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Tactical Veteran: 5 questions to help you choose college major - and career

Aug. 18, 2014 - 12:54PM   |  
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It’s not uncommon for service members to fully enjoy what they’re doing in their military careers, but think that they could easily see themselves doing something much different in another field once they make the jump to the civilian world.

GI Bill benefits are your valuable ticket to doing just that. Unfortunately, deciding what to study in college may be a bit of a struggle; there might be numerous fields you can see yourself working in and enjoying. Even after you’ve chosen a particular major, there’s nothing to prevent you from changing course later — many college students change their majors multiple times.

But before you choose, let’s take a look at some questions to ask yourself that can have an influence on what you study:

■ What interests you? This is the question every admissions counselor will likely ask you if you’re not sure what to study. Take a moment and think of everything you enjoy doing, and you may find a particular area of study in school that matches quite well.

■ What are you good at? You may have a skill at which you excel, but you just haven’t thought about how it can relate to a career. Take a moment to think about what your talents or strengths are, and think about how that might apply in a field that can earn you a steady paycheck.

■ What do others tell you? We may not even realize the full extent of our own abilities. This is where people around you can help you see what your strengths and weaknesses are. It can’t hurt to listen to the people you know best; they could lead you to an idea that winds up being your future career.

■ What did your ASVAB score tell you? You may not have thought of it, but your score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is a good indicator of what fields would fit your interests. Depending on how honestly you answered the questions, the ASVAB would have given you a set of career choices that matched your strengths. Although you may not care to pursue a similar job in the civilian sector, your ASVAB score gave you other career choices that may better suit you.

■ How is the job outlook? If employment opportunities aren’t there for a field that interests you, don’t waste your time and benefits studying that degree program.

The goal is to get you thinking about a field you can see yourself working in after military service, and the best course of study to reach that goal. It may come easier for some of you, but for others it may take more time. And if you just can’t come to a definitive decision, you can do what I did. I wasn’t sure of what new career path I wanted to choose after separating from the military, so I decided to focus on general studies, which gave me a bit more breathing room to hone in on a career and the right program of study.

Once you have a pretty good idea of what type of field you would enjoy, the next step is to speak to an admissions counselor at the school of your choice. He or she should work with you to match the career field you have chosen with the appropriate program of courses required to move forward in that field.

Remember that nothing is set in stone, so don’t worry about making the “wrong” decision. Just like changing college majors, changing career fields more than once in a lifetime is not uncommon.

Steven Maieli is the founder of http://transitioningveteran.com/, which highlights links to federal, state, for-profit and nonprofit veterans benefits and other resources. He also writes a blog on transitioning veterans’ issues at www.transitioningveteran.com/wordpress. Send questions and comments to tacticalveteran@militarytimes.com.

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