These 10 questions were originally authored by a colleague at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and me. I’ve repurposed them, but this time with answers focused on higher education!
1. Where do I go from here?
A community college, four-year college, a university or a specialized vocational training program are all options. Consider what you want to do and where you want to live, and then think about which education track will help you get to where you want to be, doing what you’d like to do to earn a living. Start by reaching out to peers who have started higher education, chapters of Student Veterans of America at colleges you are considering, or directly connect with Student Veterans of America.
2. Do I need training, vocational education or higher education?
Maybe. All things being equal, those with degrees earn more than those without degrees, but not all things are always equal. If you have the necessary training, and the skills commensurate with what you want to do, you may not need to pursue more education. But, pursuing additional education may provide access to more networks, additional knowledge and skills, access to resources like entrepreneurship programs, or skills you don’t have yet, and that would advance your career interests, or your broader life goals.
3. Will I work in a career similar to, or different from, my military career?
Making this decision can help you make decisions about which colleges to consider, or what vocational training programs to pursue, and give you a headstart before transitioning to decide where to apply, and if accepted, where to enroll and pursue training or education. Consider what education or training will complement what you’ve already learned, or what will take you in new directions.
4. For similar careers, are there different career paths depending on the geographic area?
Yes, there are! Doing your research about where you want to live for the long term will inform your decisions about career path, and about education and your need to pursue education in a particular area. Some colleges have strong regional and local reputations, but little national attention. These are often great if you want to stay close to the region that college is in. Other times a national reputation is important because you want career and geographic mobility, or because you want many different business and industry category options with national recruiters from many firms selecting to do interviews and hiring on your campus. If you live in a place with a huge majority of the population who have college degrees, a degree might be an entry point to the career market there. If you are going somewhere with many people in your career path there may be entry level through senior positions available, and you may be able to move from company to company to gain experience, salary increases, and build your networks, while if you are going somewhere with limited opportunities in your career then you may have only one employment option in a place, and could have to change job roles with a company for advancement, and that could be difficult to do if those senior to you aren’t also moving up or around.
5. Do licenses and certifications present barriers or opportunities?
Sometimes they present a barrier and other times an opportunity. You have to consider where you obtained the license or certification, and where you want to use it. It may cross borders of states or may be limited to one state. As you consider where you want to live, look into required career certifications or licenses in that state, opportunities to use existing certificates or licensing, or ability to shortcut a process to obtain the needed certification or license more quickly. Sometimes it’s a waiting game, other times you need to take pro-active steps, and still other times it might require either refresher training and updating your license or starting over. Do the research first! Often a place to start is a community college or another institution of higher education with training and certification programs.
6. What skills, characteristics or traits are transferable and important for my career?
Many people in the military don’t know how their skills, characteristics, or training are transferable into higher education and training, either as a student or as a leader in the local veteran or university community, which ultimately may promote career opportunities. Taking an inventory of what you’ve learned to do, how you’ve learned it, and what you might be able to do as a result can inform your educational opportunities, including volunteer, fraternal, academic, and other service goals may be helpful. And don’t forget to apply those skills to experiential learning opportunities. While many college students see internships as work experience and many student veterans already have work experience, internships IN YOUR FUTURE FIELD are necessary for many organizations to even consider hiring student veterans. It’s important to demonstrate an understanding of career education and paths, and for many fields, internships, externships, volunteer experiences, or even self-directed engagement in the field, are critical to show interest and as a key differentiator. While military work experience may be relevant, internships are likely to still be critical to many recruiters and hiring managers.
7. What new skills do I need?
For colleges and universities many times the most important skills are soft skills – how you relate to others and engage in new relationships and opportunities. In other cases, reading might need improvement (even such as attention span to long-form written material can matter). The ability to meet new people and be of service to them is often already present in veterans, but others need to develop the skill.
8. What about my spouse? Should he/she be asking similar questions?
Yes, and not only for themselves, but to help you in your decision-making and research. Additionally, there are often compromises in education choices where one will take priority over the other due to geographic constraints or opportunities. Sometimes making an informed choice based on available information will allow both spouses to pick a best school that meets both their needs. Again, SVA chapters and SVA can help with this decision making.
9. What about children?
Various colleges and universities have daycare options, are in more or less expensive cost of living areas, provide courses available to high school students, and more. If you have children, considering how your education choice may impact their K-12 education, or their living circumstance may be an issue.
10. What dreams do I have that initially motivated my service?
Did you, like many, choose military service in part for the education? Whether an ROTC, Academy, or enlisted service member, education is often inextricably tied to service either before or during service, and transition should leverage that goal and outcomes achieved through education. What were your educational goals prior to service? Have you achieved them? Can your available education benefits (whether Post-9/11 GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon, or state education benefits including grants, reduced tuition, or other benefits) help you reach your other aspirational goals?
A version of this article’s questions originally appeared at http://vets.syr.edu/10-questions-military-members-and-families-should-ask-themselves-before-transitioning, and the questions were originally authored by James Schmeling and Kelly McCray. James Schmeling was the managing director and co-founder at the IVMF. Kelly McCray studied public and international relations at Syracuse University’s Newhouse and Maxwell schools. All answers in this version are related to higher education and authored by James Schmeling.