military education

Fitting Education into Your Busy Life

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by Rebecca Alwine

Advice for Reserve and National Guard members looking to continue their education.

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Service members always are often told how important their civilian education is, but there is no guide on how to incorporate that education into an already busy life. For Reserve and National Guard members, it can be particularly difficult. Most are already balancing two careers, so adding college classes to the mix can seem unattainable. Family time and leisure activities are often more attractive than studying for classes, but you can strike a successful balance.

Make a plan

Take some time and talk with a college advisor and make a realistic plan to complete your desired degree. With CLEP tests available, some courses may not need to be taken. Transcript from military schools can also help speed up the process, as the initial training for many military jobs transfer directly to college credits. For example, in the Army a 35T (MI Systems Maintainer/Integrator) completes a 42-week initial training period which offers almost everything needed for a Soldier to complete an associate’s degree.

When you’ve made your plan, talk with your family or support system. Get all expectations, from both sides, out on the table. Air National Guard Rheanna Bernard recalled spending a lot of time reminding herself to be supportive of her husband when he was taking online classes.

“I reminded myself it was only for a [little while] and it was working towards the greater good,” she said. “He realized how hard it was for everyone involved and I really wanted to make it easier on him.”

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Maximize your time

Between work, drill, family, your commute, and life, there may not seem like much time left. With a few small changes, you can find extra time to study and attend classes.

  • Plan four to five hours per class of study time per week — While it’s not ideal, this may need to be done in two big chunks on the weekend, or after the kids go to bed, but actually scheduling the time will help you prioritize and get it done.
  • Shift work times — If possible, consider going into work early or staying late to avoid rush hour traffic and fit in some quiet study time. If you can’t switch your work hours, consider arriving early and studying before work starts.
  • Use your lunch — If you have an hour of lunch a day, consider spending half of that time studying. This would give you half of your recommended study time a week without adjusting much else.
  • Rearrange your calendar — After you get the syllabus for your class, try to predict when you’re going to need extra time for projects and papers. Then schedule that time now just as you would your social commitments, so you don’t overbook or get behind on projects.

When thinking about the amount of time you have available, consider reducing some of the things you do every day to make more time. The average person spends more than three hours on social media sites a day and watches several hours of television. By reducing your screen time by just one hour a day, you can find an extra hour to study.

Adding education to your already busy life is not impossible — in fact, it may make you happier. Some people are more efficient with time management when they have a lot going on. If this is you, adding in a class will force you to use your time more wisely, which will help you get things done.