While my spouse was reporting for Officer Candidate School (OCS), I was gearing up to enter graduate school. We spent the first 1.5 years following college with my spouse geobaching–first in South Carolina, then in New York–so that I could work on my PhD. When my spouse received orders to Hawaii, I left my program at the Masters due to limited opportunities in Hawaii for me to continue my degree. I never continued that degree program, but I did pursue a professional degree in a different social science field when we left Hawaii.
Throughout my experience being a military spouse, I have had many people comment on the decisions I made related to my own education and career goals. I’ve heard comments such as “I want to finish my degree, but I can’t figure out how to do it with all the moves” or “I’ll work on my education when my spouse leaves the military”. Unfortunately, this military lifestyle contributes to the struggle many spouses have when trying to pursue an education or career.
If you find yourself wanting to continue or complete your education, but not sure how to accomplish it with the military lifestyle, below are some things to consider before diving in.
Traditional vs. Non-Traditional Student
Many spouses considering working on a degree worry about completing a traditional, in person degree with constant PCS moves. This can be a daunting thing to consider, particularly since most degree programs are longer than the average sea or shore tour. If considering a traditional, in person school placement, think about whether you can transfer your credits if your spouse receives orders or if you might geobach to complete your program.
Non-traditional student status may include part time, online or hybrid options. When I went back for my professional degree, I chose a program with online classes and in person field work. I chose the particular school because they had field programs in all 50 states, and I knew we would probably PCS in year 2 of my 3 year program. Online and hybrid options allow a lot of flexibility for military spouses; but there can be some difficulties that come along with these programs. Some are asynchronous, meaning you take classes and exams at your own pace. For some, this might be a preferred way to study. For others, it might be hard to set your own external deadlines. At times during my program, I felt disconnected from the university and it was rather lonely compared to my prior experience in a cohort style program.
Tour and Tempo of the Boat
Before entering a program, consider where your spouse is in their career. Are they in the middle of a sea tour or shore tour? When is your next projected PCS date? Is there a way to use your next PCS or tour opportunity to accomplish your goals all in one place?
I applied for my program at the end of a sea tour, because I wanted to complete most of my program while my spouse was on shore tour. We were lucky because we knew about six months out where we were PCSing, and we also knew the orders would not change. But in considering my options, I also considered the length of time of my spouse’s tour and his projected next steps in his career. For example, we knew we would be in the Boston area for two years, then in Groton for at least six months. Because of this, I chose a school in New England.
If you are looking at starting a program during a sea tour, consider the tempo of the boat. It would be nice to think that the tempo of the boat or sea vs. shore tour should not factor into our decision to work on our own education, but it can add an additional stressor to your life that may make it difficult to complete your program. There are many spouses I know who had to take a leave of absence during their programs due to stressors related to military life (including deployments and PCS moves), some never went back to complete their programs.
What is your ultimate career goal? Is it something that requires a license? Is it easily portable between states? Are there other spouses with similar jobs that you can connect with?
While choosing to pursue an education, it is important to consider your career goals at the same time. There are many career paths which can be difficult to maintain while PCSing every few years, and others that are more portable. There are tons of online communities of military spouses focused on careers and helping each other with transitions. It can be helpful to seek some of these communities out before starting a program to ask others any lingering questions you might have regarding your education, career and the military lifestyle.
Deciding to pursue a degree is a huge financial investment. Consider if there are any special scholarships you may qualify for. This article from Military One Source has a list of various financial benefits you might qualify for. There may also be local community resources available for military families pursuing higher education or licenses.
- Military One Source Education and Employment
- VA SECO Program
- Military Spouse eMentor Program
- Military.com Spouse and Family Education Assistance Programs
What are some things you considered when deciding to pursue your education? Any tips and tricks for other spouses?