It was the winter of 2012, and my wife and I were waiting to hear the location of her next military post. I wanted to enroll in college because I needed to start a career I could use wherever we ended up.
We got the orders for Nebraska one month prior to moving. Several weeks after we arrived, I started taking online classes at Pennsylvania State University--World Campus, where I'm now in my last semester of earning an online degree in psychology.
Based on my experience, here are three things people from the military community should know about online learning.
1. Online learning travels with you. Members of the military, including spouses, must deal with constant, unpredictable change -- especially when moving to a new post. Moving to an unexpected new location can create holes in otherwise solid plans, and leads to a greater need for stability and consistency. With online learning, military students don't have to worry about whether moving will interfere with their studies. Online students can access a course through a tablet, a phone or the local library.
2. Military students and their spouses have access to an abundant amount of scholarships. There are plenty of scholarships and grants available for members of the military, veterans and their spouses. Organizations such as the Army Emergency Relief, ThanksUSA and the Pat Tillman Foundation provide enough scholarship opportunities that military students can bring down out-of-pocket college tuition to an affordable amount or even go to school for free. As a military spouse, I have used scholarships and grants to pay for every semester.
Students should check whether their school has scholarship opportunities, because it could make the difference between an affordable college experience and a future racked with debt. Students can find lists of these scholarships and grant programs at base educational centers or by searching online sites such as Military.com, StudentAid.gov or Militaryonesource.com.
[Explore these tips for online students seeking scholarships.]
3. A good education does more than help service members move up the ranks. Some online schools claim to be an easy, flexible solution for soldiers who need to gain rank or for military spouses entering the job market.
But the only rank that should matter is the one an online program has on sites like U.S. News or Forbes. Because of the scholarship opportunities mentioned above, military students don't have to use their hard-earned tuition assistance or GI Bill on any program that will just put a check in the box.
For example, I picked Penn State's World Campus because of its academic ranking, tie to a physical institution and accreditation. These factors will help advance the career goals of any veteran or military spouse.
The takeaway: By allowing students to learn from anywhere, online learning can give members of the military and their spouses the possibility to achieve academic success in the midst of their unpredictable lifestyle.