5 Questions Veterans Should Ask Themselves Before Choosing a Career

Veterans have a multitude of resources to help them transition out of the military, says one expert, but they need to make decisions about their own preferences first

By Neil Johnson
Posted 2012

Post Military Career Choice Tips
Post Military Career Choice Tips

Service members about to leave the military may feel like a coiled spring ready to charge into the next phase of their lives, looking ahead to returning home, starting a career or pursuing a college degree.

Answering a few questions before making decisions about jobs and education, though, can sharpen your choices, avoid burning through benefits and help you find support while making the transition out of the military, said Meg Krause, director of Veterans’ Programs for the American Council on Education, a non-profit umbrella organization representing higher education institutions.

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Going from the general to the specific, asking yourself these questions can give you a good start looking for a career and finding college.

1. Look at what you did in the military and consider whether you’d like to continue that or something similar once you leave the service.

“Ask yourself whether you enjoyed what you did and if you want to stay in that field,” Krause said.

If you want to continue your military job in civilian life you can begin deciding on what you need to follow that career. If you don’t want to continue what you did in the military there are online career search tools that can point you into a career path as well as advisors with the Veterans Administration or even local employment offices.

2. Do you want to stay in your home town, state or region or are you willing to relocate anywhere in the country?

“A lot of service members and veterans want to go home to their families and their friends but there may not be a fit with the job market or profession,” Krause says. “You should almost ask one and two at the same time.”

The decision to move to a specific area also can greatly impact your choices of colleges or universities as well as job prospects after you graduate. Whether you are an in-state student at a public university or leave the state for school affects how much of the tuition your GI benefits cover.

3. Where do you stand?

Once you decide on a career path to pursue and whether or not you want to stay close to home, this is the time to see what kind of college credit you have accumulated through training, education and experience in the service.

You can start with your transcripts, which can provide an idea of college level credits you may have earned that can be applied toward a degree. Credits you already have can reduce the time spent in school and hasten the start of your career.

“There are a number of resources for this,” Krause said, adding that, for example, ACE has maintained a contract with the Department of Defense for 60 years to evaluate college credits for service members.

Service members may be familiar with AARTS and SMARTS. AARTS, the Army/American Council on Education Registry Transcript System, handles transcripts of military training and experience for members of the Army, Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve, according to its website.

SMART, its counterpart, is the Sailor/Marine American Council on Education Registry Transcript Service. Another resource is DANTES, the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, that works with the DOD. Its website links with ACE’s Military Evaluation Program as well as the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

That organization operates Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges program. The program’s website lists specific degree programs for the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.

4. What help does the college or university offer veterans?

While location, courses offered and degree programs are major parts of the equation when selecting colleges, they shouldn’t be the only considerations, according to Krause.

You should see what kind of support the school gives veterans, such as whether it has a student veteran’s association or other peer support group, she said. The Student Veterans of America has chapters at colleges and universities in many states. Professional organizations related to the profession you want to follow also may have chapters that can provide support.

You should also check for other policies a university or college offers to help veterans such as child care or housing, or health care resources for injured veterans, Krause said.

Another policy some institutions offer is priority class registration for veterans that can get you into crowded and popular courses that may fill quickly. This can be important for some programs such as engineering that requires some classes be taken in specific order.

There is a limit on how long some GI benefits will pay for you to be in school. Being shut out of courses you need can cause delays.

“This policy means you’re almost guaranteed to get into the courses you want,” Krause said.

Especially important for reservists or members of the National Guard is how the school handles withdrawal and readmission if you’re called back to active duty such as offering reimbursement if you have to leave before finishing a term, she said.

A number of colleges and universities are designated as “Veteran Friendly” or “Military Friendly” but service members need to examine how that applies in their circumstances.

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"It’s important that veterans find what is friendly for them. It’s more about the veteran defining what is friendly. Veteran friendly is different for each veteran,” Krause said.

5. How do you pay for this?

“Once you think you’ve found a school, look at what the GI Bill will pay and not pay for,” she said.

The bill will likely cover the full cost for an in-state student at a public college or university but not the full cost for every institution for out-of-state students.

Also, the GI Bill’s housing allowance provision varies according to the cost of living in each location.

And unless you have a job or other income, don’t spend the entire housing stipend on rent, she said. Set some aside for other living expenses such as utilities.

You should also look for other financial aid. Benefits.com provides lists of federal benefits you can seek that may go beyond aid for veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs also has resources such as its work-study allowance that lets you work for the VA while enrolled in college.

The U.S. Department of Education also offers scholarship programs, loans and grants.

Another source of financial help can be scholarships offered by Individual schools and some professional organizations may offer aid for students seeking degrees in the field.

“It’s vital that veterans do the research into finding what is the right fit for them,” Krause said.

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