By Barbara Bellesi, special to AOL Jobs
For every great reason people have for returning to school to finish their college degrees, their busy lives seem to offer up a discouraging excuse. While adult students often have many more family and career responsibilities than their younger counterparts do, the good news is that even the busiest of people are finding success at going back to school -- and that includes men and women in the military.
As if going back to school weren't already overwhelming, a growing number of men and women are combining a degree program with active duty, sometimes stationed in places like the corners of Iraq and Afghanistan -- where it's difficult to envision there ever being a chalkboard, let alone an Internet connection. It wasn't easy for Sgt. Daniel Staggs of the U.S. Air Force, but his college degree is proof that it can be done. A recent Ashford University graduate who earned his bachelor's degree in social and criminal justice online while stationed in Afghanistan, Staggs says that it's all in the preparation.
"My advice would be to get a game plan," he says. Using the discipline he attributes to his military training, Staggs focused on making a study schedule that would enable him to complete his work, but more importantly, would allow room for unexpected events. For adults with civilian careers, unexpected events can mean a child's illness or a late work meeting; in the Air Force, an "unexpected event" can have you transporting to new locations or gearing up for battle at a moment's notice. Nevertheless, Sgt. Staggs managed to stay at least one week ahead of his classes at all times. When he was taking classes at the base back home, this kind of planning allowed him to spend more time with his family.
At Saint Leo University's military centers across the country, about 30 percent of the student body is active in a branch of the military. The university offers programs on military bases throughout the country via on-ground, online, blended delivery formats, and even conducts courses via CD-ROM in the far corners of the Earth for those men and women on active duty. Susan Paulson, assistant vice president of continuing education at Saint Leo says, "There are lots of great tools they can use in the military to assist them with making career and educational choices," noting that taking a class or two on the base can connect them with faculty and mentors in their proposed field of study, which can make the decision to return to school easier.
Once adult students are enrolled in a program, Paulson says that Saint Leo has a "high touch" when it comes to working with them -- offering tutoring, counseling, and other services that can help active military personnel fit a program into their unique lifestyle. The support they receive from can take them from having little confidence in themselves to a "Wow, I can do it!" conclusion, she says.
Completing any degree program can be a daunting task, especially when combined with the noble duty of serving one's country. But according to Staggs, it's not impossible. "Don't let it overwhelm you," he says. "It will at first, but press on."
Next: Military Families Week
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