Should I Go to College or Join the Military?
College or Military Service
By the end of high school, it’s likely been driven into your head or your student’s head the importance of going to college and continuing his or her education beyond public school. Students are taught the importance, not only of a solid education, but the advantages that a degree, even a certification, can have over a simple high school diploma.
But while the dream for most teachers and parents is for every student to go on to college or university, the reality is that not every student is cut out for college life, nor is every student stellar enough to continue into a two- or four-year degree. For a student who felt as though they struggled through high school academically, the prospect of additional schooling can be daunting.
The military, however, offers opportunities for great careers after enlisting and ultimately a comfortable lifestyle. With the many benefits and opportunities available for those who serve the armed forces, including the ability to receive an education for free, it’s easy to understand why some young people see it as a viable option.
Is College or University for Me?
In previous articles, we discussed reasons to go to a community college and picking a college. While there are numerous websites, articles, and educational materials explaining how to get into college and how to pay for it, there are very few resources explaining if it’s the right choice.
As mentioned previously, college is an investment of both time and money. It can be a difficult task to be accepted into a college, difficult to pay for tuition, and academically difficult, depending your degree choice and study habits.
For a student who isn’t college bound, doesn’t aspire of being a doctor or lawyer, or comes from a family who simply can’t afford to help with college, the prospect of a college degree just isn’t in his or her future. However, this doesn’t stop teachers and guidance counselors from pushing practically every potentially able student to apply for colleges and scholarships.
But is the stress worth it? First and foremost, a college degree is almost always worth the time and effort. The data that those with college degrees earn more than those with high school diplomas is well established and the evidence grows stronger every year. As more jobs become more technology based, companies are looking to hire those whom have at least an associate degree or certification in certain fields. While companies will train new employees in the event of a massive shortage of unqualified workers, a person already trained and certified in a certain area is much more marketable.
A four-year degree certainly is not for everyone, especially if you know yourself well enough to know you have poor study habits, don’t care much for school, and are more interested in finding a good paying job quickly. In that regard, an associate degree or certification offers a much faster and potentially easier option, especially if going through a community college versus a traditional college or university.
But if even the idea of community college isn’t appealing, there is always the option of joining the workforce immediately after high school. There is no shortage of successful businesspersons who did well for themselves despite not even finishing high school, but those stories are few and far in between. Not everyone is going to have a million-dollar idea, win a lottery jackpot, or inherit millions of dollars.
If you decide to skip college and enter the workforce right away, be prepared for the potential for a difficult road ahead. Unless you already have a job connection waiting for you after high school, attaining a high paying career without a college degree can be incredibly difficult, but not impossible. With a great attitude, work ethic, and hard work, it may be possible to have a well-paying job without ever going to college. But at some point, even those people in the workforce will require some sort of additional training or education. Basically, even if you don’t go to college, you will have to study something new at some point if you want to be better at your job.
Not Every Man’s Army
The military may be even more difficult to enter than a college or university. While military service is completely volunteer based, not every person who enlists will be allowed to join based on entry standards.
According to a military.com, roughly 75% of young men and women between the ages of 17 and 24 would not be eligible for military service for various reasons including:
- 31% were too overweight
- 32% have some sort of medical issue beyond being overweight such as ADHD, prescription medications, or any numerous medical issues the military deems a person is not suitable to serve
- Failing to past the physical fitness test due to being overweight or lacking physical strength and endurance
- 10% have a criminal record that disqualifies them from service
- 30% have a history of drug use
- 25% lack a high school diploma
- 23% do not score highly enough on the military test called the ASVAB
With a host of medical reasons being the reason many people fail to join the military, you should make sure you’re not only in top physical shape before signing up for service, but also make sure you’ve studied a bit for the ASVAB as it will determine which types of military jobs you’re qualified to perform.
The Military Option
Growing up in a military family gives a sense of familiarity with the life of a service member versus someone who’s only exposure is either knowing someone actively serving or hearing about it through school or some other means.
The military has given millions of men and women, especially baby boomers, the ability to achieve both a college education and a solid career in the workforce after leaving. With assistance from the G.I. Bill, members of the military and military families can get assistance pursuing a college degree or getting advanced training.
Joining the military not only provides training in areas which can be applied to civilian jobs, but the military structure helps people become more efficient and teaches the value of teamwork and hard work. In addition to develop stronger work ethic and respect for authority, the military provides several benefits in exchange for enlisting for the next four years, as well as for two additional years of inactive duty.
Beyond the free medical and dental benefits, enlisted service members receive a paycheck, 30 days paid vacation time, advanced and specialty training, cash bonuses, tax-free room, board, allowances, and more.
But in terms of education, a military career also allows you to go to college or university on the military’s dime. The military will cover tuition, books, and living expenses while you’re getting an education. As mentioned in the previous blog about the rising cost of tuition, going to school for free, during a time when tuition is rising on a yearly basis, is an incredibly enticing offer for someone who might not have the finances to get in with just scholarships.
If the offer of free college isn’t enough to make you go, the military will train you with advanced skills you can ultimately use to get a civilian job when your enlistment time is over. Or, if you decide you enjoy the military life, you can continue to serve your country and potentially earn a signing bonus for continuing for a few more years. Meanwhile, you’ll move up in rank, meaning a larger paycheck, and more opportunities to receive training.
Besides having complete job security, the military has made serving one’s country a great alternative for young people than spending thousands of dollars for a college degree, ultimately leading to financial debt taking years to pay down.
But with the numerous benefits which come with a military career, there are a number things to consider which may not be as appealing.
The military life is very structured and rule oriented. If you’re not one who enjoys being yelled at, joining the military means making it a daily fact of life at least until you leave basic training. Insubordinate individuals are not tolerated in the military and respect is expected, even if you don’t agree with or like a person with a higher rank than yourself. The military life is about structure, respect, and honor. Deciding to join means giving up a part of your individuality to become something better.
It’s also not uncommon to be away from home for months or even years at a time. In times of war, many military members spend months overseas and rarely get to see their family or friends. This means the service members around you will become your friends and family for a time.
Finally, the military service is a physically demanding job almost daily. Military members are expected to stay in top physical shape. If you’re not used to getting up early and working out, the military is definitely not an option. At any given moment, you may be expected to pick up and move somewhere new. If deployed, expect to wear heavy equipment daily and carry more equipment on your back. For a civilian, college doesn’t require you to wear body armor and combat boots.
Combat Boots or College Books
The life of a military service member is far more difficult even though it provides the most benefits. For some young people, it is the best option if not the only option. The life of a service member is an incredibly honorable life, even though it is often the most challenging.
No matter if you choose to go to college or enter the military, pursing additional education is always beneficial. While the military offers more opportunities to pay for your college degree, financial aid packages and scholarships can be enough to handle many of the common expenses which come with attending college.
Both choices will require a time commitment, so never make a choice unless you’ve fully researched your options and understand the responsibilities you will be undertaking.