Military service members and veterans have plenty of educational options, but balancing military service and education comes with its own set of unique challenges. Fortunately, colleges and universities are increasingly focused on creating meaningful, high-quality online degree programs for military personnel. Whatever stage you are at in your education or your military service, there are online education options tailored to you. But is online college right for you? And what are the benefits of online education for military service members, veterans, and their families? Those who applied for TheBestSchools.org $1,000 Online College Scholarship offer some insight into these questions. Among our many worthy applicants, more than a few military service members and military spouses explain that online education was not just the best option, but their only option for a college or graduate degree.
If you already know what you're looking for, jump right into The Best Online Colleges for Military Families.
If you're focused on advancing your education and career directly within the military, get started with a look at The Best Online Military Studies Programs.
And if you just need advice on how to use your GI Bill® to take your next step into a quality education, check out A Complete Guide to Using Your GI Bill®.
Otherwise, read on and find out why so many military service members thrive in online college:
Compatibility with Unpredictable Military Schedule
If you're in the military, your obligations to service and country come first. This means that sudden changes to your schedule, duties, or mission can come from your superiors. You may have little control over how this alters the demands on your time.
Fortunately, online education is often something you can control. According to Bryana, who earned an associate of arts at the College of Southern Nevada, "Online degree programs offer more flexibility for my always-changing military work schedule. I like being in charge of my own schedule and holding myself accountable for studying. The online environment also allows me the freedom to study how I want to instead of being confined to a desk in a classroom."
Online programs, especially those that are asynchronous—courses that are completed without live, scheduled interactions—can be adapted around the ever-changing demands that come with military service. This means that you can continue to place your military commitments first without being sidetracked from your educational goals.
For tips on how to choose, and succeed within, an online educational setting, check out The Savvy Student's Guide to Military and Online College.
Flexible Course Scheduling for Working Service Members
Your military service schedule does not need to be unpredictable to be demanding. For most service members, the combined responsibilities of service and family occupy a huge chunk of time. If you're going to pursue an education, it must be one that you can build into your already action-packed life.
Samantha, who earned a bachelor of general studies at Eastern Illinois University, explains that "I work full time for the Illinois National Guard so I am unable to attend normal classes. More and more schools in my area are cutting their night classes so that wasn't a real option either. As my life changed and my family grew, I knew that pursuing an online degree program would be the best option for me and my family. This allows me to still spend time with them, work full time to contribute to our home, and also to pursue all of my goals in the military. I am able to go to military schools while at the same time working on my degree, as both are things that are extremely important to me. I want to go as far as possible, and having a school that works with me has been the best thing I could have hoped for. I am able to pursue my dreams!"
Because online education comes in many shapes and sizes, Samantha found an online program that she could build her life around. Check out these options for personalizing the structure of your online college experience:
- Online colleges you can start any time;
- Accelerated online degrees; or
- Hybrid programs that blend both traditional and online classes.
If you're really in a hurry, jump right to The Fastest Online Bachelor's Degree Programs.
Geographical Flexibility for Service Members on the Move
As a service member, you need a level of flexibility that goes beyond scheduling. You may need to reach across borders and oceans to pursue an education. Military service may require frequent relocation, whether you're moving from one base to another, pursuing a mission at a remote installation, or being deployed to an active military operation. This means that you need an education you can take with you, wherever you go.
James, who is studying for a master of public administration (MPA) at the University of Nebraska Omaha, explains that "I currently serve in the U.S. Army and am pursuing an online degree due to frequent traveling, deployments, and moves to new installations. I found an MPA program I wanted to pursue, so I chose to pursue an online degree to complete this particular program despite the obstacles the military lifestyle can present."
He noted that "Serving in the military creates many obstacles to traditional education, such as busy schedules and frequent travels/moves. Pursuing higher education via an online program allows me to conduct coursework with a teaching staff at UN Omaha who are very cooperative with students to ensure they are able to successfully learn the material despite military hurdles."
For more on navigating an online education from anywhere in the world, find out How Military Personnel Can Make the Most of Online College.
Civilian Career Development While Fulfilling Military Service Commitments
We have good news if you're a military service member with civilian career ambitions. The training, education, and discipline you've developed during your time in the military will be incredibly valuable as you advance your profession. But before you can make the leap, you may want to pursue a degree that aligns with your interests, experience, and career goals. The right degree program can help you channel your service knowledge and background into practical civilian sector skills.
With online college, you can start this process even as you fulfill your service obligations. For instance, Rebecca, a student pursuing a bachelor of business administration at Columbia College Missouri, explains that "While in-class degree programs are immensely beneficial to the academic student, I myself am unable to attend in seat classroom time due to being Active Duty in the United States Navy. I am a few credits short from my associate in general studies, but my goal is to gain my masters in business administration."
Rebecca goes on to explain that "I have been in the Navy for over 8 years and in a few months I will be transitioning into the civilian sector. My aspirations when getting out included getting my realtors license for Massachusetts, enrolling in school in Boston, and solely taking over my father's constructions company. I hope to bring innovation to the company. All great businesses must adapt to the technological advances we are witnessing."
Rebecca notes that "Online classes have opened my world to the technological advances of this day in age. I joined the military due to my fear of going to college, but now that I have taken a few classes online, I wish I had gone to college sooner! The world is at my finger tips, and I am just an eager student waiting to soak up new information like a sponge."
If, like Rebecca, you are interested in making the transition from a military career to a career in the civilian sector, check out our tips for Starting a Civilian Career.
College Credits for Military Experience
The GI Bill® will help you pay for college, but it certainly won't cover the whole package. Thankfully, there are other ways to offset the cost of college as a military veteran. Because so many online college programs are tailored to the needs of military service members, it's increasingly common for these programs to award credits for certain military experience. Your service background may qualify you for a number of preliminary credits, ultimately reducing the cost of your college experience and the amount of time to completion.
For instance, Thomas, a student earning a master of business administration at Liberty University says "I love to travel, and I wanted a program that would allow me to complete my coursework from wherever I am." He went on to note that "The flexibility of online learning is the reason I'm able to pursue an MBA at this point in my life. As a veteran, the program I chose also offers credits for military experience which I greatly appreciate."
There are additional steps that you can take to offset the cost of your education based on your service to our nation. Many foundations, organizations, and schools offer significant scholarships for military service members and veterans. To take advantage of these offers, check out Military Scholarships—Everything You Need to Know and Do.
Military Spouses Can Advance Their Education From Anywhere
The GI Bill® can also benefit the spouses of military service members. This is especially pertinent to the discussion of online college. Just as service members make a commitment to the corps, so too do their spouses. Military husbands and wives in pursuit of an education must also remain flexible through unpredictable scheduling and sudden relocation. This means that online education may be their best bet.
Kimberly, in pursuit of her academic advisor certification from Angelo State University, says "I am currently a military spouse with little access to colleges or universities. This online program will allow me to pursue my goal of being an academic advisor when we move to duty station that has more colleges and universities available to work at."
She went on to explain that "I received my master's degree online through Southern New Hampshire University. It was astonishingly convenient and rewarding. I loved being able to connect with students from all over the country. They all had the same goals as me, and I learned how to pursue the career path I want to pursue based off of their experiences."
Nancy, a student earning a bachelor of science in biological sciences at Arizona State University, had a similar experience, though from a uniquely remote location. She says that "I originally wanted to attend a campus, but my husband is active duty military. We travel a lot. I'm from Washington, D.C., and our first duty station is Alaska. I'm getting my bachelors in biology because I eventually want to be a vet. The state of Alaska didn't offer the classes I needed to achieve my goals of becoming a vet. I also did not want to have to go through transferring schools every time my husband got assigned a different duty station. Going to school online fits in my schedule and helps me stay on track to becoming a doctor."
If you're a military spouse and you're wondering how you can use your partner's benefits to begin an online education, check out our Complete Guide to Using Your GI Bill®.
For a comprehensive set of resources for military service members and veterans considering online education, including resources for disabled military veterans, tips for transitioning into civilian life, and extensive information on the U.S. GI Bill® program, check out our Military Education Headquarters.