We are calling “Choosing the right degree” step 3, in reality it should happen while you are doing your research on which college to attend. So keeping with the principles of Steven Covey, you should “begin with the end in mind” when thinking about what degree program you want to pursue.
First, my experience and research has brought an interesting fact to light. Many members of the military are often advised by Education Support Specialists to enroll into liberal arts or general studies degree programs because they tend to be very flexible, and very often the service member can transfer in a great deal of military credits into them. The majority of the time, this is due to the military student not knowing what they plan on doing with the degree, and they tend to be the easiest path to get promoted. The problem with this thinking and approach is that these types of degrees tend not to be the ones employers are looking for their potential employees to have.
The key here is to determine which path you want to take—if at all possible, before you start attending school. This means to look ahead [“begin with the end in mind”] to what you want to do when you get out of the military. For example, if you are in the Army as an Military Police Officer, but when you get out of the Army you have no intentions of going into Law Enforcement, but are looking to start your own business, then why would you want to get a Criminal Justice Degree? A business degree in entrepreneurship might be more appropriate and will prepare you better for your future. The reason it’s best to consider your career path before starting your college career is to avoid taking classes that will not contribute to your long-term goals. If you don’t, it has been my experience to see service members wander through college, merely taking courses, using their limited educational benefits, and not completing the degree they really need. If you do so, then you are not maximizing the educational benefits afforded to you, since all schools are not created equal, neither are degree programs. Though there are many, many different types of degrees, they tend to fall into several one of the following three categories:
- Career oriented,
- Liberal Arts, or
- General Studies Degrees.
Career oriented degrees tend to be those degrees that college students obtain if their goal is to go into the workforce right after graduation and they do not have any plans of going on to Graduate School, Medical School, or Law School. The following is a list showing some of the typical degrees that would be considered career oriented degree programs:
- Bachelor’s of Science in Business Management
- Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting
- Bachelor’s of Science in Finance
- Bachelor’s of Science in Finance
- Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Information Systems
Liberal arts degrees are primarily focused on imparting knowledge to the student in a variety of subject areas, including humanities (English, history), social sciences (political science, sociology), and arts (music, theater). While a liberal arts degree can prepare you for unique careers in fields such as journalism or archaeology, keep in mind these jobs are not plentiful. What’s more, with increasing competition in the job market, the odds of a military person’s experience coupled with a liberal arts degree (or no degree at all) finding a successful career outside of education can decrease dramatically. A liberal arts degree for a person with an interest in a specific subject is a terrific degree to have. For one, you could turn a passion for science, ancient history or literature into a career in education. The military has an outstanding program called Troops to Teachers that recognizes the leadership, teaching and learning skills you displayed on the battlefield are qualities that lend themselves well to effective teaching techniques and have a great chance of positively influencing students in the classroom, particularly in urban areas.
General studies degrees are not focused in any one particular area, but are designed to give professional skills to students any one of a variety of fields designed to prepare students for any number of specialized careers to include: business, finance and accounting, medical administration, public service and law enforcement. These programs tend to have classes and schedules that cater to the non-traditional student, including online, distance learning and night or weekend courses. General studies degrees specifically are designed to cater to the workforce. A general studies degree with a specialization in any number of career fields may offer military-related students an opportunity to earn a degree that is overall more attractive to more employers than a liberal arts degree, arming them with a professional degree and resume that give them the competitive edge employers are looking for. What’s more, general studies programs usually are designed around work schedules, offering students the opportunity to continue to work traditional jobs and military careers while earning a degree that offers them the opportunity for advancement. The format for these programs can vary from accelerated degree plans, night and weekend classes and online schools.
So, which degree is right for you? Is a Career-focused Degree, a Liberal Arts Degree, or a General Studies Degree the best one for you? Only YOU can answer that question. Don’t be swayed by picking a degree simply because it will get you promoted quicker. Think long term and pick a degree that will complement and help you achieve your goal of what you want to do after the military. Determining the degree you want to pursue in college begins with the end in mind; what do you plan on doing when you hang up your uniform?
In the next Blog we will discuss making sure you get credit for your military training and experience as transferable college credit.