Guest blogger Dana Thompson, MSW ’14, Director of Military, Veteran and Family Support Services at Hope For The Warriors, shares tips on how military spouses can nab a higher education despite demands at home and constant relocations.
Finding the time to attend graduate school can be a daunting task for anyone, but my lifestyle as a military spouse made it especially difficult. Relocation is a part of military life, and it makes it nearly impossible to commit to a campus-based degree program. It was not until I made the choice to pursue my Master of Social Work online that everything changed.
Obtaining my degree online through the USC School of Social Work’s MSW@USC program opened so many doors. It allowed me to pursue an education from a reputable school no matter where I lived or how many times I had to relocate. The online format was incredibly flexible and provided a seamless experience to continue my education without disruption.
If you’re thinking about heading back to school to pursue your degree, here are three things to keep in mind to help balance your educational pursuits and military lifestyle.
Anticipate the next move and prepare for it. In the past, a permanent change of station (PCS) move during the middle of a graduate program could be extremely costly. I would have to worry about transferring to a new school, losing valuable credit hours and even sacrificing certain aspects of a program – all of which could force military spouses like me to put their education on hold indefinitely. This is where the benefits of an online program really shine. A PCS move no longer interrupts a degree program because online classes can be taken from anywhere as long as you have access to the Internet.
You can prepare for the possibility of a PCS move by making sure the online program you choose is 100 percent online. Some online programs require you to take a small portion of classes on campus, often referred to as blended or hybrid programs. Other programs may require an on-campus residency, which isn’t always feasible and could increase the cost of your degree. By verifying a program’s classes and any additional requirements are entirely online before enrolling, you can prevent a major headache in the future.
Find a program that fits your needs and lifestyle. No program, no matter how accessible it is, will be effective unless it fits how you learn best. There are a variety of online platforms that facilitate learning through prerecorded lectures, live classes or a combination of both. I preferred live classes as it allowed me to interact face-to-face with my professors and classmates and imitated the traditional classroom environment.
Additionally, an online program may rely heavily on classroom discussions, group projects, videos and other materials. As an online learner, I had to perfect my time management skills and plan ahead to make sure I could devote the time necessary to excel in my classes. I learned to take on a lighter class schedule if the next semester was going to be filled with a lot of personal commitments. Or, if I knew the upcoming semester had time-intensive classes, I’d rearrange personal commitments to put my learning first. Everything you do is about balance, but it helps to do some research on the online programs that interest you to ensure one fits your learning and lifestyle.
Turn volunteer opportunities into a career. Being stationed on a military base exposed me to many different career paths. Military duty stations tend to have many volunteer opportunities that support the community, which led me to becoming a social work volunteer. My passion for helping military families motivated me to pursue a master’s degree in social work. Through research, I discovered the USC School of Social Work’s MSW@USC program offered a military social work sub-concentration. This allowed me to embark on a career that I could feel passionate about.
For those who aren’t interested in social work, there are other portable careers that are in high demand in areas surrounding military bases. Careers in education, nursing, computer science and technology are very popular. Additionally, your experience in participating in a degree online, in combination with a tech-related degree, could enhance your resume when pursuing stay-at-home job opportunities.
Because of my social work degree, I now work full-time for the Hope For The Warriors organization, which provides comprehensive support programs for service members, veterans and military families that are focused on transition, health and wellness, peer engagement and connections to community resources. In my role at the nonprofit organization, I personally oversee caregivers’ support services.
Online learning removed many of the barriers and limitations that previously stalled my ambitions. With quality online education opening doors for military spouses, I hope more individuals are motivated to pursue a graduate education in careers that interest them.