Companies and organizations have raised the bar for many entry-level positions. It’s estimated that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require education beyond high school—a sharp increase from 2016 when only 37 percent required a post-secondary education. As employers that traditionally hired workers without degrees are now hiring applicants with at least a bachelor’s degree, an already tight job market has become even more competitive.
Members of the armed forces receive training after high school which doesn’t result in a degree; however, the skills obtained are no less valuable. When military students combine the expertise gained in service with the return on investment of a bachelor’s degree, it quickly becomes apparent that earning a college degree is worth it.
Figuring out how to choose a program major that compliments your military background takes planning. Read on to learn how to select the best college degree program based on your skills and career goals.
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Earning a College Degree After the Military
“The GI Bill® provides transitioning military members with an opportunity to restart,” says Tommy Furlong, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and career coach at Northeastern University. Depending on the educational institution and degree program selected, students who utilize their military education benefits may have little to no additional out of pocket costs.
Related: Paying for College in the Military
Program majors and degree options are wide open, and military students aren’t limited by their prior work experience or military background when deciding on a career path.
“We see a larger cohort of veterans pursue business, finance, and accounting at the bachelor’s level,” continues Furlong. “Whatever your job was in the military, you can absolutely change your career path when you get out.”
Even while pursuing your degree, previously unexplored opportunities might cause you to seek out a different career path. About 30 percent of students change their majors during college. Students must, of course, eventually choose a major so they can finish their degree, but exploring other career options by taking additional coursework is encouraged. At Northeastern, there are more than 90 undergraduate majors and concentrations. So, how does an incoming student decide which area of study is the best fit?
Choosing the Right College Major for You
Utilize Your Transferable Skills
Furlong says that servicemembers and veterans shouldn’t limit themselves to career options based on their military training.
“Transferring skills gained in the military is less about mirroring those positions in a civilian field,” he says. “It’s more a question of how they translate those skills.”
Some colleges and universities have dedicated departments or staff members to assist with translating military skills into related majors and potential careers. Northeastern’s Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers (CAVS), for example, is a department dedicated to addressing the challenges faced by veterans transferring from military service into civilian life. Northeastern offers a variety of resources to help you build on your military experience or transition into a new career. Experienced military admissions officers can help you identify your transferrable skills that can be used to identify a major that complements your career goals.
Identify Your Career Goals
Some students complete their college degrees with no desire to leave government work. For example, a military student might major in business, information technology, cybersecurity, or another area with the intent of securing employment with a federal agency. Other military students may focus on one of the top civilian career paths for veterans. Here are a few examples of program majors and their related careers in which servicemembers and veterans might excel.
|BS in Management
|Sales Manager, Human Resource Manager
|BS in Project Management
|Management Consultant, Management Occupations
|BS in Finance & Accounting Management
|Management Financial Analyst, Accountant
|BS in Information Technology
|Cybersecurity Consultant, Operations Research Analyst
|BS in Psychology
|Mental Health Counselor or Psychologist
Furlong reminds students that earning a degree isn’t reserved for those looking to exit the armed forces, either. “The military might send a senior enlisted servicemember or officer to earn their graduate degree so they can in-turn access higher ranking positions. They might also use the education obtained to provide in-service training for their unit,” he offers.
Conversely, a junior enlisted service member or officer might plan on ending their service and using their bachelor’s degree to help secure a job in government. In this case, there might be less focus on the actual program major, Furlong adds. For military personnel balancing service and civilian responsibilities, he recommends exploring online degree programs that offer increased flexibility.
Furlong says prospective students can bring clarity to their career goals by asking these questions:
- Am I interested in a career other than the one that I’ve already received in military training?
- Do I want to remain in the military after I’ve received my degree?
- What should I do to advance my career?
- Which aspect of my military training did I especially enjoy?
- Was there a particular skill where I excelled during my service?
- What am I passionate about?
- How soon can I complete the degree?
- Are my military education benefits enough to cover the cost of my education?
- Can I use scholarships, loans, and grants to cover any remaining expenses for my degree?
Name Your Future Plans
The best degrees for military students match up with their career goals. A bachelor’s degree can open the door to entry-level positions in a new career field, advance your military career, or facilitate your transition into the civilian workplace. In any case, your choice of a degree program should be in line with your personal and professional goals. As you work toward degree completion, you may find that your interests are in an area you hadn’t pursued prior to college—and that’s okay. Regardless of which undergraduate major you choose, remember that a degree is the first step on a path to unlimited professional possibilities.
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.