When Is The Right Time?
Picking the “right” time to leave the military may not be as easy as you think. Sure, you have an ETS or retirement date that you can point to, but I’m talking about a date that has been truly investigated as the best time to leave and not because of a contract term date or one you selected reasons not about transitioning. Many in the military focus so much on their ETS date that they may lose touch of what that date will bring outside of their separation from the military. As they get closer, they will even tell you how many days and hours until they wake up for that day. Yet, the odds are that they haven’t prepared themselves in a way to ensure they won’t struggle after several months.
If your plan is to separate the military and then go to college full-time, it will be important to consider the potential challenges you’ll face ahead. According to The College Board, tuition and fees make up only 39% of the total budget for instate students living on campus to attend college at public four-year school1 . Are you thinking about living off campus or in attending a private school? Living off campus will likely double or even triple your typical on-campus expenses while attending a private school will more than three times as much in tuition and fees when compared to a public school. Book prices for an undergraduate program average around $65 and can soar higher depending upon the course and the professor’s selection.
Planning ahead for those additional expenses after tuition and fees will ensure you don’t have to hold down a job while attending college. Although working while attending school isn’t unusual, the challenges of matching your work schedule and school schedule become more difficult and can put a strain on employment. Not to mention, your expenses that are not part of the tuition and fees will put a strain on your pocket book requiring you to rethink your ability to remain a student without some type of loan support. In 2012, a Harvard study2 was conducted that stated only 56% of college student’s finish within six years and only 29% of students who enter 2-year programs finish within three years. The rising cost of education has made it more difficult for student’s to pay for their college expenses and for those expenses incurred as a result of attending school, causing them to take out loans where they struggle to meet debt demands after leaving.
For those that enlisted post 9/11 (after 10 Sep 2001), they are entitled to the Chapter 33 – Post 9/11 GI Bill® that covers tuition and fees not exceeding instate tuition, a monthly housing stipend for those attending more than half-time, up to $1000 a year for books, and a one-time rural benefit. You may find these benefits helpful, but there will still be expenses for transportation, food, cell phone, and other expenses that you may have not planned on3 and many vets find themselves taking out loans to help pay the rent and other expenses due to delays in VA payment or other difficulties. If you are prepared, then you are already one step ahead of most of your peers. If your goal is to go to a technical school, the challenges provided in the study’s pointed to above are also just as daunting for those planning technical schools.
The challenges of translating military to private sector experience and the high unemployment rate that our economy is experiencing at the moment create anxiety for those transitioning out of the military. The current unemployment rate for recent veterans is very high4 and is much higher when compared to those that have not served in the military. The challenges our military face to transition their skills to the private sector affects many separating and they feel unprepared for what they walk into. Results of studies on the impact of veterans transitioning are being evaluated to find ways to improve the findings, but it’s a responsibility each of us to become informed, weigh our options, and determine the best course of action.
Even with the best laid plans, there are no guarantees of success. Being prepared and knowledgeable about the challenges that you may experience is still the best way to ensure the odds are stacked in your favor.
1 Trends in higher education. http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-estimated-undergraduate-budgets-2014-15
2 Study: Nearly half of America’s college students drop out before receiving a degree. http://thinkprogress.org/education/2012/03/28/453632/half-college-students-drop-out/
3 Veterans face another challenge: paying for college. http://www.cnbc.com/id/
4 The unemployment rate for recent veterans. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/11/11/recent-veterans-are-still-experiencing-double-digit-unemployment/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Robert Gowin is a retired Army Master Sergeant that began his career as a Armor Crewmember before becoming a recruiter and career counselor. Robert’s experience in the private sector includes business and human resources consulting, project management, corporate operational strategy and integration, and most recently as Vice President of Pharmacy Operations, Analytics, and Compliance for Anthem, Inc.’s pharmacy solutions. He is the author of the book, Master the Transition, that provides advice to military on how to plan for a successful transition that is available at Lulu.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.