When considering one's options after high school, college vs. military is often a consideration. This article looks at what colleges have to offer and what the military offers, as well as some incentives for combining college education with military service.

Approaching high school graduation, one is faced with the choice of what to do next. And often this is framed in terms such as, “shall I do A or B?” But in many cases, the choice is not about completely rejecting one choice in favor of the other, but may in fact be about what to do first and what to do next. There are a number of ways in which colleges and the military work to make the choice not one of opposition but rather of how one can best combine national service with higher education to both give and receive the most. This article addresses the options.

What Does College Offer?

A four year college is not, or is not exclusively about job training. Most four-year colleges - as opposed to technology institutes, for example - focus on a liberal education in which a students general understanding is the focus. College education focuses primarily on individual attainment, on personal and academic development of individuals.

Along with a major, which is often not sufficient preparation for the marketplace, the students skills in writing, mathematics, and a foreign language are brought above a certain level, and the student is prepared to go on in a number of directions: to a professional degree in, for example, law or medicine; to a master's degree or Ph.D. in a more specialized field; to a teaching degree; or to a business degree.

What Does the Military Offer?

The military is about job training and a great deal more. Each branch of the service has its work to do, and training for one or more specialty is part of the routine. The job may be military specific, like “special forces” or “chemical warfare,” and many people may associate such jobs with the military.

But the military also needs work done in areas that readily transfer to civilian life, and that people might not even imagine when they think about joining the military

  • weather
  • historian
  • public affairs
  • air traffic control
  • dental
  • paralegal
  • culinary specialist
  • musician
  • postal clerk
  • linguist
  • storekeeper

Beyond the job training, there is the fundamental training of people to work as a team. This is worth focusing on, because it is quite unlike the individually focused program of a college. And, if one goes on for officer preparation, there is also specific leadership training.

Ways to Combine Military Service and College

ROTC The Reserve Officers' Training Corps is a program based in colleges to commission officers for the armed forces. The curriculum is elective and completed in addition to college courses, and scholarship money is available.

The ROTC course has two parts: the Basic Course for the first two years has no military commitment attached. The Advanced Course requires a service commitment, and students who complete it become officers. ROTC students who qualify for and receive an Army scholarship must also make a commitment.

In August, 2008, a language incentive was added, so that a college student who studies a language that is considered of critical importance to the army - Arabic,  Chinese-Mandarin, Hausa, Indonesian, Korean, Pashto, Persian-Farsi, Persian-Dari, Swahili, or Urdu - is eligible for incentive pay.

Enlistment Incentives Various branches of the armed forces offer various enlistment bonuses. We'll take the Army as an example.

If you have never served before and you enroll in a critical area or where there is a skills shortage you may receive a bonus. This type of bonus is available both in active duty and reserves, and some bonuses for those with prior service as well. There are also bonuses for college credit and for seasonal need for specific specialties.

The Army College Fund is another type of incentive for those who enlist and choose a critical skill and it can be added to Montgomery GI Bill funds. And third, the Loan Repayment Program is a third type of enlistment incentive.

Federal Service Academies The Federal service academies combine higher education and officer training for the branches of the service. They include the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Graduates of the academies have completed a four-year college program earning the degree of a bachelor of science, as well as completed officer training for a branch of the service.


US Army “Army offers language bonus to ROTC cadets” - army.mil

US Army “Enlistment incentives” - .army.mil

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy - usmma.edu

U.S. Naval Academy - usna.edu

U.S. Coast Guard - uscga.edu

U.S. Airforce Academy - usafa.af.mil

U.S. Military Academy - usma.edu