Advancing technology has helped make distance learning a reality at colleges and universities worldwide. That same technology has also brought more opportunities for educational advancement to military servicemembers, including those on deployments around the globe.
Studies have shown that earning a college degree, whether it’s an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s, can improve an individual’s job and salary prospects. For servicemembers who are considering pursuing an online degree program while juggling the demands of active duty, there are a number of factors to consider:
- Make sure you have the necessary technology and tools. The basic necessities typically include a laptop computer and a wireless Internet card. A wireless card is especially important as it can provide Internet connectivity for servicemembers who are out in the field. Other recommended items include e-books, a USB or flash drive, and phone numbers, email addresses and other contact information for your student advisor and your school’s admissions office.
- Find a college or university that fits your needs and goals. Research schools and programs through trusted websites. For example, www.GoArmyEd.com is a gateway for U.S. Army, Army Reserve and National Guard personnel to locate schools and degree programs that are eligible to receive Tuition Assistance (TA) funds. In addition, servicemembers can use the website to coordinate their classes and tests, and seek support from Army education counselors. There also is contact information for scores of Army Education Centers and Education Services Offices at military bases worldwide.
- Determine how you’re going to pay for school. There are numerous options. For example, eligible active-duty servicemembers can receive up to $4,500 in Tuition Assistance each fiscal year, with a cap of $250 per semester hour. According to GoArmyEd, Army policy limits TA to 130 semester hours of undergraduate credit or 39 semester hours of graduate credit. Other sources of funding, such as the Army College Fund or federal Pell Grants, may also be available.
- Determine whether your deployment schedule will allow for class and study time. If you’re deploying, try to find out how much your unit will be moving and take that into account when deciding your online course load. If you’re unsure about your time commitment, it may be advisable to limit your courses, at least initially. Ask your superior officer and/or education counselor about the possibility of a flexible work schedule that would allow you to shift around military responsibilities in order to create additional study time. It’s also vital for servicemembers to make the most beneficial use of down time and off-hours, which requires thoughtful planning and discipline in following a schedule.
- Make sure to build and use your support system. Find a study buddy by seeking out other servicemembers in your military unit who are taking online classes. If that’s not an option, tap into your relationships with co-workers, friends or family members who can support your educational endeavors. This might involve editing a term paper, listening to an idea or just helping you handle the pressure of a final exam.
Military deployment requires dedication and sacrifice, but it does not need to derail a servicemember’s pursuit of advanced educational qualifications. The growing availability of online programs, coupled with the multiple options for financial assistance, means that a college degree can remain within reach from any posting around the globe.