MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – While I was at Expeditionary Active Shooter training, a junior enlisted Airman from the 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron asked me what my college degree was in. It piqued my interest because it isn’t a typical question asked of an O-6. As we were talking I was very impressed by his motivation in pursuing his degree, and it reminded me of the opportunities we have.
I love to see Airmen of all ranks enthusiastic about getting an education. Between the GI Bill for post-service life and the tuition assistance while on active duty, education is one of the best benefits we have available to us. Ask your friends in college back home how much debt they are accruing—or even your lieutenant here—you may be astounded that some have graduated with debt over $100K! But you can be debt free!
Why do you “need” a degree? First, at some point in your career, the Air Force will require you to have one or at least part of one. If you decide to not stay in, a degree is often necessary to get your foot in the door for many positions in the civilian world—even if the degree isn’t directly related to what you will be doing. Why? Completing a degree is taken as a sign that you have determination, the ability to follow through, reliability, can think critically, can write and so much more. There are civilian jobs that do not need a degree, but, do you honestly know what you will want to do in four to six years when your commitment is up? Give yourself options.
Don’t know what to get your degree in? Who cares?! You do not need to know yet. Pursue your associate’s. Get your core classes done while you figure out what you like. You may find you love that core business, biology or history class you had to take. You will also find out what you hate. Rest assured, you’ll figure out what to get your degree in as you go. Remember--once you have that associate’s degree, you can transfer the credits to many four-year universities and will have eliminated almost half of your college expenses! (Note: The Air Force Tuition Assistance program may limit how many times you can change your degree plan once you get past your associates—so be wary about declaring a major on day one.)
You also have many options for classes while in the Air Force. You can do classes online. This is great for self-motivated, shift workers or those who deploy frequently. Want to meet people or don’t have the discipline for online classes? You can attend classes in person, downtown or on base. There are even hybrid options available.
Are you motivated and know you want to stay in the Air Force? Ever thought about going to the Air Force Academy but didn’t have the grades? There is a program for just you—if accepted you will spend a year at the Preparatory School and then go to the Academy. Don’t say it isn’t an option for you, it is possible. I know multiple Airmen over the years who were selected. There are many other options available to you—talk to your supervisor or visit the education office.
Are you older and already have your bachelors’ degree? Get your masters’! Here’s your opportunity to pursue something that augments your career, sets you up for what you’ve learned you love or round out your resume. Don’t need a masters’ but need certifications for your desired career? There are options for those too. Go talk to the education office.
One last thing—get that degree now! Do not put it off. As you progress in rank and responsibility it will only get harder to find the time to go to school. For some of you it is hard to imagine being married with kids—but that will come up faster than you may think. You don’t want to be that non-commissioned officer or major who is taking classes while balancing growing responsibilities at work and at home. Do it now while you have time!