What to Do When You Need More Money for CollegeAmy Baldwin, Ed.D.
We all know that it's honorable to serve our country in one of the branches of the United States armed services, but many of us aren’t familiar with the diversity of options.
If you didn’t grow up in a family with a tradition of service, or live near an institution, base or training facility, you might not have had many (any!) opportunities to learn about the possibilities.
You might also think it’s an either/or proposition — go to college or serve. In fact, the U.S. Army offers choices and flexibility. Your daughter or son doesn’t have to choose between serving and studying — they can do both.
What is it like to serve in the U.S. Army? What do parents want to know about the various opportunities and benefits of service? We gathered questions from the parents of high school and college students and are happy to share what we learned, with special thanks to Michael Halloran of U.S. Army Mid-Atlantic Recruiting.
First, your student will decide between Active Duty and Army Reserve. Active Duty soldiers serve full-time with terms ranging from two to six years, so a person will usually opt to do this between high school and college or between college and graduate school. However, service members receive up to $4,000 a year of tuition assistance while serving and many soldiers work on and/or complete their bachelor’s or masters degrees while on active duty.
The Army Reserve is a good choice for a current college student interested in training part-time during college, or for a young working professional — or your student can serve after they graduate from college and receive financial support to pursue an advanced degree.
Serving in the U.S. Army can help your student achieve their goal of graduating from college debt free. Active Duty soldiers can receive full tuition to the college of their choice for up to 36 months, plus a monthly housing allowance and a stipend for books and supplies. The length of service determines the exact payout.
Those in the Army Reserve can get up to $25,000 to help pay for college or graduate school (also depending on the length of time served). To qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve education benefit, your student must commit to six years of Army Reserve service. There is also a Student Loan Repayment program.
Not all soldiers get deployed (sent overseas), and many units are deployed to noncombat regions. If your student joins as an Active Duty service member, one of the first things they’ll do will be to take the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). This assesses their talents and knowledge (kind of like the SAT in high school) and is used to help them choose from a list of Military Occupational Specialties (MOS). This means they’ll serve in a position that suits them to a “T” — where they are most comfortable and most likely to be successful and reach their personal and professional goals.
Reservists continue with their civilian education or jobs while they serve, although they can be called up to active duty if needed.
Soldiers participating in the Education Career Stabilization program can attend college and earn their degree without the risk of deployment.
The U.S. Army offers more than 150 career options! Fields include science, engineering, law, healthcare, technology, cyber security, media, aviation and more. In addition to on-the-job training, service members can acquire professional certification — a great boost for their resumé.
As for having an edge, the answer is YES — service will give your student a definite competitive advantage when they job hunt. Employers look highly on job applicants who have served because of their maturity, leadership capabilities, and real-world experience. Colleges and universities also value these attributes and many reserve spots for service members when considering applicants for admission.
To enlist, your student needs a high school diploma or GED and must pass a physical exam and meet weight limits. They can find out more when they speak with a recruiter.
Current college students or recent graduates with strong academic records will find they have excellent options for training and may qualify for bonuses.
Soldiers on active duty receive a salary, comprehensive health benefits, and 30 days of vacation (plus weekends, national holidays and unlimited sick days). They are getting on-the-job training — including leadership training — that will greatly enhance their skill set when the time comes to apply for a civilian job.
In addition to education benefits, qualified Army Reserve recruits are eligible for some excellent bonuses: a translator aide bonus, skills bonus, Officer Candidate School bonus and more.
The service lifestyle is enriching and challenging and your student will be part of a vibrant, diverse community. Serving in the U.S. Army is an intentional choice for someone looking for a more purpose-driven future.
The Army Reserve is not the same thing as ROTC , which has a presence on many campuses and is another great opportunity your student may want to explore. (By the way, students can be in the Army Reserve at the same time that they attend ROTC.) These are all great things to talk about with a recruiter who can answer all your student’s questions — and yours, too.