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Education Options Available in the Military

A high school graduate has many decisions to make. They have talked to their parents, counselors and other advisors about college. However, getting financial aid to attend traditional colleges is getting more difficult, and students may want to earn money while going to school. Their grades are good and they have spent their high school years taking challenging courses in advanced math and science, perhaps even studying a foreign language to prepare for higher education. But how do they earn money while learning a technical skill or pursuing a degree?

There is an option that enables students to earn a salary, train for a vocation or profession, get a college education, as well as serve the country. The United States Armed Forces provides opportunities for high school seniors and high school graduates.

Recently, the war has caused many young people to reconsider the military as an option. However, the four-year enlistment of most military branches must be weighed against the associated monetary and educational benefits.

Some of the job skills training offered in the military is not as readily available elsewhere, yet it's a qualification for many civilian jobs. This training is provided for free through the military and may be college-accredited. All branches of the United States Armed Forces offer a wide variety of educational training benefits and bonuses that extend beyond the military commitment.

According to the Navy Recruiting District, Chicago website, "The navy offers many programs, such as the Navy College Program, which allows sailors to earn credits for the training they receive in the navy. Additionally, navy college counselors are available to facilitate college degree planning. Navy Tech Prep is an educational program geared toward high school prospects interested in pursuing an associate's degree through technical training.

"Through the program, students still in high school take preparatory courses at participating colleges. Prospects study advanced science and math courses in high school, enlist in the navy's Delayed Entry Program and continue at a community college for one or two semesters, and then enter the navy's training pipeline in one of 17 different job opportunities. Upon completion of a school, recruits earn an associate's degree. Seventy-five colleges in 19 states have agreements [with the program], and several other states have shown interest."

Maj. Scott A. Sanders is director, national call center, Headquarters Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. He describes a program offered by the Air Force. "The Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) is a program for interested students of any major to pursue their college degrees while simultaneously earning their commissions as Air Force officers. There are 144 colleges and universities, which offer the AFROTC, and over 1,000, which offer cross-town agreements for students to participate in the program.

"Typically, students will take four years worth of AFROTC courses, which they sign up for just like any other college course," says Sanders. "Between students' sophomore and junior years, they will attend field training. There is also a two-year program offered to students who decide to join AFROTC later in their college careers, for students who are in graduate school."

The United States Air Force is looking at how to match or exceed the educational opportunities available to potential airmen in the civilian world. David E. Smith is the Air Education and Training Command's public affairs operations division chief at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. He says, "The Air Force has a white paper -- the Air Education and Training Command's roadmap to the future of training the young men and women entering the Air Force in the digital age of the 21st century. The command is looking at the digital technologies surrounding teenagers today -- iPhones, iPods, wireless laptops, etcetera -- and reviewing the educational delivery/teaching methodologies we are using, with a view toward delivering information through those digital technologies our airmen have already embraced.

"The older generation of airmen in the Air Force has been forced to adapt to the digital world and are referred to as 'digital immigrants.' Today's young people have grown up surrounded by digital technology and are considered 'digital natives,'" says Smith. "To most efficiently train those digital natives, the Air Force is moving from predominantly platform and lecture delivery to wireless delivery, online lectures, distance learning, and is looking to the future to evaluate emerging technologies to fully exploit the talent of those digital natives."

Michael Scheck, public affairs specialist for the army, says, "While on active duty, service members can take accredited college classes in their off-duty time under the Tuition Assistance Program and receive 100 percent reimbursement from the military. Most military installations (even overseas) offer on-site college classes through a variety of colleges. These can be undergraduate, graduate [or] PhD level classes," he says. "Service members can also take classes at local college campuses and be reimbursed. The army also offers the Student Loan Repayment Program. Army members can have up to $65,000 of student loans repaid that they have incurred prior to joining the army. These loans must be from accredited lenders for college expenses."

The educational benefits extend beyond the enlistment period. The military offers the Montgomery GI Bill, which provides financial aid for college. According to Your Future Begins Here!, a brochure produced by the Air Force Recruiting Service, "This educational assistance was enacted by Congress to attract high-quality men and women to the Armed Forces. After completing three years of honorable active-duty service, participants will have more than $35,000 for educational expenses. These benefits may be used for degree and certificate programs, flight training, apprenticeship/on-the-job training and correspondence courses. Generally, benefits are payable for 10 years following your release from active duty. Participants are offered the opportunity to sign up for this program during Basic Military Training."

Beyond the educational benefits of enlisting in the United States Armed Forces, there are other advantages. Scheck adds, "The main advantage is independence. Young people are on their own, making their own decisions and preparing for the future. In an era when the average college graduate lives at home until they are 25, this is a big advantage. We offer free medical and dental benefits [and] low-cost life insurance. Single military members are provided free housing and food, so their military pay -- around $1,100 a month to start -- is their own to save and spend as they wish. They earn 30 days of vacation a year.

"We have plenty of military installations where they could be stationed all over the world, including Italy, Germany, Hawaii, Japan and Korea," says Scheck. "If you decide to stay in the army past your initial enlistment, career soldiers who spend at least 20 years on active duty are eligible for military retirement. Besides a retirement check, retirees have free medical benefits for themselves, their spouse and their family (children are covered until their 23rd birthday if they are full-time college students). Retirees and their family have access to any military installation to utilize the post exchange (our own department facilities, to include gyms, bowling alleys and golf courses).

"We are always hiring," he adds. "If the person is morally, mentally and physically qualified, we can offer them a career in the military." All branches of the military are eager to hire qualified young men and women. High school students and high school graduates can therefore consider the military as one of their post-secondary options. Local Armed Forces recruiting offices are available to provide students and parents additional information about a career in the military.


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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.