Adventures in Paying for “What I Want to be When I Grow Up”

Posted by Brandy Belue on November 29, 2011 at 9:34pm

I recently saw that the Senate cut a large portion of funding to the MyCAA program, and it struck a chord with me.  The MyCAA program has been somewhat underutilized compared to prior years.  I surveyed a few of my fellow military wives’ in school and found that many of them did not know about MyCAA.  I recall my experience with using it was that there was no direct path for utilizing the benefits.  I recently completed my MBA with my husband’s GI Bill entitlement, and getting through the VA’s application process was not clear cut at first either.  After awhile, I got the hang of navigating the red tape and started to find even more funding sources.  In fact, I’ve found so many funding opportunities for spouses to return to school that I believe any spouse who wants to further his/her education should be able to do so without paying full price, and in many cases, without spending any money.  I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned throughout my higher education adventure.

Once you’ve decided to pursue a higher ed degree, start researching scholarships right away.  A number of schools offer scholarships that are not common knowledge.  Many are offered for the fall-spring semesters and require an application/selection period.  One of my disadvantages was starting my MBA program in the school’s spring semester.  I couldn’t apply for scholarships until I’d been in school almost a year; because of the rapid timeframe for completion of my degree, I couldn’t meet many of the requirements for eligibility for the scholarships.  Had I have planned a little more, I could have started in the fall and been eligible for several scholarships.

I also found out after I’d almost completed my MBA that many Armed Forces units have a scholarship fund for members’ spouses and dependents.  If your spouse is in a well-structured unit, you will find out about these as soon as the unit learns you are pursuing a degree, or maybe even as soon as you PCS into a new unit.  However, some do not provide as much resource information.  If you find yourself looking for funding, contact the human resources portion of your spouse’s unit.  Human resources should be able to provide you with any information about unit scholarships or tell you who could provide you with similar information.

As soon as we PCS’d to Macdill AFB three years ago, I contacted Family Services for career assistance.  I informed the career counselor during my initial meeting that I planned to pursue my MBA while at Macdill; I was trying to better highlight my abilities–I had no idea that Family Services could assist with education.  The career counselor immediately handed me a CD of education funding resources for every kind of degree from a bachelor’s to professional degrees to nursing certificates.  There were so many opportunities that it was overwhelming.  She said that many of the scholarships go unfulfilled because people do not apply for them.  Go see Family Services at your duty station, and ask if there are any funding resources available for pursuing a degree/training/certificate.  Odds are that you will find something useful.

Further into my education, I learned that Military One Source had a few scholarships open to spouses.  The application process for most are simple; they require an essay.  Scour sites like www.military.com and www.militaryonesource.com to see what financial opportunities exist for returning to school.

Sometimes, we as spouses find that to remain flexible, we need additional certifications.  By doing some research through the professional organizations which I am currently seeking certification, I have found that several professional schools offer discounts to military spouses.  For instance, one of the prominent schools for the CFP (Certified Financial Planning) certification, the College of Financial Planning, offers military scholarships, as well as discounted tuition to military spouses.  Membership to professional organizations within your chosen field can also provide discounts to courses, certification testing, and course materials.

When I began my MBA program, there wasn’t a “guide” to applying for or utilizing GI Bill benefits.  Recently, the VA added a very nice overview of GI Bill benefits, tips for choosing which GI Bill benefits are right for you, as well as how to apply to the GI Bill website.  If you have GI Bill benefits available to you or are interested in finding out about transferability, go to the GI Bill website.  Near the bottom of the page, choose Get Started from the Apply for Benefits drop down menu or click here.  You will be taken to a page, “The Road Map to Success” that walks you through the entire process.

One last piece of advice:  finding funding sources for tuition and fees is one step; finding funding for books and supplies can be even more challenging, especially if you are not the active duty service member.  A new concept of renting textbooks has emerged and is rapidly gaining popularity.  Textbook rental companies allow you to rent the textbook for a small fee (say $29.95 for one semester as opposed to $150 for purchase) and return it at the end of the semester.  My favorite site is Chegg.  My MBA cohorts skeptically gave this website a try on campus a year ago.  We were able to rent all of our textbooks for our courses for less than $150, which would have retailed for approximately $700.

I hope I’ve provided you with the incentive to “dig” for higher education funding if you are thinking of pursuing a degree/certification.  I think everyone should be working in a career they love.  I have learned through experience that military spouses face a challenge with taking that dream career to every duty station and understand that we need to be flexible.  Sometimes that requires a little more training; paying for that training should not hold us back.  If you would like further information from some of the opportunities I’ve encountered, feel free to email me.

 

Comment by Leah Gaunt Roberts on January 18, 2012 at 1:22pm

Brandy- Thanks for posting.  I am about to ETS from the army and my husband is staying in.  We will be moving to Germany this summer.  After seeing an advertisement in my yoga studio for MyCAA I got very excited that this might be an opertunity to get my teaching certification.  After eight years as an Army Officer I got excited about the opertunity to delve into something that I love am pasionate about.  Knowing that the move to Germany, this looked like a great to take this certification with me and teach on the base, especially since I am inticipating some difficulty finding the civilian right job fit or doctorate program for me over there.  I thought, if I have this certification and don’t find the right job, volunteering to teach glasses at the gym on post might be a small to get involved and give to the military community.  I started researching this to find that spouses of O-3s do not qualify to MyCAA.

Like you mentioned, it is frustrating to see that this program is underused.  I do understand the rank limitions on this benefit.  I’m glad that the program exists and there are many women who greatly benefit from it its service.  However, spouses of all ranks are forced to adapt their career as a result of a military move.  Spouses all ranks, education levels, and career experience find themselves in situations where they have to adjust their career and qualifications to those of the area where a PCS takes them.

 

Thank you for posting the rest of the information, I plan to check them all out :)  Even if they don’t work for me I pass on information to others who can take advantage of some of these amazing benefits.

 

Comment by Shelly Habeck on January 11, 2012 at 3:39pm

I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve managed to have a successful career while moving every 2-3 years as a military spouse and finding new and interesting things to develop my resume. I am very thankful for that, and with every different employment opportunity I learn new skills and turn in a bit of a new direction. Its exciting but also very nerve-racking because I don’t have clear direction. Its difficult to have clear direction when you’re a military spouse moving often but embrace it and run with it!

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