Online Education for Military Spouses: Getting Your Degree
Military spouses face many challenges in earning a degree. As a military spouse, you may move too frequently to complete a four-year program in one place. You may be stationed in an area without a college offering the degree program you’re looking for. And with your spouse deployed, you may be busy handling work, kids, and running a household yourself. Family responsibilities make it necessary for many military spouses to go to school only part time—and it can take much longer than four years to earn a Bachelor’s this way.
If you’re a military spouse looking to get a degree, here are a few things you should know.
Online vs. Traditional Schools
You have two options for getting a college degree: through an online or a traditional school. In many cases, online degrees are easier for military spouses. Here’s why:
Online schools make it possible to go to school full-time
Most military spouses don’t have the time to devote to a full-time traditional school schedule. If you’re taking classes only at night or on weekends, it may take you twice the usual time to get your degree. With an online degree program, however, you’ll be able to go to class when and where it’s most convenient for you. It’s much easier to fit a full-time class schedule around the other responsibilities in your life.
You won’t need to switch schools each time you move
When you choose the traditional route, you may be stuck moving from school to school as well as from base to base. This can quickly become a logistical nightmare. It’s rare that a school will allow you to transfer every credit you’ve earned, and taking classes over again to satisfy a school’s graduation requirements can be costly. Even if you can find financial aid to help cover the cost, you still have to deal with the time and hassle of applying to a new school, trying to transfer your credits, and applying for financial aid multiple times.
When you’re enrolled in an online school, however, it doesn’t matter where you’re located—you can stay in the same school no matter where or how often you move. This can make life a great deal easier for military spouses.
You have more options with online colleges
When it comes to transferring college credits, finding a good degree program, and getting the best financial aid package possible, choice is crucial. With traditional schools, you’re limited to the ones in your area. With online schools, you can choose any college in the country. You have a much larger selection to choose from, and you may have better chances of finding a great program for a price you can live with.
If your heart is set on a traditional school, however, you may be able to earn your degree with less hassle over transfer credits. Under the Servicemembers Opportunity Challenges (SOC) program, the military has formed partnerships with traditional colleges that offer courses in and near military bases worldwide. Each college within the network accepts transfer credits from the others, allowing spouses to transfer their credits when they move. There is an SOC partnership program for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and National Guard.
Making Each Credit Count
Classes are costly, both for online and traditional students. No matter the type of college you’re attending, you’ll want to save money by minimizing the amount of classes you have to take. Here are three ways you can do this.
Even if you earned college credits years ago, you should be able to transfer at least some of your prior education credits to your current school. Some common factors that affect your chances of transferring credit include your grades in the classes you’re transferring; the accreditation status of the school you’re transferring from; and whether or not your old college’s credit hours match the credit hours at your new school.
When transferring your college credits, be sure to talk to many different schools to find the best deal you can. Start as early as possible and discuss the issue with transfer counselors at your prior school as well as potential new schools. The transfer counselor at your prior school may be able to tell you which of your credits is most likely to transfer, and whether the school has a reciprocal relationship with any other schools.
You can also take a College Level Examination Program (CLEP) test to demonstrate proficiency in a topic—and many colleges will give you credits for your CLEP test scores. The test is administered by the College Board, and is given in a wide range of topics including English and Literature; History; Math; Science; Business; and Language (for a full list of topics, click here).
Not every college accepts CLEP test scores for credit; and among those that do, the amount of credits you can earn for a CLEP test score varies by school. The College Board offers a searchable database of schools that accept CLEP test credits.
The CLEP tests cost $65 to take as of this writing, plus registration fees that vary from college to college. But for some military personnel, civilian personnel, and spouses, the test fee and even registration fees may be waived or reimbursed. Click here to find more information and to apply.
Life experience credit
You can earn life experience credit at some online and traditional schools. The way schools determine how much credit to give for your life experience varies; some schools may ask for a portfolio or essay, and others may put you through a series of interviews to determine your knowledge. Some may want to see your resume and certifications; letters from employers, colleagues, or business associates; or curriculums and completed assignments from job training classes you’ve taken. Policies vary, so be sure to check with each school you’re considering applying to.
Money for Military Spouses
As a military spouse, you have access to scholarships specific to you. You can also apply for non-military scholarships available to all college students. When checking out your financial options, it’s important to look for scholarships on your own rather than depending on your school to give you the best deal. The recent student loan crisis showed that some schools have partnerships with private loan companies, and will not always offer the best deals in their financial aid packages. Always try to get scholarships and grants rather than loans whenever possible, particularly private loans.
While there are funds out there for spouses of reservists and retirees, some scholarships are available only to spouses of active-duty personnel. Because of this, it’s often better to start an education while your husband or wife is deployed in order to take full advantage of the funds available. Here are a few places to look for free cash for your degree:
FAFSA: Your quest for cash should start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The government will judge your application and offer you scholarships, grants, and low-interest, fixed-rate loans based on your financial need.
Air Force Aid Society: This society provides tuition assistance to spouses of active-duty air force personnel. They offer 50% of unpaid tuition charges, up to $1,500 per academic year.
Navy/Marine Corps Relief Society: This program offers tuition assistance to spouses of Navy and Marine Corps officers stationed overseas. The program offers up to $300 per undergraduate or $350 per graduate term, to a per-year maximum of $1,500 for undergrads and $1,750 for graduate students.
ThanksUSA: This program offers $1,000 scholarships to spouses of active-duty military personnel who plan to enroll full-time in a two-year or four-year degree program. The awards are given based on financial need, academic achievement, and demonstrated leadership within the school or community.
Army Emergency Relief: The Army Emergency Relief program offers scholarships for both overseas and stateside spouses of army soldiers who are deployed in active duty. The overseas award is available only to spouses living overseas who are attending undergraduate school; the stateside award is available to spouses, widows, and widowers.
Dependents Educational Assistance: These funds are given to widows and widowers of military personnel who died during their tour of duty, or spouses and dependents of disabled veterans injured during military service. Tuition assistance is given for up to 45 months of tuition for degree, certificate, and on-the-job training programs.
The Naval Special Warfare Foundation: This foundation offers scholarship money to spouses, widows, and widowers of Navy SEALS, Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen (SWCC), and other Navy Special Warfare personnel serving in active duty.
The Military Spouse Career Advancement Initiative: Funds are available for military spouses located at participating installations in the United States to pay for tuition, books, and fees associated with college education. The amount available varies depending on your location.
NMFA Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Program: This program offers $500-$1,000 in financial aid to spouses of active duty military personnel, National Guard and Reserve members, military retirees, and survivors
Check with individual schools
Your individual school may offer a scholarship program specifically for military spouses. Some examples of schools with spouse-specific scholarship programs include:
- Grantham University
Grantham offers a reduced tuition rate of $250 per credit hour for eligible spouses of active-duty, reserve, and honorably or medically discharged veterans. They will also pay for textbooks and school-related software.
Grantham University is a member of Servicemembers Opportunity College (SOC), Grantham University is approved by all branches of the military for tuition assistance and is approved for the payment of VA benefits. Military and professional training as well as prior college course work, CLEP, DANTES, and DSST exams can qualify for college credits.
- AIU Online
AIU offers a 15% tuition grant to eligible active and inactive military personnel, as well as civilian military employees, veterans, and their immediate family. Check out this online brochure PDF for more information.
- AIU is DANTES affiliated and a member of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) and is a preferred school of the Special Operations Command.
- Ellis Online
- Ellis offers a 20% tuition discount for the spouses of active military personnel, National Guard, veterans, and Department of Defense employees. They also offer a 15% discount for spouses of inactive duty military personnel, including retired officers and inactive reservists.
- University of Idaho
- Idaho offers Operation Education, a scholarship program that provides aid ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 per semester. The scholarships are available to spouses of veterans who have been injured while serving their country after September 11, 2001.
As a military spouse, you’ll face plenty of challenges in getting your education. But with the right knowledge and resources, you can meet these challenges and earn your degree. Know your options, apply to as many grant and scholarship programs as possible, and question as many schools as you can to find the best credit transfer and financial aid packages available, and you should be able to meet your educational goals.
CollegeBoard.com: About the CLEP Test
Military Spouse Career Center: Grants and Scholarships for Military Families
Distance Education.org: Life Experience Credit: An Explanation
Distance Education.org: Switching Schools: A Guide to Transferring Your College Credits
Inside Higher Ed: Tussling over Transfer Credit
U.S. Department of Defense: New Initiative Offers Education, Training Fund for Military Spouses
Military Spouse Resource Center: Guide to Military Family Scholarships
DefenseLink: Scholarships, Tuition Remission, and Discounts for Military Spouses
More About College for Military Personnel
- Military Students and the Government Shutdown
- Seven Tips for Transitioning from a Military to a Civilian Career
- Common College Perks for Military Personnel
- What is the Montgomery GI Bill "Top-Up" Benefit - And Do You Qualify?
- Members of the Military: Does Your School Qualify for GI Bill Assistance?
- Six Things You May Not Have Known About the Military Tuition Assistance Program
- Military and Veteran Students: Getting Funding for Education Outside the Federal Government
- The GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act: How it Helps Veterans