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Tactical Veteran: You're going to college - what will you study?

Jul. 15, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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In my last column, I talked about the types of schools and their pros and cons. The next decision you’ll face as a new student veteran is a course of study.

This could feel a bit daunting, given the choices available. But not being 100 percent sure what you want to study isn’t uncommon — nor is it something to worry about.

My job in the military was Air Force Security Forces. But when I got home, I realized law enforcement wasn’t really the field for me. College was my ticket to learn about and enter a new field I felt would better suit my interests in life.

Whatever your career was while you were serving in the military, it doesn’t have to be your career in civilian life. The early phase of college can help lead you toward choosing the career path that’s best for you. Not until you begin working toward a bachelor’s degree will you have to be sure about what you’d like to major in.

I started out pursuing an associate degree in general studies, which gave me the opportunity to choose different classes for credits, thanks to electives. Electives are unrestricted credits, meaning you can choose whatever class may interest you, and the credits you earn will be applied toward your degree.

With an interest in learning more about not only myself, but the entire human race, I took advantage of these electives and began taking psychology and sociology courses. I was learning about something that interested me, while also gaining knowledge in a field where I could see myself making a career.

Taking these classes helped me to choose what I wanted to study for my bachelor’s degree — human relations — where I learned even more about how and why people think the way they do.

All that said, many service members greatly enjoy their military jobs and intend to pursue similar careers when they get out. If that’s the case for you, you can get a little more training or a certification under your belt while still in uniform through a vocational school.

Unlike traditional public or private colleges, vocational schools don’t force you to worry about choosing classes or having to complete core classes. You’ll simply be learning, or enhancing, a specific trade or skill, which can never hurt your résumé when you finally do get out and seek employment in the civilian world.

For those who plan to stay on their military career path when they leave service, an important factor to keep in mind is whether the certification or license you received in the military is fully accepted in the private sector.

For example, veterans who hold an EMS certification may separate from the military to learn the certification won’t be acknowledged in the medical field. States are starting to realize this problem and are broadening their recognition of military-earned licenses and certifications, but be sure to check with your particular state for information about such reciprocity agreements.

Choosing a field of study should come down to what interests you. Do your research before you separate, talk to people in the field you’re considering and head to school to find the right program that will lead you to a fulfilling, satisfying career of your choice.

Steven Maieli is the founder of, which highlights links to federal, state, for-profit and nonprofit veterans agencies and other resources. He also writes a blog on transitioning veterans’ issues at
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