to class are probably long gone, so how will returning to school affect your family or other responsibilities? Think about your daily schedule, and imagine how much time and attention will be taken away by course work and attending classes. Be realistic about what you can commit to- is this the best time to dive back in head first with a full course load, or would it be best to start with just a few classes at times that allow you to be flexible with your schedule?
What are my education goals?
Whether this is your first time pursuing secondary education, or you’ve spent the last 15 years trying to complete those last six course credits to earn your Master’s degree, there are resources available to help you get started at any level. Most installations have education centers that can provide information about online or local college opportunities, or training programs offered right in your community. Department of Defense (DoD) Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program assists spouses in discovering career opportunities, finding education and financial resources, and employment opportunities. Through Military OneSource, you can speak with trained career counselors who can help to guide you in the right direction. Check out www.militaryonesource.mil or call toll free at (800) 342-9647 to schedule a counseling session.
How do I decide what to study?
Ceramics class sounds fun, doesn’t it? Ask yourself, do you need the class to graduate or will it help you advance in your career? Think of ways to make what you study do double duty for you. It’s always valuable to learn more about something that interests you, but you could earn credentials that create more job opportunities for you. What does the current job market look like in your chosen field? Will there be positions available once you finish your program of study? Remember when people asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? Take the time to ask yourself that question now, and find out what training, occupational licensing, or degrees are needed to reach your goal.
How will I pay for school?
So now that you’ve freed up time in your schedule, mapped out your career goals, and you know what you want to study, it’s time to consider the costs of returning to school. Between tuition and expenses such as books, transportation, and even childcare, school can become expensive.
Luckily, there are many programs available to help you finance your education. Some options include:
- In-State Tuition - to keep costs down, spouses of service members on active duty for a period of more than 30 days are eligible to receive in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in the state where they reside or are permanently stationed.
- Post 9/11 GI Bill- some of your service member’s benefits might be transferrable to you. Find out more information at www.gibill.va.gov.
- Scholarships and Grants - many spouse clubs and organizations, including the National Military Family Association, have scholarship programs to benefit spouses continuing their education.
- Federal Financial Aid - your college’s Financial Aid office can provide information about federally funded grants and loans that may be available to you. All colleges require that you have a Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) on file before any federal aid (money provided by the federal government) can be given to you. Filling out the FAFSA automatically puts in you in consideration for a financial aid packet.
To learn more about these and other programs and financial opportunities, such as MyCAA accounts or qualifying for in-state tuition, visit the Spouse Education section of our website. The Association also recently produced the fourth edition of our Military Spouse Education Resource Guide, a helpful tool packed with this information and much more. Copies are available at your local education center or are available for purchase through our online store.
It may seem like there’s a lot to consider, but before long, you’ll have everything in place for heading back to school. You have a solid plan in place, now get started!
Until military families are relieved of the weight of war, we hope you will continue to contribute to their wellbeing.
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