Military spouses know that each duty station presents a unique and challenging set of experiences. Military spouses are faced with the same everyday challenges as their civilian counterparts, but those similarities end when you factor in frequent deployments, separation, and relocation.
It isn’t uncommon for a military spouse to put his or her own education and career goals on the back-burner because of family commitments. It can be challenging to find the time to study and attend classes; when your active duty spouse deploys or your family is relocated because of a change in assignment, the challenges of completing your education and progressing in your own career can increase exponentially.
I recently attended a workshop for military spouses that portrayed spouses as victims of their military partner’s career. Before I knew it, the workshop became a gripe session about everything that was wrong with being a military spouse. “We don’t get the right information.” “We don’t get education funding.” “Nobody is supporting us.”
Luckily, there were some military spouses in the audience who offered positive perspectives. I have to admit, early in my wife’s military career, I probably sounded just like some of the spouses that were at that workshop. Somewhere along the way, I realized that those same challenges–deployment, separation, and relocation–also helped me to become a stronger person.
The following are a few tips that can help you achieve your educational goals and maintain your own career progression.
Walk before you run. If you wanted to train for a marathon, you wouldn’t start out by completing 26 miles on our first day of training would you? Finding a good education fit is the same. Start slowly by gathering information about available degree programs in your area. Determine the possibility of realistically completing your degree of choice prior to your next change of station or consider an online program of study.
Seek out local education resources. Visit your local base education center. Military education centers are staffed by subject-matter experts who can help you to navigate the available education programs in your area. Staff members at education centers are often military spouses too and they can offer advice based on personal experience. If you are in a location that does not have a military education center, visit a local community college for assistance. Online assistance is also available from online sources; Career One Stop can be a particularly valuable resource for military spouses.
Get financial support. Spouse organizations and base support organizations can offer financial assistance. There are specific programs that offer financial aid for spouses of service members as well as general scholarship opportunities. The Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MYCAA) program provides up to $4,000 of financial assistance for eligible spouses who pursue a certification, license, or associate degree in a career related field.
Don’t shy away from paying out of pocket or taking a reasonable student loan. I did both and have no regrets. You will receive the best return on investment for you and your family by investing in yourself.
Someone out there just said, “Yeah, that’s great, but with this economy I won’t be able to get a job to repay my loan.” Stay away from that guy. According to a recent analysis of Census Bureau data by The Pew Research Center, individuals who have a bachelor’s degree will earn $1.42 million dollars over a 40 year career compared with $770,000 earned by an average high school graduate.
Investigate online learning. Consider attending an online university or college recommended by the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education (DANTES). Completing your degree online can afford you opportunity to study free from time constraints, duty station locations, or frequent permanent change of stations.
Surround yourself with positive people. The great American author and humorist Mark Twain probably said it best, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that. The really great make you feel that you too can become great.”
While Mark Twain may not have had the military spouse in mind, his message should resonate with all of us. If you surround yourself with people who are positive, well balanced, and focused on problem solving, you will likely emulate those attributes.
It is true that military spouses are faced with a variety of challenges–multiple deployments, permanent duty station changes, spouses who are at work for extended periods, finding new schools for children, setting up a new house, etc. It can be easy to get sidetracked from personal education goals. However, even in the midst of a military life, you can accomplish your educational goals. By gathering information about available education programs in your area, seeking assistance from education professionals, and maintaining a positive attitude, you will be in a better position to achieve your educational dreams.
About the Author
John Aldrich is the associate vice president for Military Relations at American Military University (AMU). Prior to joining AMU, he served as an education services specialist for Marine Corps Base Twenty-Nine Palms California; director of career services and job placement at the Technical College of the Lowcountry, Beaufort South Carolina; education services specialist for Navy College Programs, Sicily, Italy; and academic advisor for undecided students and student athletes at the University of Rhode Island. Aldrich also served as a Naval Hospital Corpsman, Fleet Marine Forces. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Human Sciences and Services and a Master of Science in College Student Personnel from the University of Rhode Island. John served as the 2008 chair for the Joint Spouses Conference Hawaii. He is married to Captain Dianne DeVoll Aldrich, USN (RET). John enjoys any outdoor activity, cooking, and making furniture.