Military or College?
If you are not sure whether you want to join the military or go to college, the good news is you have options. You can join the military part-time (reserves) and get money while you go to college. You can also join the military full-time and take online college courses or attend the college near your duty station. There are many colleges that cater to the military.
You can also go to college full-time and join the ROTC program. This option will allow you to serve in the military after you obtain your college degree and enter the military as an officer. Of course, you can just go to college and not even join the military. The option really is up to you!
Joining the Military
The military may be an appealing option. There are multiple branches to choose from including the Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, Army, and Air Force. These branches also have part-time reserve components where you work your civilian job, yet go to drill a weekend a month and two full-weeks a year. You must meet an age requirement, which varies by branch and pass a health screening and vocational aptitude (ASVAB) test. The health screening prevents many recruits from enlisting; no-goes include diabetes, asthma, and even color-blindness.
Prepare for the ASVAB Test
Be prepared to study for the ASVAB test. Studying for the ASVAB is crucial to qualify for more military branch options and careers. Don't stress out too much though, if you take the test and wished you had scored higher, you are able to take the test again. Also, if you have a college degree, you may be able to enlist at a higher rank.
If you have children, you will need a guardian who is willing to provide care while you are away. You will attend basic training and your schooling, on a full-time basis, away from your family. Even if joining the reserves, you have to complete basic training and your tech school. Each military branch basic training length varies and tech school length depends on your career choice. Some schools are as quick as eight weeks, while others are one year long.
Research Military Careers
There are numerous careers in the military but some transfer to civilian employment better than others once you leave the service. Of course, life is about happiness so choose a position you would love to do in the military. If that military career does not align perfectly with a civilian occupation, you can always take college classes while serving. Many universities cater to a military clientele.
If you are interested in choosing a career that will directly help you land a job upon separating, researching military careers that require a civilian certification is a great start. Air traffic controllers, truck drivers, crane operators, and mechanics all gain certifications, and there are many more. Union jobs such as electricians are great too.
If you are looking at a career in the military that aligns with a civilian career, you can visit online job boards and research what experience employers are looking and see if the military training you will see aligns with the civilian career.
It's important to call out that many companies prefer hiring veterans and government agencies may give veteran preference when seeking out candidates.
Money for College
Whether full-time or reserves, the military also offers tuition assistance and supplemental monthly income (called the GI Bill or the Post-9/11 GI Bill) when going to school.
The Armed Forces Tuition Assistance (TA) Program is a benefit that pays up to 100 percent of tuition expenses for semester hours costing $250 or less. The school must be accredited and the person's branch of service pays the school directly. In most branches, this can equal up to $4,500 a year towards ones eduction. That does not even count the GI Bill.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill is available to military service members who served at least 90 days of active duty since September 11, 2001. The amount an individual qualifies for varies, so it is important to ask a recruiter how this works.
Those who are joining the reserves (or National Guard Reserve) who may not be activated for 90 days, can qualify to receive a supplemental monthly income through the Montgomery GI Bill. This does not pay as much as the Post 9/11 GI Bill.