Tips for Earning a College Education during Active-Duty Military Service
Get started on your Homeland Security Degree at American Military University.
By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
Using your military education benefits is one of the most effective ways to prepare for a career following military service. Additional education is also helpful if you’re preparing to earn a promotion to a higher rank of the military.
When I entered the Coast Guard, I had no intention of pursuing a college degree. However, I quickly learned that my basic training and other training could be accepted as college credit, based on American Council on Education (ACE) recommendations.
I also learned that I could take College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) tests free of charge through the Coast Guard. Best of all, I found that American Military University understood military life and was very supportive as I balanced my military and college responsibilities.
Instructors Understood Challenges of Military Life and Long-Distance Education
My AMU professors either had experience in the military or understood the challenges of being a military student. For example, there were frequent base changes, deployments and unexpected duty assignments. The flexibility of AMU’s online classes and the willingness of the professors to work with me when scheduling challenges arose made it possible for me to complete my degree.
Now, I’m a member of the Coast Guard and have my doctoral degree. I have taught more than a thousand military students at AMU, and I can relate to their common challenges.
Here are some effective strategies that I used to earn my college education while I was on active duty:
1. Develop Written Goals
Let’s face it; it’s not easy to follow a military schedule and get a degree. There are days when you might want to quit school; I had days like that. However, writing down your goals is an important task that keeps you motivated.
Jot down how your college education is going to help you achieve your career goals, support your family and give you a sense of accomplishment. Reading over these goals as you progress in your education can be a wonderful motivator.
2. Set Aside Time for Your Coursework
To reduce stress and successfully balance your military obligations and schoolwork, you need to keep to a detailed schedule. I recommend creating a daily log of how you spend each hour in your day.
When I reviewed my daily log, I realized just how much time I wasted on activities that were not helping me to achieve my goals. For example, I didn’t realize the amount of time I spent watching television.
Once your time log reflects the most important activities of your day, structure a routine to ensure that you meet your military responsibilities and set time aside for your coursework.
3. Complete Your Coursework Early
One of the biggest challenges I and other military students experienced was procrastination. I put unnecessary stress on myself by waiting until the end of the week to complete my course assignments.
Find a time of day early in the week when it is best for you to complete your coursework. Then, create a weekly schedule and allot that time to do your schoolwork. Don’t wait until just before your assignments are due.
If you have a deployment coming up, it is best to ask your professor if you can complete your coursework early. Another option is to request an extension to complete your coursework when you return.
4. Take Leave When Capstone and Other Major Projects Are Due
There are times when major assignments will require your full attention and may take a good deal of time to complete. These assignments — a major project, a capstone assignment, a thesis or a dissertation — are typically due at the end of the course.
To reduce your stress and fully focus on these important projects, request a military leave in advance to devote your full attention to your schoolwork. We take leave for a vacation or some rest and recuperation (R&R), so why not take leave for a school project that will help shape your future as a college graduate?
5. Take Care of You
Earning a college degree while you serve in the military requires hard work and a proper work-life balance. A written weekly schedule is helpful for scheduling time for the activities you enjoy most. Those activities can help relieve stress and keep you motivated.
Also, reward yourself after you successfully complete a major assignment or a course. That reward is another good way to remain motivated and committed to the major life accomplishment of earning a college degree.
For me, I found that taking my family on a weekend vacation was a reward that helped me remain motivated. Going out to dinner, taking some time away from your responsibilities or spending an evening with friends are a few other ways to reward yourself for success in your education.
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been with the Coast Guard since 1997. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security, contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has also received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions.