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holden's avatar

Is there a distinct advantage to joining the military after college?

Asked by holden (8447points) March 16th, 2010

My fiance wants to drop out of community college and join the Air Force. He believes that if he enlists now he will be accepted into an E-2 officer position and that he could easily advance to a higher rank in a technical MOS. He has expressed interest in having a military career in intelligence.

He is 21 years old and has 1 year of college behind him. He thinks there is no real reason to finish up college before he (if he) enlists, because it would only (according to him) put him one rank above where he would enter now, in an E-3 level officer rank. He wants to use the GI bill to pay for college after his 4-year commitment and then re-enter as a commissioned officer after receiving his 4-year degree.

I think that he would have more opportunities and a better over-all experience in the military if he graduated from college first, but he is worried that he will never be able to pay for college or qualify for loans—unless he goes through the military first. I also don’t think it’s a good idea for him to delay his college education any longer. Right now his school fees are waived and he’s only paying for books. I think the longer he waits to finish school the less likely he will ever go back.

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45 Answers

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mammal's avatar

:@holden i’m trying to save his ass and his soul. Which is more than you are doing, and you supposedly love him ??!!

bob_'s avatar

I thought you had to have a college degree already to become an officer?

lillycoyote's avatar

Don’t you get commissioned as an officer or something, when you enlist in the armed force with a college degree? That seems to be a “distinct advantage.”

holden's avatar

@_bob (shrug) I thought so too, but apparently the rules change.

bob_'s avatar

I’d double check if I were he.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] Personal attacks are not permitted and have been removed.

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lilikoi's avatar

You don’t need to join the military to qualify for loans.

holden's avatar

@faye thanks for asking. I got summarily ass-kicked.

@lilikoi he has applied for loans in the past and been turned down because his parents make too much money, though he is no longer a dependent.

faye's avatar

@holden,sorry to hear that

holden's avatar

@faye well, at least the calculus test was alright. But my physics final was the most intense exam I have ever taken in my life.

lilikoi's avatar

Oh, that is such a bitch (assuming parents are not providing any financial support to him for college).

Can’t he do ROTC while in college? A few people I know did that. The military paid tuition and the guys got their degree before becoming active duty I believe.

Are scholarships not an option? That’s how I paid for college… I mean it’s one thing to join the military because it is something you really want to do; quite another to do it purely out of need.

holden's avatar

@lilikoi he is in community college and no ROTC is offered there. We looked into it.
As to his reasons for wanting to join the military, it runs a little bit deeper than need. He has said he wants to be respected. (I’m a little disturbed by this if that is his main reason for wanting to go military.) He wants to go into cyber surety and thinks the training he would receive within the military would be comparable to the education he would receive in college.

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markyy's avatar

[mod says] Stay on topic, If you are able to help @holden with her question, please do so. If you want to start discussion about the morals and ethics of joining the army, please ask a new question. All off topic answers will be removed..

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lilikoi's avatar

Community college, at least where I am and in CA, is significantly cheaper than the public universities. It is doable to work part time and pay your way through CC, I think. Most people spend two years in CC, then transfer to a four year university. Once you’re there, you have the ROTC option I guess (it was at a uni that my friends did ROTC). And there is always the potential for scholarships, TA positions, federal work study, REUs, etc.

If he wants to join the military, then money isn’t really the issue. I’m not sure if the education he’d receive in college is equivalent to that of what he will get in the military. West Point has a very strong reputation so military academies apparently are competitive.

I briefly looked into joining the Coast Guard (for aviation). I think having a 4-year degree in this case opened some doors that wouldn’t have otherwise been available. Also, I think having a 4-year degree may put you in a higher rank to start. If he wants a military career, and wants to do cyber security, why not let the military pay for a 4-year degree at a university where he could study computer programming, mathematics, or whatever. I mean, a 4-year degree opens a lot of doors in itself. And it could be a pretty handy thing to have if he decides one day that he doesn’t want to be in the military any more.

ratboy's avatar

Yes, there is. A college degree is required to become an officer (ranks that are designated by “E-“something are enlisted ranks). Compare the enlisted pay scale to the officer pay scale. Cyber security is a highly technical field; it’s unlikely that anyone without a college degree in a technical field would be assigned a worthwhile job in that area. It isn’t in the military’s interest to train someone for a couple of years, if that person is only obligated to serve four years. Finally, there is the issue of extended deployments, poor medical treatment in the event of injury, and other bad things that have been inflicted on enlisted personnal in recent years.

davidbetterman's avatar

Is there a distinct advantage to joining the military after college?

Yes. the main advantage is that he will have college completed and under his belt.

It is very difficult to skip college for a few years and then try to return to the school scene. I know. I did it and it took me ten years to return to college.

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chamelopotamus's avatar

If you are living on your own for at least a year, you can use your own tax information (if not, use your parents), through FAFSA (I’ve filled that thing out so many times its not even funny), and wait a week, and you have free college! All the college wants to see is your tax information, to verify it, and you’re good to go. It’s a much simpler process for free college than the one your fiance is considering.

However, I don’t think thats the issue. He seems way more interested in the military than he does in college. That means he’s going to be a lot more motivated (hopefully) to follow through in that program, than with the college program. It’s not a bad plan (at least he’s got a plan). The military benefits you up the wazoo.

My girlfriend, Amanda’s mom and step-dad are both in the military. Her mom is in intelligence (SOCOM, communications) and is only two steps down from Patreus. Now, I can’t say I admire whatever it is the military does all day, but I do know that her mom is rich like hell. They live in a big beautiful house in Germany and have two sports cars, and never have to worry about being able to pay for anything material or medical bills ever again.

So if your fiance has a similar goal in mind (being rich, and well taken care of) he’ll follow a similar program to the one that allows you to end up working for SOCOM.

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RandomMrdan's avatar

Why doesn’t he just join the Guard, or the Reserves? They pay 100% of his tuition, GI Bill, Kicker Bonus, Repay Student Loans, and he still has plenty of opportunity to join the guard to be active, and pursue a career as an Active Guard member later when he’s done with school.

tb1570's avatar

Officer pay.

RandomMrdan's avatar

You can still use a degree to get an officer spot in the Air National Guard. And you have more free time for school.

Snarp's avatar

@ratboy has it right. E2 is not an officer, neither is E4, they are enlisted. The problem is that a 2 year degree won’t do much for you, but a 4 year degree will let you enter as an officer and make a lot more money right off the bat. There are other advantages to being an officer as well. My father spent his time in the Army as an enlisted man, and he told me when I wanted to enlist right out of high school that I needed to go to college first so I could enter as an officer. Turns out by the time I finished college I had changed my mind, which is another advantage of going to college first, it makes you a little bit older and wiser when you make the decision.

@RandomMrdan‘s reserves suggestion is a good one too. I have a friend who was in the Guard the whole time he was in college, they paid for his education. When you are done with college you can easily become an active duty officer. The problem is that while you can go to college while you serve active duty, it’s really, really hard. Your friend is more likely to finish college if he does it before he enlists.

sleepdoc's avatar

Having served in the military I can say that there are some who really perform well in that environment. It seems like it is just the fit for them. They benefit from what military life offers them and the military gets them as they see fit. One thing to be aware of. You are not guaranteed to work in the field that you want to. Your ultimate assignment is based on the needs of the military unless you are accepted into a position which is predesignated for a career field. This is the exceptional to the rule for those enlisting in active duty. A recruiter may tell someone that they will be doing job A for sure. Most of the branches do not actually give trainees their actual assignment and assignment for additional training until after basic training has been completed. I know of several who enlisted thinking they were going to do one job and utimately were assigned to another. If I am not mistaken his desired career field would probably have the most ties to the Air Force, but don’t use me as the best source for that.

On the other hand my brother is in the National Guard and joined the guard for a predesignated slot. He did get to do exactly what he wanted. ROTC typically awards scholarships for certain areas. So they may give out a computer science ROTC scholarship with the intent that they can use the skills the individual gathers completing the degree to their benefit. Downside here is if you change your mind you have to find a way to petition to switch degrees and scholarships.

The military can be an option, it isn’t the right option for everyone. And there is definately a personal cost associated with it.

JLeslie's avatar

Better to get the degree first if he can afford it somehow. If your friend thinks E stands for officer, then either his recruiting officer is a big fat liar, or your friend really misunderstood. If he gets the degree first and had to take some loans, as an officer he will get much better pay, and can pay them back quickly if he lives on less for a couple of years. I think it would be much harder to join the service and try to do school at the same time, OR, if he puts in his 3 or 6 years, whatever the commitment is, and then gets out and goes to school, he will miss the fantastic perk of being a commissioned officer, being able to retire in 20 years with an amazing pension, health care, free Apace A flights all over the world, commissary privilages forever, and staying on base for cheap in fantastic places like Italy, Hawaii and more.

Military retirement is fantastic, and if you start in the service at the age of 22, you can get retirement at 42 and start a new life and career if you want. I think after 25 years you get 50% of your pay for the rest of your life at the time of retirement if you have been at that pay rank for at least 3 years.

I guess some of it depends on whether your friend wants to use the military as a place to get training, and then will use this experience to make significantly more money in the private sector, like doctors do for example, or if he wants a career in the military.

The reserves was a good idea also like @RandomMrdan suggested.

CMaz's avatar

“He believes that if he enlists now he will be accepted into an E-2 officer position and that he could easily advance to a higher rank in a technical MOS”


stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

The E-ratings are enlisted, not officer ranks. Officer grades use an O-prefix. Far better to finish a bachelors degree at minimum, then join under an officer-candidate option or take ROTC while in college. Officers have far better pay, working conditions, treatment and living facilities. I joined the Army in 1977 after finishing my Masters degree, six months later, I was a lieutenant. I recently retired as a colonel at age 53 with a generous pension and medical benefits for life.

Of course if you accept a military career, you go where you’re send (some pretty godawful places), do what you’re told and sometimes get shot at (and even wounded or killed), so these things have to be taken into account before you sign on the dotted line.

josie's avatar

Finish college. Join up. Go to OCS. If you like the idea, go for a career. The military loves college grads. @stranger_in_a_strange_land If you don’t like the idea of being sent to weird places and getting shot at, then of course you do not join the military. Not a career guy, but having been in some very weird places, and having been shot at, I still do not think it is such a bad deal. Sounds like you agree. I think the kid ought to go for it. Anybody can say what they want, having served is always a source of personal pride.

mrrich724's avatar

I went to college, I have loans, and I’m paying them off. My friend, who opted for the marines is going on his third tour and hasn’t even started college.

My University had 40k students. Few if any of them were in the military, and I’d guess that at least half have student loans.

You don’t HAVE to go to the military to go to college.

One final thought, with utmost respect to those who serve our country: I knew a couple guys in college who finished their terms in the army first, and they always just seemed a little out of place. The age difference (for the courses they were taking) was significant, and when we all went out socializing, they cried b/c they were remembering the time someone sitting in the seat next to them was shot in the head (that’s just one example). So they were just very different, and I’m guessing, got a different college experience b/c of it.

Jerikao's avatar

Being that I am the fiance in question, I feel the need to provide some input on this question as well. Allow me to go through some things, bit by bit.

First of all, I never said E-2 was an officer position. Simply that it was a higher pay grade than E-1.

Second, do not mistakenly think I’ve not done my research. Additionally, as I am much more interested in researching this on my own, I haven’t spoke to a recruiter, yet.

Third, here is the official “plan”. Ideally, I will join the Air Force (Not the National Guard. Not the Coast Guard. Not the Army. Not the Marines. Air Force [see:]) as an E-2 (see:, spend approximately three years as enlisted personnel (see: in a technical field (most likely IT [see: ; ; ; After the three years I should be able to be accepted into the AECP program (see:

Those interested in responding to me directly, please at least read the last link in that paragraph.

Fourth, after acceptance into the AECP program, I will be able to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree at a college of my choice (so long as it has an ROTC), while the Air Force pays up to $15,000.00 in tuition and fees annually.

Fifth, upon completion of my Bachelor program, I will receive a commission as per the AECP.

Sixth, getting a degree is important to me, don’t misunderstand. And yes, I can see clear advantages to having one before joining. However, this is something I would like to do. And this will provide me a distinct advantage in obtaining my Bachelor’s degree.

bob_'s avatar

Well, damn, it sure seems like some nasty words were said.

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Could you still drop and give us 20?

@Jerikao Good luck with your decision.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Jerikao That’s a better deal than I served under. My parents paid for six years of college; the Army later sent me back for a second Masters degree, fully paid and with a O-3 salary, but that was only for two years. I also got a lot of other education, but of a military nature not really transferrable to a civilian job, however my pension as a O-6 with 29 years service make it unnecessary to be employed by a civilian company, hopefully I can make my farm profitable.

@bob_ I can drop and give you 50, even with a reconstructed shoulder (care of an Iraqi artillery round in 1991).

Nothing I said was meant to be nasty, just informative based on my best available knowledge. Enlistment programs have changed a lot in 33 years.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jerikao Well, it seems you are decided, you don’t really need our input. I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way, I sincerely mean that it seems you have thought this through. The only thing I think you will miss, as @mrrich724 pointed out, you will not have the college experience you can only really get at he age of 19 living in a dorm with a bunch of friends. It is a unique experience, who most people I talk to who went through it have very fond memories of. But, there are many many people who never experience it, and not only because they went into the military. Some students commute to school, so never go to college, some start in community college, and then when they transfer to a 4 year institution go straight to living in an apartment of campus. My memories of college and the dorm are so fantastic, that I alwya lean that way personally when giving advice to others. I almost didn’t go, I did not think I would enjoy it, my dad had to kind of drag me to chek out campuses.

That would be my one bit of advice to you, if you have not spent any time walking around a large university campus, seeing what it is like, maybe check that out before making your final decision. I am assuming you do not live on campus, since you are already 21 and have a year under belt, but I realize that is a huge assumption, and could be totally wrong. Another thing I don’t know is if you and your fiance live together, that would affect things to. It would be difficult to move out and move yourself onto campus, but again I am not sure of your exact situation.

Also, I think you said you have not spoken to a recruiter yet, so that is obviously in order, and speak to other people in the service, to get the realities of the decision.

Air force makes me much more comfortable than if you were talking army.

Whatever you decide I wish you luck. I really don’t think you can make a bad decision, sounds like you have put a lot of thougt into it.

sleepdoc's avatar

@Jerikao One world of caution. All of those things are still at the discretion of the military. They have the final say. They decide what your career field will be. They decide what you will be selected to do and not to do. I speak from experience here, please know that their plans are not always your plans. Just cause you see yourself traveling on the time line you outlined doesn’t mean they will. The Air Force has lots of wonderful programs for helping its people get and maintain and education. Sometimes what they see you doing isn’t what you say yourself doing when you conceived the plan.

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