My name is Chris, I am 28 years old and I am an Army veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. I am married with a 1-year-old son, I work full time and I am a senior in college. There isn't one thing about my life that I would do differently. Every decision that I have made has made me a better person in one way or another.
The importance of education
I was like most young soldiers in the military and didn't pay any attention to my education. As long as I could stay in pretty good shape, do well at my job as a forward observer and party with my friends, I was happy. I never planned on making the Army a career, but I was so shortsighted that college wasn't even a thought in my mind. As the years went on and I got closer to the end of my time in the Army, I finally began to wonder what I might do when I got out. All of a sudden, college was at the top of my list of priorities.
I decided to enroll in the Distance Learning program at the University of Toledo. Not only was Toledo, Ohio, my hometown, but the university offered free tuition to any active-duty service member taking only distance-learning classes. I started out slowly, only taking two classes my first semester, but I realized that I could handle more. The thing about the Army is that it teaches you to embrace a large workload and to strive for perfection. This was a huge help when it came to school, as it drove me to want to challenge myself. I wanted to see what I was capable of accomplishing.
This drive enabled me to earn an associate degree just before getting out of the military. A lot of my military education within the Army transferred to my college transcript, through the Army/American Council on Education Registry Transcript System (AARTS), a program that produces transcript college credits. Those credits helped to satisfy all of my elective credit requirements, which significantly reduced the number of classes I was required to take for my degree.
I thought that I was all set and would have no problem finding a job. After all, I had an associate's degree and a pretty strong military background. Unfortunately, I was hugely mistaken; no one hiring cared that I had an associate's degree, especially in 2010, with the unemployment rate as high as it was.
The value of a higher degree
I decided that I would continue my education and pursue a Bachelor of Business Administration degree through New Mexico State University, putting my GI Bill (which helps pay for college) to work. Now I have one semester to go until I will graduate with a B.B.A., majoring in marketing. This is going to afford me many more career opportunities than I would ever see without a college education. On top of my education, I will have something to offer potential employers that my fellow graduates will not – professional military experience.
I will have management experience as well as the track record of accountability and reliability that most Americans correlate with military service. I believe that this is going to give me a big leg up on my job-seeking competition, in ways that others' internships and summer jobs will never do.
Leadership, accountability, responsibility, dedication, morals, values and mental toughness are all attributes acquired in the Army, and they cannot simply be picked up by filing papers and answering phones for a marketing firm. These attributes are earned through years of hard work, self-sacrifice and overcoming obstacles, both physical and mental. These are all extremely valuable to employers; however, they really don't mean much to them if they aren't accompanied by an education, and the more of an education that you have, the more marketable a veteran becomes.
The question of the future
As I was nearing the end of my undergraduate studies I found myself questioning what it is that I actually want to do with the rest of my life. I thought that I was too old to continue school and that I "need to just find a career." After some deep soul searching, however, I decided that I would like to attend law school.
When I get my undergraduate degree, I will have roughly 24 months remaining on my GI Bill; and most law schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. This is where the school and the Veterans Association will split the cost of any remaining tuition after the GI Bill payments for the semester have been taken into account. For some law schools, this is worth over $150,000 in tuition! Not only that, but when I think of the opportunities that will present themselves to me, someone who has almost eight years of exemplary military experience, an associate degree, a B.B.A. in marketing, a juris doctorate (law degree) and has passed the bar exam, I cannot help but be excited. Who wouldn't want to hire that person?
Ever since I was a little kid, I have been told, in one form or another, that knowledge is power. The only way that this statement can be more truthful is when that knowledge, in the form of a college education, is combined with the unique professional experience that comes from a stint in the military.
Add in the value of the GI Bill, in terms of the amount of tuition that it saves the veteran, along with the benefits that accompany a college degree, and there should be no question that finishing college after the military is the correct answer to making a successful transition to civilian life. I am certain that it is going to work for me!
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