Associate Degrees Open Doors

Know your goals before committing to a course program

G.I. Jobs, 2010 Guide to Military Friendly Schools

By Heidi Russell Rafferty

Forensic science, health care, criminal justice, and information technology: these are all hot job markets. All are attainable post-military careers with a two-year associate degree.

However, not all associate degrees are created equal. It’s important to know your goals, your school and your desired career before committing to a course program. These three components are integral to your long-term career strategy.

Knowing whether you’re career military or whether you’re getting out after the first tour affects your education options. Ginny Newman, assistant director of military education for Penn State University, said there is a significant difference between an Associate of Science degree (AS) and an Associate of Arts (AA) and how it relates to a military career.

The Associate of Science usually focuses on more math and science courses that are needed for specific professional training. An Associate of Arts focuses on more humanities courses that normally encompass more core courses in a bachelor’s degree. A career military member should tend to favor an Associate of Arts because it allows more streamlined opportunities to earn a bachelor’s degree. Traditionally, obtaining a bachelor’s or associate degree is more important for military promotion than the actual choice of major. Also, liberal arts programs do not have a shelf life.

An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) is typically designed for students preparing for entry-level employment or to upgrade in a specific occupation. Russell Tresner is the military coordinator for the University of Oklahoma’s College of Liberal Studies. He is also a 26-year Air Force Veteran. Tresner obtained an AAS while in the military, which actually delayed his educational objectives.

“If you pursue the applied degree, you’re probably not getting the credits you need for most bachelor’s degrees,” Tresner said. “You should go for an applied degree if you’re interested in one technical area and not planning on completing a bachelor’s program. The AAS is a degree that allows someone to work in a technical field.”

Make sure that your two-year associate degree is from a school that the university will accept. It’s a common mistake a lot of students make, Newman said.

A long-term education strategy should be based on what career you desire, and not necessarily the job you have right now. Tresner was an MP in the Army but has been a teacher for the past 15 years.

“Whether you’re an infantryman or a corpsman in the hospital, look at what you want to do,” Tresner said. “What do you enjoy? Then prepare yourself while you’re in the military to do what you want to do after you get out.”

Once you’ve decided on a career field, focus initially on general studies courses in your associate degree program. This is the foundation for any degree program. Save technical coursework for the end of your program. This will ensure your education is as current as possible and that none of the equipment and software has fallen out of date.

Steven Roy Goodman, educational consultant and admissions strategist and author of “College Admissions Together: It Takes a Family,” said if you’re having trouble deciding what to do, take a look at each school’s course offerings on the Web and decide how they match up to your military acquired skills.

“You’ll be pleasantly surprised,” Goodman said. “A lot of the skill sets you have are directly applicable to the courses offered.”

The Certification Route
A quick education solution is to obtain a certification in a specified field until you’re ready to dive into a degree program. This document certifies that you have met a certain standard in continued education, experience and testing. Certifications vary by type and industry. Do not confuse certification with graduate certificates, which require a bachelor’s degree.

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