I recently had a flood of questions from several military girl friends, fiancees, and even wives about one very specific subject: college.
Getting a degree is already a roller coaster, but throw military life into the mix and you’ve got yourself an entire theme-park full of too many options (or sometimes not enough), more stress than necessary, and maybe even a few tears every now and then. As impossible as it may seem to buckle-down and graduate while married to a service member, I promise you—it can be done.
In fact, it has been done.
There are lots of military spouses who managed to get a degree, and there are plenty who are going to school right now, like myself.
So, how do you do it?
It’s not exactly black and white. Going to college while married to an active duty service member is going to look different for everybody. Some choose to take classes entirely online, some choose to hop around to different schools, and some choose to stay in one location until they finish their degree, with or without their spouse.
The most important thing you can do when deciding what route to take is RESEARCH.
My original plan was stay put at the university I was attending until I graduated. Back when we were dating, I told my husband over and over again that I wasn’t going to marry him until I had at least a bachelor’s degree. HA! As usual, I was wrong. And you know what? I’m glad I was!
After a year of long distance my husband and I couldn’t take it anymore. We started talking about marriage more and more, and I began to wonder what was going to happen to my college plan.
So, guess what I did?
Since we knew my husband had another year & a half at his duty station, I started looking into the schools in his area. I also started to look into online schools that offered my degree, how creditable each school was, what the degree plan looked like at each school, and whether or not online classes really were a good option for me.
As a Nursing student, I decided that getting a degree in person is MUCH more valuable. However, with some majors (accounting, communications, business…), it might not make a difference whether or not your degree is online or in person. Again, DO THE RESEARCH!!!
I knew a year and a half wasn’t going to be enough time to graduate with my bachelor’s (especially with the credits I lost… I’ll get to that in a minute), so I started asking the questions.
Where would we go next? How long would we be there?
After the hubs did some asking around and a little research himself, we were able to narrow our future down to two duty stations. Yep, there’s only TWO possible places we could get sent after this. I realize that not everybody is this lucky, but if you do happen to have a pretty good idea of where you might end up next, LOOK INTO IT!!!
It never hurts to be prepared.
Speaking of asking questions, ALWAYS ask about financial assistance.
Even if you don’t think you qualify, even if you didn’t fill out a FAFSA, and even if you’re too lazy or shy to walk up to the fiscal services building.
Simply asking saved me thousands of dollars on tuition this year.
It started when I knew which college I wanted to transfer to. I started emailing an adviser, and I asked if I had to pay out of state tuition. He let me know that if I filled out a certain piece of paper proving I’m a military spouse (it had to be signed by my husband’s chain of command) and turned it in I would be exempt from those huge out of state tuition rates.
Then, during my first week at this school, I became good friends with an Army wife. We began talking about tuition and she brought up that it was cool that military spouses get free tuition here. I was all, “whaaa?” and she encouraged me to ask. So I did, and the financial aid department said “oh LOL srry” and gave me a full refund on my tuition.
Yes, A FULL REFUND ON MY TUITION.
Ask the questions—it really can pay off.
Don’t get discouraged.
It might not work out perfectly. In fact, it might not work out at all for periods of time. You’ll probably lose a few credits, and you might even lose a lot of credits.
If it makes you feel any better, I had to retake chemistry last semester due to transferring and that was the one subject I hated the absolute most. Now that I understand it better, I actually love chemistry and I even tutor college-level chem because I’m surprisingly good at it now! (I get paid between $15 and $50 per hour to tutor, depending on the size of the group, so it’s a pretty sweet gig if you ask me.) I also have to take a year off from school because of moving, but it gives me more time to earn money for the next school I attend and it allows me to spend more time with my friends and family, since we’ll be in our home state again for a few months. Good things will always come out of seemingly bad situations if you let them.
Just keep swimming.
Keep doing your research, keep asking questions, and keep your mind focused on your ultimate education or career goals. With the right amount of determination and perseverance, not even the military can keep you from earning that degree!
- Look into schools where you’re going and online schools, if you’re willing to go that route. Find out credibility, what their degree plans look like, and get in touch with a counselor if you think you’ve found a good match.
- Don’t just research the place you’re going to next, but also look into the places you might be sent to after that if necessary & if you know where your spouse could end up.
- Ask questions, especially about financial aid.
- Don’t worry if you have to take a semester or two off and don’t stress about a few lost credits. Keep persevering and reach your goals despite the obstacles.
Have you earned a degree while your spouse was active duty? I’d love to hear your own advice!
Original photo by Will Folsom.