How Veterans Can Use Education to Increase Their Opportunities

Military Transition

Image via DARPA


Last week we looked at how the education required to hold some positions affected the number of matches in the report – specifically the ones requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In the last part of this 4-part series, we put it all together and show what military service members and veterans alike can do education-wise to increase their opportunities (and salary) in getting a career-level job after transitioning out of the military. Many serving and that have served are not fully aware of just how valuable they are to a business needing their skills, abilities and knowledge.

Tuition Assistance

Ideally, the process of preparing for a post-military career starts with the first enlistment. Because most service members can get up to $4,500 per year in Tuition Assistance (TA), not taking advantage of it is akin to leaving money on the table; TA is free for the taking. It doesn’t reduce Post GI Bill benefits (which are also free for serving), meaning that 36 months of entitlement for serving at least three years can either be transferred to a dependent or spouse (so they can improve their post-secondary education) or used to get an advanced degree like a master’s degree. However, many choose to not take advantage of this education benefit at the earliest opportunity.


Top-Up and TA go together. Because TA can only pay up to $250 per credit in most cases (up to $4,500 annually), service members can choose to pay the tuition difference out of their GI Bill entitlement.  It can also be used to keep taking classes if the annual cap is reached early in the academic year. Due to the difference in how each GI Bill pays, the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) is a better use of entitlement to make up for a shortfall in tuition, while the Post 9/11 GI Bill is better suited to pay full tuition costs as would be the case after reaching the annual cap.

Understanding the Value of Soft Skills

Another mistake many veterans make when applying for a civilian job is overlooking the value of non-technical skills learned from their military service. This are skills (18 to be exact) that most employers value greatly, but if not listed on a resume, may not fully appreciate or even overlooked.

Soft skills, like leadership, teamwork, persistence, interpersonal relationships, communication and attention-to-detail are desired non-technical advantages veterans bring to the table when competing against recent college graduates having not served. Non-serving competitors may have the technical skills, via a degree, but lack the soft skills acquired only through experience – skills that take years to learn while on the job. If an employer is looking for a new hire that can hit the ground running, veterans fill that bill.

 The GI Bills – They are Not Just for Degrees

Not all service members are cut out to go to college … even if the military is willing to pay for it in part or in full. The good news is that the GI Bill can also pay to learn a trade or to gain a certification, certificate or license that may be a requirement to hold a specific job thereby increasing job opportunities. And not only will the GI Bill pay for the training in most cases, but it can also reimburse the individual for part of the costs incurred to take the tests required for said qualifications.

The Education Center – An Underutilized Career Asset

One education resource commonly overlooked is the Ed Center. They counselors working there are experts in their field should not be overlooked. They can help guide your career in several ways from recommending career choices based on MOS, career crosswalks, schools, other training and interests, to getting enrolled in TA and Top-Up, to helping you use your GI Bill most efficiently.

With the number of service members getting out due to the increase in downsizing and the high unemployment rate among veterans, especially in the 18 to 24-year-old range, job positioning is important when trying to secure a civilian career-level position – one graded higher than entry level. However, by using the education “tools” available to service members and veterans, they can get a “leg up” on the competition by proactively getting qualified for the position they are seeking and making that whole qualification (technical and non-technical knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs)) known on their resume.

Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.