The Military Path: Debt Free College Education

It was twelve years ago that I sat down in a recruiting office and made the decision to sign on the dotted line and commit my life to the United States military.  It sounds scary but it has been the best decision of my life as well as my family’s life.  For most people that scenario takes place in high school but mine was as a college graduate, who was already in a great career, along with my wife who was a full time RN. I just could never shake the feeling that I had to serve.  With great-grandparents who came from Italy during WWI to join the US military and grandparents who fought in WWII, I felt that with everything this country has given us I had to serve or I would regret it forever.  My wife and I took a leap of faith when we left our comfortable world and we have never looked back. 

Most people have a pre-conceived notion of what the military looks like.  They watch movies and TV shows and presume to know what an average day is like.  A career in the military can be vastly different for many people.  For some, they choose to live the life that appears on tv, although even that is dramatized.  Then there are those who live a seemingly “normal life”.  The military is a massive organization.  It needs people from all different backgrounds to operate, including people in the medical field, finance, supply chain, science, engineering, construction, and the list goes on.  They are looking for the best and brightest to build the greatest military in the world.  The military does more than fight.  They run humanitarian missions, build and engineer structures, act as peacekeepers, train allies to keep peace in other areas of the world, and even protect our own citizens here in the United States. 

So as a parent myself, what would I tell my own children if they were interested in a career in the military or even just a 4-year tour? First, I would tell them to do their own research online.  Each service has a comprehensive website that will typically contain most of the information that you are looking for.  Each service has something different to offer so research and self-reflection are key.  Your child needs to think about what they want out of their time in the military and what their interests are.  It will at least provide you with the basics.  Secondly, speak with someone that is serving or that has served.  See what they have to say about their time and their experiences.  Get the information directly from the horse’s mouth.  I promise you that if you approach a veteran or active duty member with your high school aged child, they will be more than happy to speak with them.  Finally, I would say make an appointment with a recruiter.  Yes, the dreaded recruiter.  Remember, you are only going there to ask questions and gather more information.  Its not like the movies, they are not going to trick you into signing up and shipping your child off that same day.  So, go and ask lots of questions but go there armed with information and an agenda.  Don’t have your son or daughter arrive with no idea about what interests them or what is available in that particular service.  Remember, knowledge is potential power.  It is only as good as the plan that you have for it.  So, have a plan. 

I know that I am speaking to a group of parents whose children more than likely have some college credit or more.  So, the question is, how does this benefit my child if they were to join the military?  Having college credit is a major plus in the military.  All services reward education because, as stated before, they are looking for bright individuals to fill the ranks.  The military, believe it or not, pushes education more so than most other organizations.  They reward current education, they hand you the opportunity to pursue future education (GI Bill), and once you’re in they even hand you money to take courses while you are serving (Tuition Assistance).  I am half way through my master’s degree through the University of Louisville all payed for with tuition assistance.  I still have my GI Bill that I have signed over to my children.

I wish I could tell you every detail from every service when it comes to joining the military with college credit but there are just too many differences and variables.  However, I can tell you some of the major benefits that you will come across.

  1.  Each service varies but you can enter at a higher paygrade depending on the amount of credits you have earned.  This means your child will be making more money right out of the gate and this could be several hundred dollars more a month.  There are different tiers to this system as well.  The more credits the higher the rank (although there is a ceiling).
  2. With a college degree or college credits (all services are different when it comes to what is required) your child has the opportunity to apply to become an officer.  Typically, when first entering the military you will be required to have at least a bachelors degree to apply to become an officer, however in some services, once you are already enlisted for a period of time you can apply with a certain amount of credits.  The officer path opens up many different doors and an increased income.  There is a lot of competition for these opportunities so there is a lot that goes into building a package for the selection panels.  This is all done through a recruiter. 
  3. As mentioned before, all enlisted members are privy to Tuition Assistance.  The amount available changes year to year but it is plenty for an individual to take college courses throughout the year while having a full-time job in the military.  Tuition Assistance is free money to be used towards college credits.  Certain schools have military prices that are exactly the amount provided through Tuition Assistance, meaning the courses are completely covered (University of Louisville).  If they already have college credit, the path to a degree is that much closer.  This is a path to a debt free education and also an opportunity to become an officer.
  4. Then there is the GI Bill.  If your child’s sole purpose of joining the military is to receive a free education then the GI Bill is exactly what they are looking for.  The GI Bill will pay for a four-year degree from the most expensive in-state school that you reside in.  This pays for tuition, a stipend for books, and even gives you a monthly payment for housing at the E-5 pay level.  If your child wants to attend a private school, many have what is called the yellow ribbon program which covers the amount that the GI Bill does not.  Anyone joining and serving honorably for their 4-year tour is eligible for the GI Bill.
  5. I also know that many of the students out there may have certifications in different fields.  Make sure to bring that up to the recruiter because there is the potential for signing bonuses.  These all change with the needs of each service but it is always wise to ask.  The Coast Guard specifically had a signing bonus of $30,000 for those with certain culinary certifications and a $40,000 bonus for those with at least an AA in the culinary field if they pursued a path to become a Culinary Specialist (these are all subject to change so contact a recruiter). 
  6. Finally, each service has many opportunities that come about once you are enlisted.  These can include opportunities to apply for programs to go to law school, med school, specialty schools, etc. and for the most part you are required to have either a certain amount of college credits or a degree.  Education opens the world up for you in the military.  It provides you with opportunities that just don’t exist without it.

I wish that I could be more specific when it comes to each individual service but the details change and the programs vary so it would not be wise for me to give you false information.  Now that you know that these opportunities exist you can at least be filled with the knowledge to intelligently approach a recruiter and ask the right questions.  I hope that you and your student will at least consider a career in the military.  I know that the morals and values that exist in the homeschooling community are a great asset to all the services and the experiences and opportunities that will be provided to them will last a life time.  If you have any questions please feel free to reach out.  I want to thank Jennifer for giving me the chance to contribute to this community and I wish you and your families all the best.     

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