Posted on Jan 3, 2020
Ashley Nicole
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I was wondering if it is difficult to earn a degree while being active duty? How soon could I start school after AIT? I have about 37 credits under my belt from a community college but not college degree. I wanted to use the assistance to my advantage while serving and get a degree (preferably bachelors). Does it have to be related to my MOS or can I treat it like I would as a civilian? Biggest mistake people make while trying to attend and serve? Just wanting some advice so I don’t screw myself over or make it more difficult than it needs to be.
Posted in these groups: 5a9f5691 College832f72b8201573917a859a922b3ad46f Duty StationsGraduation_cap Education
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SFC Senior Brigade Career Counselor
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Difficult is irrelevant, you'll either make it a priority, or you won't. The Army, and college, has made it easier than ever to attain a legitimate, regionally accredited degree these days. Back when I first joined you had to go to night school at the education center and on the weekends. If you were in a unit like I was, you were gone too much to attend. Plus, you had to pay up front and get reimbursed and TA only covered 75% of tuition costs.
Now, the Army has a simple online portal. You find a college, the education counselor loads your degree plan. An online planner pops up showing you what courses will meet your degree requirements. You click a few buttons and you're enrolled. As for taking classes, we now have classroom, hybrid where you take some of it in class, and some online. There are online classes where you sit and watch a lecture. There are ones that are completely self paced. There are ones where the entire course is on a thumb drive and you complete the work and mail it back, all completely offline. In the Army today, if you have time to watch TV or play video games, you have time for class.

How long should you wait? I would say about a year or less after getting to your first duty station. Long enough to know a little about your job. You'll never really know your whole job. As soon as you do, you'll get promoted or moved and have to learn that job.
You can pick any college, for the most part. Definitely pick a regionally accredited college. Your education counselor will almost always steer you towards one of the colleges on your post. I suggest Coastline Community College for your associates and then transferring to a bachelor program after that. There are multiple reasons why this is a better choice for you, but that's another conversation. In the end, it really doesn't matter what associates program you pick because they are all low level classes and most of them are general education and electives. CCC will also give you up to 40 Semester Hours of military credit in your degree program. That's two thirds of your degree.

Biggest mistakes-
1. Waiting till you get out of the Army to go to college on the GI Bill. Thinking it will be easier when not on active duty. Thinking the GI Bill housing stipend will provide enough money not to need a job.
2. Waiting too long to begin. Most people wait until they are trying to earn promotion points or become a Senior NCO to earn their degree. Either they are trying to make more points and get ahead of their peers for promotion, or they are close to retirement and want their degree completed before then.
3. Being enrolled in a degree program but not taking a course because of upcoming training events. As I said before, you can be completely offline and take a course. There are plenty of training events that last a month where you will be really busy, then have hours of down time just waiting. Even if you don't, you can request a course extension. If you wait until the training calendar is clear, or you're not already busy, you're going to lose a lot of good opportunities for courses.
4. Waiting for any sort of "right time". There will literally never be a right time. Especially once you have dependents, there is no extra time. You just have to make it more important than the other things in your life like going out on the weekends or entertainment. People find time in their busy lives for church every Sunday because they make spiritual development a priority. Self development is equally important.
5. Letting TA go unused. You get a limited amount of TA a year and that pot resets every fiscal year. If you don't use it by the end of the day on September 30th, then it's gone and the limit resets for the year.

If you attend just one class at a time for the year you will attend enough to be able to apply for FAFSA at least as a half time student. If you use your FAFSA money for more courses you could bump that up to three quarters. One to two classes at a time will allow you to maintain a high GPA and progress steadily towards your degree with no money out of your pocket. In the future you may want to apply for degree commissioning programs like the PA program, Nursing program, or Physical Therapy Baylor program, or even just OCS. Having a high science GPA and overall GPA will make you more competitive than your peers and give you a better chance at getting selected.
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Ashley Nicole
Ashley Nicole
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So informative!! Thank you so much!
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Ashley Nicole
Ashley Nicole
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Can I still use fasfa while in the army? Also, for your #1 mistake, why do you say that it’s a bad idea to wait until after you’ve served?
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SFC Senior Brigade Career Counselor
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Ashley Nicole yes you can and should use FAFSA, I addressed that towards the end of the comment.

There are several reasons why I say it's the number one worst mistake.

First, most people who say they're going after have never attended college. They come straight from high school into the Army, into an organization where even the most incompetent person gets hand walked to success. They have never experienced college and they don't know what is waiting for them. Statistically 75% of people who use the GI Bill after the military will face financial difficulty that they say they were unprepared for. Taking at least a few classes while on active duty would help prepare them.

Second taking classes and finishing an associate while on active duty will allow the veteran to finish their bachelor and have two years of TA left to pursue a masters or a professional certification.

Third, the most common reason Soldiers will tell you they want to wait is they believe it will be easier once they are off active duty. For some, like single Soldiers who will be staying at their parents house, that's true. For many others, that will be true as well. But it's an assumption made on absolutely no knowledge of the truth to believe you'll have more time, more money, or things get easier down the road. They somehow believe that they will have more time to study while attending school full time and working a side job for food. Or that they won't need a side job because they'll be receiving BAH. By far the most common response when I ask Soldiers why they intend to wait instead of starting college now is that they say it will be easier once they are in college full time.
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SFC Casey O'Mally
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It can absolutely be done. It will obviously take longer than if you were going to school full time. You get tuition assistance one year after completion of AIT (meaning Army pays for your classes). But you can take CLEP tests (and get CLEP study material) for free as soon as you get to duty station.

You can pursue whatever degree you want, there are no limitations. However note that a degree that nests with your MOS may be quicker and easier because you may be able to apply military training and experience to some of those credits.

Mission comes first, though. I highly recommend doing one course at a time. Most posts are affiliated with a local U and will have accelerated 6-8 week courses. If you do those one at a time, but do it year round, you can knock out a semester (15 - 18 credits) a year. Again, not as fast as a full time student, but half speed for free while holding down a full time job ain't bad. At that rate, with the credits you already have, you can probably have a BS in about 6 years or so.

WAY BA k, there used to be Commander's initiative for a "college drop" as part of re-enlistment, where you would go to school full-time for a semester. Usially still had to do PT and things like urinalysis or PAI, but other than that, your duty location was college. Don't know if that is still an option, but if it is, that could also speed you up.

Depending on your unit, their OPTEMPO, deployment phase, training schedule, etc. You may be able to do more or less. But start with one at a time and see how it goes.

The two biggest mistakes I saw were kids going too fast or too slow. Either they were jumping in and trying to do too much and spreading themselves too thin (both school AND work suffer). Or they were putting school again and again because they were "too busy" with the Army. (I was the latter - I didn't get serious about college until I had been in for 16 years.) Slow and steady wins the race, here. One at a time, but ALWAYS (or almost always) be taking a class.
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Ashley Nicole
Ashley Nicole
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That sounds smart taking one or two classes at a time! That’s what I feel like has been most popular. It does take longer but you’re right, the pay off is worth it considering it’s free and you can still hold down everything else.
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SFC Joshua Murtha
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Honestly how easy it difficult it can be is entirely up to you. It's about the effort and work you put into getting your degree. Even with deployments there's still a way to get the work done, all be it a lil slower while deployed, but none the less still achievable. Just give yourself a small goal when u first start then when u reach that goal move to the next bigger one each time until complete. Hope that helped despite the long winded answer.
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