The Military and Advanced degrees

Hi everyone.

I have been trying to figure out a way to go to graduate school for a long time now. I would love to get either a master’s or a Ph. D. in Psychology, but there really isn’t any way for me to afford to go back to school. However, I have heard that there might be a way to have my schooling paid for if I was to join the military.

Does anyone here have any experience with anything similar to this? I am a bit hesitant to ask a recruiter for information on this, as it is their job to get people to sign up and probably have no problem misleading people.

Any advice/experience would be greatly appreciated.



I would really highly reccommend looking at the traditional financial aid packages availible. Depending on what state you are in, I think you would be surprised about the level of aid that they can offer. Also, colleges work pretty hard to make sure that their grad students do alright. You guys are the people, after all, that are going to bring the university fame and future large donations. They usually offer jobs, affordable health care and that sort of thing to grad students.

One thing to beware of is that the military may have unrealistic expectations as to how quickly you can finish a graduate degree. There was a military guy in one my statistics classes who was given exactly three years to finish a PhD in systems engineering, which is not exactly a leisurely schedule (IIRC, most people take four or five in this field). Also, they may place restrictions on what fields of study they’ll support. Make sure you ask about these sorts of things.

The military does have a variety of programs to help with education though I think a few caveats are in order. The programs are not the same for all services so check around.

More importantly, a military career is not something to be entered into lightly. If your only reason for considering it is to pay for school, I’d look for alternatives. I’m not trying to dissuade you, I did 20 years myself and the service needs good people, but it doesn’t need people who are only there to get that degree and move on. If you are really interested in the service for its own sake, then there are definitely ways to get a degree paid for partially or completely while you serve. Also, there’s no guarantee that your duties will be directly (or even indirectly) related to your degree.

Your best bet is to just to go talk to the recruiter. The way things are going just now, I don’t think they have a shortage of people wanting to get in so there’s no incentive to mislead. You can be guaranteed that they won’t lie to you outright though they may not volunteer everything.

I’m with Aramis on this one…(man, that phrase sounds cool…I used to love those Michael York “Three Musketeers” movies when i was a kid…what? Oh, yeah, back to the subject at hand. Sorry)

As I said, Aramis is right. Don’t join the military just because you expect to be put through college. For one thing, if you’re not interested in making military service a career, you’ll likely be miserable. Also, you’ll have no guarantee that they’ll see any reason to put you through grad school - that sort of thing is done for officers who qualify (very competitive for some degrees, very few opportunities for others)and are pursuing a degree that will directly benefit the service.

Besides, there’s nothing worse than the guy who, two days after a war breaks out, tries to get out of the military because he just joined for the tuition assistance - they “didn’t tell him he’d be expected to go where there’s fighting!” Yeah they did. Don’t be that jerk.

I really, really apreciate all the advice given here so far.

even sven - I have been considering that option, as well. The thing is, I just got married, and we are planning on starting a family in a year or two, so not having all the benefits of a full time job is very scary to me. Even with financial aid, it would be way to much of a financial burden on my family to follow this option at this time in my life.

ultrafilter - That’s a good point. I will make certain I ask what the expectations are if I were to join and go through some type of academic program.

aramis - Thank you for the specific advice. I think I may have miscommunicated my intentions. I am really interested in serving my country, but am not sure what the best way to do it is. You spoke directly to one of my fears when you stated that I could possibly be assigned to a job that has little or nothing to do with the career I am looking to develop. I’ll take your advice and go speak with a recruiter this week.

I’m not sure I want to make the military my entire career, just part of it. Is this frowned upon? I know they usually have you sign up for 2,3, or 4 years - is it expected that you sign up for more than that once your first time is done?

Kilt-wearin’ man Thanks for your input. I am not looking to make the military a career - just part of it. Why would I be miserable? Also, I am starting to find out that I can get money for college for serving, but I probably won’t be sent through school while I’m in (if I go in, that is).

Based on your scores on the ASVAB test, is it possible to pick certain jobs you want to do if you join the Army? I have heard that if you do well on this test, you can pick something you want to do, and they will guarentee that position for you. Is this a bunch of horse hockey?

Also, for those of you who have served, do you think it was a good decision to do so? What are some things you hated about being in the military? If you were married while you were in, what were some problems? Any jobs to avoid? Any other advice?

Thanks so much for your help with this - it’s a big decision and I am trying to get information from as many people as possible.



First we need to clarify whether you intend to enlist or become an officer. Since you already have a bachelor’s, the officer route is possible, though by no means guaranteed. That choice drives a lot of other factors.

An officer who makes it clear that (s)he’s only there to get that advanced degree and then split will almost certainly not treated as a real comrade by his commander. An officer is expected to be there for the long haul. In the enlisted ranks, that’s true as well but to a lesser degree.

However you choose to do it, by the time you finish the degree and whatever additional time is required, you’ll likely end up with at least 6 years invested in the military. Each year that passes makes it that much more difficult to leave because that 20-year retirement gets to looking more and more attainable. My observation is that anybody who stays past 6 years is in for 20. I do know of people who got out later, even one with 18 years in, but that’s pretty rare.

Regarding jobs, I can only speak for the AF but I assume the system is similar in other services. If you enlist, you can be given a guarantee of a particular field. That guarantee is contingent of course upon your meeting the qualifications and requirements. That sounds simple and it usually is but there are some potential gotchas. If you are assigned to a class starting a few days after completion of basic, you have to complete basic on time – a short illness or injury that holds you back a few days could mean you miss the start date of your other class. After that, you may be able to get into the next class in that field or you may not. If not, you’ll likely be assigned to whatever skill is needed at the moment. Likewise if you should flunk out of the seconday training, tech school in AF talk, (and that’s considered a bad thing) you’ll again be put wherever they need someone. If the particular job you want requires a high clearance and you don’t qualify, same rules apply.

If you are able to go the officer route, the process is similar but there is somewhat more of an effort to meet your preferences.

For specifics, you don’t mention what kind of job you’re interested in. I’ll assume psychology and there just aren’t that many actual jobs in the military that call for a psychology degree, except psychologists. There are a few like drug/alcohol abuse management, but there just aren’t that many of those.

For some of your specific questions: Only the Army has the two or three-year enlistment options and I think those have been done away with in the last few years. For the other services, four is the minimum. After that, it’s four-year increments. In the AF, you probably won’t be allowed to take other classes until you’ve completed your initial AF training (basic, tech school, and 6 months to a year of on-the-job training). That leaves a little over two years to do a masters part time. That’s doable but it’s tough. Another factor that comes into play include where you get assigned. At a small base, there might not be a graduate program available in your field but there may be in something else. If you want a program that allows you to go full-time at service expense, they’ll expect you to make up that time double – if it takes two years to finish the degree, you’ll have to serve at least four more afterwards.

This probably all sounds pretty negative but there are a lot of rewards that come with military service. There’s travel, a sense of belonging to a family, and the chance to do a job that’s a bit more meaningful than just helping some corporation’s bottom line. Flexibility is the key.

As far as which service, I can definitely recommend the Air Force. Don’t even think Marines if school is your primary goal. They’ll be happy to take you but you’ll probably be miserable. In the Navy, you’ll very probably be on a ship and that can severely cut into educational opportunities. They try to support education, but there’s only so much that’s possible in thise circumstances. I’ll let somebody else talk about the Army.

If you know somebody who is or was recently in the service, talk to them about it.

I don’t know how the various psych departments operate their graduate schools, but from my own personal experience in forestry you’re likely to find some programs that will pay you to enroll in their program. Mind you, you won’t be independently wealthy, but if you’re lucky you’ll have your tuition covered, get a fairly decent health care plan, free use of the school’s gym facilities, and enough money to cover a cheap apartment. Get a part-time job or student loan to cover the optionals like food, books, etc.

If I were you, I’d spend some time on the internet looking for the top psych programs in the country that match your desires for a sub-specialty. Then email or call the professors who are the most respected in their field. Ask them what they’re looking for in a student and about what their school offers graduate assistants.

You’ll likely find it much cheaper, more time efficient, and enjoyable to go this route rather than trying to make the military work for you.

Good luck.

Once again, Aramis sums up most of what I was going to say…

As far as why you’d potentially be miserable, the military life isn’t for everyone. Generally, you can tell the guys who are just in for the tuition by the sheer amount of complaining they do about stuff that’s just par for the course. If they make it through their training, that is…

Maybe you should look into the ROTC program at the college you’re thinking of taking your courses at. A friend of mine joined ROTC as a grad student, took three years to get his degree and graduated as a 2nd Lieutennant in the Air Force. I don’t remember if he was on an AF scholarship or not…


First attempted post was freakin’ deleted!

Ok. I’m Army, so here you go.

Army is aggressive about contunuing education, and has many programs, including on-line work, which is rapidly becoming available to all posts.

Assuming a good ASVAB score (which isn’t too tough) and space availability in the particular MOS you want, you can pretty much get it. If you already posess a certain number of college credits you will be afforded slightly higher rank upon completion of basic … usually a maximum of E-4, or Specialist (as opposed to Private E-1).
I beleive the max for Air Force is E-3.

Anyway, the 2 and 3-year enlistment periods still exist, but it depends on your MOS. In high-tech areas, they want to keep you on longer because you’re a big commodity to the civilian market due to your training.

It depents how you look at it all. I kinda got shafted out of cash and time (five damn years) but, as a Photojournalist, I won’t have too much trouble gettin’ a job afterwards.

Joining say, the Infantry, is not nearly as bad as it might sound, though. The grunts are actually very big on education; it’s surprisingly tough to find an Infantryman without either a degree or working on one. They also get massive signing bonuses.

As for dealing with recruiters … well, good luck. I generally wouldn’t trust them, no.

Look around on-line for someone like myself, but with more time in, who can give you some more sage advice if you are serious about it.

I’ve been in the Army for 12 years now. I’m married with 2 sons. I’m a linguist (Russian, Spanish, Serbian-Croatian)and work in Military Intelligence (yes, everyone I know it’s an oxymoron). I’ve also been a Drill Sergeant for linguists. If you’re interested in these fields, please ask. There’re lots of misconceptions about them.

Personally, I’ve loved my career so far. Yes, there were times that sucked. Protracted absences from family, long work hours, etc. But overall, it’s a good life. I’m paid alright, the benefits are good. I love to travel and I would hate having to decide what clothes to wear to work.

Were you to enlist, already having a degree,you would be a Specialist (E-4), which in the Army is the next rank down from Sergeant. The pay at this point isn’t great, but it isn’t too bad either.

While a Drill Sergeant, I dealt with soldiers who had received Student Loan Repayment up to $65,000 and an enlistment bonus of $15-20,000, and guaranteed training in a specific MOS (military for J-O-B), in my case being language training.

Honestly, the most important thing, no matter what you do, is to understand that joining the military, in any capacity, enlisted or officer isn’t like having a regular job. In addition to being able to do your job, you will be expected to be a SOLDIER.
The most pain-in-the-backside thing recruiters do is to convince recruits that life in the military is just like any other job except that we have to wear uniforms.

Sorry, almost opened the door to the Pit there.

my $.02 on the matter.

My brother received the Burke Award while in ROTC from the Navy. That was supposed to pay for him to get his PhD after x number of years in the Navy. They reneged on it, he is currently paying his own way to his masters, while still doing his primary duties.

My uncle in law almost had his career ruined in the military because of them sending him to get his PhD. problem is, while you are getting said degree full time, you are not getting any progress reports/yearly reviews (Can’t recall what they are called in the military), so for several years, his progress reports were basically defered, since he was in school. He graduates, a year later, he is reviewed for promotion. No reports for several years, so can not in all honesty promote him at that time. Next year, gets a good report, should be promoted, but isn’t. Reason, they didn’t even look at the report, they just noted that he wasn’t promoted year before and automatically passed him over because of it. Did this two more times. They finally promoted him when someone higher up realized they were going to lose him if he wasn’t treated fairly.

So be carefull because the beurocracy in the military can easily screw you over when it comes to education if you are not carefull.
That said, have several friends who paid for their degree using the GI bill, and it was a good thing for them.

Thanks so much for the additional replies. You have all given me a lot to think about. I will have to read and re-read all of your replies over the next few days so I can let it all sink in.

So far the hardest part about joining is that it would mean the surrender of choice in my life. I am used to making the decisions as to where I will live, work, and play. Seems being in the military takes a lot of those choices away.

I wish there was an objective “right” answer to all of this…