By SPC Joshua Heath
1) Choose a degree that leads to a career and a school that can help build a career network. I know it looks tempting to get the BAH, and take random classes. Don’t take that temptation. If you have to, go to a community college for two years to get a taste for school, and then choose a direction.
2) Choose a school that lets you go to school year-round. If you can take 6 classes per semester, do it. If 4 is better for your school-life balance, do that. Remember, it may be more economical to take more classes. If your school charges the same for 12 credits as 18, take 18 credits. It might be hard, but you will be pushing through more effectively. Again though, you want to succeed, so only take a course load that helps you succeed.
3) Plan it out. Plan your classes down to the day. Look at the schedule for each semester. The GI Bill is prorated down to the day. If you have even one-day left, you will qualify for the entire semester including BAH. By planning this, you’ll be able to get more from your GI Bill. Also, the BAH is lower for an online program, but if the degree gives you something of benefit, it might be worth it to take a lower BAH rate. Focus on the long-term plan.
4) Choose a school based on the professors and the network they offer you. This is not GI Bill specific, but your professors and fellow-students will be your network in the future. Look at alumni. Look at the research by your professors. Look at who works for the school in a consulting or a part-time capacity. These relationships are super important towards shaping your future. Utilize them.
5) Don’t be afraid to change direction and re-plan everything. I did this in my first semester of undergrad. I had a plan that wasn’t smart. My professors pushed me toward a degree that would get me to my goals. That being said, my last semester of graduate school, I changed my mind on what I wanted to do with my life. It happens. I am creating my own peacebuilding business instead of going to work for the UN. I have all the skills for this from my two degrees, and it fits my interests better.
6) Be active in planning, preparing, and choosing all aspects of your degree path. This is part of planning your schedule, but it’s also about taking classes that will help you in your career. Don’t take a math class that you don’t need. Don’t take gym just to take it. Take classes that teach you things that you will use. If you do this, you’ll get more than your money’s worth from the GI Bill.
This is how I’ve used the GI Bill with purpose, and how you can do the same.
About the author
Josh Heath is an entrepreneurial peacebuilder, consultant, and life-coach. He left the Army in 2011, where he served as a mechanic. He now owns three companies, including a veterans focused non-profit. During the day he works at an educational technology company where he supports a top MBA program’s admissions team.