After leaving the military, it can be difficult to transition back into civilian life, but for anyone who has spent time serving, here is something to take to heart: You have surely developed valuable skills that can translate into a civilian career. Rather than feeling like you’re starting from square one again, take time to take stock of what you’ve learned from your military experience. Make a list of your skills, attitudes and abilities.
Think about what you are good at and what additional skills you may wish to learn. Do you wish to pursue further training? If so, are you inclined toward a four-year degree program or a vocational training program? If funding is an issue, remember that the GI Bill, along with grants and scholarships, can help fund your educational pursuits, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. While a university is a fantastic option for some people, it’s not for everyone. Some people would rather enter the workforce as soon as possible with a hands-on type of job.
For this reason, it’s not uncommon for individuals to consider vocational school once they have retired from the military. A vocational training program can provide training to build on current aptitudes, and get you qualified for an entry-level position quickly. Not only is there a wealth of vocational options to choose from, but military veterans also have some unique access points to find financing for schooling.
Why Consider Vocational Schools?
- Translatable Skills: To put it simply, there are many careers that incorporate military skills. When you first start investigating different vocational schools, you will notice that the training is very tailored to one specific career path, and you may already have some experience in certain areas. Use this handy Skills Translator from Military.com to see how your unique military job can translate into civilian skills.
- Specific Training: One benefit of vocational schools is that they provide you with very specific training in order to prep you for a fairly specific type of job, such as a welder or pipefitter. For instance, welder training is uniquely meant to train an individual with the skills needed to become a welder. This route is different from university or academic training, in which a specific career path is not always identified, for example, in areas of study such as sociology or history.
- Plenty of Options: The benefit of vocational training is that you learn what you need in order to obtain a desired job, and you keep building on your skillset from there. That being said, you will want to research your options to find the right training program. It’s important to spend time comparing different careers because once you enter a vocational training program, you are on a very specific track for employment. You won’t want to train to be a massage therapist and then expect to get a job as a medical administrator, for example. Take your time because the training program you choose will set you on a specific path.
- Hands-on Learning: Another reason why vocational schools, also sometimes called technical schools or trade schools, are popular among those who are re-entering society from the military is because the training is hands-on. VA-approved, military-friendly school RSI explains there’s a good balance between theory and practice in a technical classroom. Everything you learn in a vocational training program is meant to directly translate into on-the-job skills. This can be very rewarding if you enjoy using your physical and mental faculties, along with the right tools, to complete a tangible job that you can be proud of.
- Get Started Quickly: Most vocational training programs offer a flexible schedule and the option to complete training in a short amount of time, generally between 6 months and 2 years. This can be a benefit because you can start training with a clear goal in mind and can look forward to the strong likelihood of entering the workforce soon. For those who do not want to spend years in school, vocational programs offer an alternative.
Do Your Research
No one can tell you which career path to choose, but there are plenty of helpful resources out there. You may want to start your search by looking into schools in your area or programs within a specific field. You’ll definitely want to research different schools and programs, and don’t be afraid to call or request more information. Check a school’s reputation on platforms like Yelp and the Better Business Bureau to see what kind of reviews it has. You can also search for blogs from previous students to see what they say. Make sure to investigate whether a school is accredited, because if the school is not accredited, then your training may not qualify when it comes time to enter the workforce.
Take the time to find out other important details before enrolling, too, like how long a program lasts, whether the schedule is flexible, what kinds of classes are offered, and what the outlook for your desired industry is. Choose a trade school with robust student support and high job placement rates. Make a list or keep a spreadsheet with this information, so you can make a well-informed, confident decision about which training program to enter.
Where To Find Financing
Grants and Scholarships
Once you have chosen a school, you will want to look at your financing options. Luckily, there are many funding opportunities available for military personnel, whether you are still in the military or not, like special military tuition, financial aid, federal grants and third party scholarships. Grants and scholarships are funding sources that you do not have to repay, so this this is where you will want to begin your search. You can use portals like Scholarship Finder and Scholarships.com as a starting point. Do not neglect applying for scholarships and grants! This is free money! You may even find that your school offers finding for your program.
The GI Bill
In addition to private grants and scholarships, there are government programs in place specifically to assist military members with their education fees. One of these is the GI Bill. It was originally drafted in 1944 to assist WWII veterans with education, but over time, the bill was modified to assist all veterans. A new GI Bill was created in 2008 called the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which was meant to help veterans serving after 9/11. Tuition payments are usually made directly to the school and may also cover costs for housing, living expenses and books.
Montgomery Statute of the GI Bill
Contrary to popular belief, the GI Bill is not limited for use on a four-year university degree. The Montgomery statute of the GI Bill offers a fixed amount of financial assistance for education, including certification and non-college degree programs. Some apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training programs are covered, too. This program covers the veteran and, in some cases, a spouse and dependent children. Payments are sent directly to the veteran every month, once enrollment is verified. To qualify, military members must have at least two years of active duty. Visit the VA Benefits page to view other qualification requirements.
After grants, scholarships and federal aid, you can investigate student loans with low interest rates to cover the rest of the cost. There are a number of federal, state, institutional and private financing programs that serve military personnel. It simply takes a little bit of research. And it never hurts to ask about special military rates!
The bottom line is: Take your time researching vocational schools and looking for financing. Doing your due diligence can go a long way in making sure that you choose a program you are well suited for and don’t miss out on available funding opportunities. Ideally, you will want to search for grants and scholarships first as these do not have to be repaid. You may even be able to fund your entire training program without having to pay out of pocket. There’s certainly no harm in stating this as your goal. Knowledge is power, and you won’t want to let a financial burden keep you from achieving your career goals. Once you locate a program and secure funding, you can be on your way to an exciting new chapter in life.