Ah, newlywed bliss. A time when you and your spouse can bask in the glow of love, a bright future, gorgeous wedding pictures and a fabulous honeymoon. At least that how I hear it goes for civilian spouses. For me, the newly married military spouse, it meant learning how to organize my first pack-out, enroll in DEERS, try to learn some acronyms, and drive up the gorgeous, windy California coastline and arrive in Monterey, where we had about a week to find a place to call home for the next two years. I had no idea what I just married into by becoming an Air Force spouse; it was baptism by fire and full steam ahead.
In addition to all of the (wonderful) changes in our lives, I was simultaneously entering the last phase of my masters program. I had been studying for a year and a half at ASU in Phoenix earning my masters degree in education and only needed my final semester of student teaching along with a research thesis to complete the program. The “academics” were complete, now I needed to find a willing high school to take me in and allow me to teach. In theory, it sounded easy. But putting it into practice was another story entirely…
It started to go downhill when the woman in charge of the masters program–the one familiar with my unique situation–retired, leaving in charge another woman not so sympathetic to my cause. It took several weeks of email and phone correspondence to convince her that I was not ready to flush my tuition money down the drain and took a lot of legwork on my end to put the pieces in place to make this a viable option. There was no system in place for someone like me–a military spouse who moved every few years and had yet to finish her degree–so, I developed my own.
I needed to find my own supervisor, and I was responsible for payment. I had to fill out waivers and contracts and serve as my own advocate. I contacted the local school board who in turn assisted me in finding a high school and teacher that would participate in my degree program. I had to set up meetings, handle paperwork, and make sure that the requirements of my degree program were being met–things that my counterparts in Arizona didn’t have to worry about since the system was already in place. I was responsible for much more than teaching during that semester, and it was exhausting. I remember feeling like I was being punished for having married into the military. But I had no other choice; either I buckled down and did the extra work, or I forfeited the time, money and effort already spent on the degree. Eventually, it paid off. I was able to finish my degree program; I taught a fantastic group of high schoolers, met great mentors and learned the ins and outs of the administrative system involved in higher education. While it was strenuous, and at times seemed like a never-ending quest, I learned that persistence pays off and, with a little patience, military spouses can accomplish what we set out to do.
If interested in pursuing a degree, learn from my mistakes and struggles. Here a few tips and questions that I would have asked myself prior to beginning the journey toward higher education:
First, as a military spouse looking to earn a degree in higher education I would have told myself to do the research beforehand. I was at a disadvantage because I was not a military spouse at the time and therefore unfamiliar with military life. I didn’t know to ask questions such as, “Can this degree program be completed out of state?” “Are my acquired credits transferrable to another local university?” “Is there an online component to the degree program that would be accessible in the event of a PCS?” Or, “Can I complete the degree program before our next PCS?” “If not, is there someone at the university with whom I can create a backup plan in the event of an unforeseen PCS?” Take a look at the big picture and examine possible holes in the plan. Then, try to find a remedy. Even if there doesn’t seem to be an “easy answer” to all of the questions, don’t rule it out completely.
Secondly, I would have asked if my credentials–if applicable–can be used across state lines, especially if considering a degree in law. I would suggest looking at the Military Spouse J.D. Network. This program, created for and by military spouses attorneys, like Mary Reding, Air Force spouse, works to allow military spouses with law degrees to carry their credentials across state lines without additional examination in the new jurisdiction. If interested in pursuing a law degree, visit the website to see if your present or future duty station supports this new admission rule. If it doesn’t, get involved with the MSJD Network to work toward change in the state of your duty station. And then thank your fellow military spouses who’ve made this possible for us!
Finally, I would ask myself how passionate I am about the degree program. Because there are inherent hurdles in the life of a military family, be prepared to face unknown challenges. If you are not passionate about your course of study, it may be tempting to dismiss your program in favor of what is easiest. In an effort to prevent loss of time, money and energy, be sure that this is something you’re really interested in pursuing. In spite of the potential for extra work, if you are passionate about your course of study, the work will be worth it in the end.
Above all else, do not be deterred. If a degree is something you really desire to achieve, there are means to do so. Be savvy, be curious… be persistent! Despite the obstacles you may encounter on your journey, you will succeed in earning your degree!