Going back to school was always something I wanted to do, but the moving that comes with being a military wife made it seem like an impossible feat. As the years went by, the thought of being financially and academically responsible, while taking time away from my family was something that stifled my goal of receiving a higher education.
I was hesitant to apply for college because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Well, I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to go about it. As a military spouse, I constantly heard about programs that will help with the cost of school, but I wondered how to complete a program without the physical stability of living in one place throughout the duration of my studies. Today, there are so many ways to complete courses no matter what your zip code is, such as online and hybrid options.
After applying for school, attending classes, and finally graduating, I have some tips to share that worked for me—and can work for you.
Finding a school that’s right for you
There are a plethora of schools contending to meet your academic needs. Firsts things first. What are your academic needs? There are a few questions you’d want to ask yourself in order to determine this.
- Have you previously attended school and have college credits that need to be transferred?
- Is there a specific degree or educational field you are seeking?
- Also, what are you time constraints when attending school?
The answer to these questions will help you decide which school is right for you. Some schools offer degree programs that others may not. If you have credits from another college, find out if they will be accepted at the college you are hoping to attend. You’d be surprised, but not all colleges accept similar course credits from other schools, and some will even accept them but may consider them as an elective.
Also, choosing to attend school at a convenient time is probably one of the most critical aspects of successfully completing your degree. Maybe going to college at a physical location isn’t convenient for you right now. Try looking into schools that allow you to complete the same program online, or in a hybrid mix that is a little in person and mostly online.
Got financial aid?
Then there’s the topic of actually paying for the program. You may be eligible for Pell Grants, Army Emergency Relief (AER) grants, MyCAA funds (limited to specific ranks and programs), subsidized and unsubsidized loans, or scholarships.
I will admit, if you want to get a large amount or all your schooling paid for, this category will require some research. For example, Army spouses like myself quality for the Spouse Education Assistance Program through AER. For those of you affiliated with other service branches, each has its own offering some type of financial aid assistance.
Then there’s scholarships, which are like getting free money because you are not required to pay it back. All you have to do is meet the organization’s requirements, provide previous educational documentation, and possibly complete an essay or an interview. Simple enough, right? Check out Scholarships for Military Members and Dependents and get an early start on your college funding.
The Department of Education offers Pell Grants annually, which can cover most of your tuition if you qualify. You must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and include proof of income or tax documentation to be considered for this funding.
If you’ve applied for every scholarship and grant and still cannot cover the cost of your tuition and other fees, student loans are another option, though they require a repayment plan upon completion of your degree plan or if you’ve stopped going to school for longer than the allotted deferment period.
Now that you’ve filled out your application, been admitted, and your school finances are situated, you are ready to choose a degree plan and individual courses. If you have not decided what you specifically want to go to school for, don’t fret. You can still begin taking classes. General education courses are necessary no matter what academic path you choose.
When I first began taking classes as a military spouse, I started taking one general education course at a time. For me, jumping into a full-time school schedule was something I did not feel I was prepared for. I was advised to start off slow. Once I was engaged, and comfortable enough to balance my home life with my school schedule, I took more courses. For more information about what classes and how many you should take, talk to your school’s advisor.
If you are attending school face to face or taking online courses, have a tangible copy of your course syllabus accessible. I created a binder for all my studies, just like I had in high school. The binder had a divider, a two-pocket folder, and paper for each class I was taking. This helped keep my schoolwork organized and helped me stay on task.
Further, communicating with your instructors is key. If you have questions, don’t understand the materials, or have life circumstances that are putting you behind, communicate.
You may also be able to find a study group, online or in-person.
Going back to school should be a great experience. Find a school that offers your preferred degree plan. Get your finances in order and get to work. It’s only hard if you make it. Why not make it simple and fun? Getting a higher education can lead to financial success, and the knowledge you gain will be used to make our world a better place.Read comments