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Joining the military to pay for college

  1. Dec 3, 2009 #1
    I'm about to finish my first semester of college, and due to complicated reasons, am now not receiving financial aid. This means that the school will probably slam me with a 20,000 bill in two weeks, and that I probably won't return in the spring.

    I'm trying to consider all my options here, and one thing I'm considering is joining the navy or army (or one of their ROTC programs) to pay for school. Does anyone have experience with these sorts of things?

    I don't have much experience with military stuff, other than what people say. Some people say it might not be for me because it's not for "free thinkers." I'm just trying to find a way to pay for school, and don't think I'd mind the commitment.

    In short, I'm paying for college on my own (or rather, failing to and about to drop out) and am looking at the military as an option for financing school. Any advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 3, 2009 #2
    I have done both, I am enlisted in the Army and was a member of the ROTC last semester. If you have any questions, I would be more than happy to help if I can.

    The Army can really use "free thinkers" as long as you don't have "authority" problems.:biggrin:

    I think that since you are already in college the ROTC would be the best route. I would strongly recommend the officer route if you have any leadership capability. (Not to say that if you don't think you are a leader, you won't do well. The Army will determine whether or not you have the ability to lead. I didn't think I did, but they proved me wrong.)
  4. Dec 3, 2009 #3
    If you can go one more semester and have the grades check out http://www.navy.com/nuclear/program/. It's a 5 year commitment to working primarily on an aircraft carrier or sub but you'll make 6 figures by the time you graduate for signing up early and won't do a thing differently while in school. As far as money and graduate level training, it's the best offer I've been able to find in the military.
  5. Dec 3, 2009 #4
    From what I have read that really is a great program if you have the grades to get in. If you have any interest in the program I would really recommend it. I talked to a Navy recruiter last semester and I have been giving the program consideration myself.
  6. Dec 3, 2009 #5
    ROTC, NUPOC, etc. are great ways to go if you want to be in the military, whether for just a few years or as a career; doing this simply to pay for school is a bad idea.

    In any case, you shouldn't choose this as a snap (i.e., couple of weeks) decision. Talk to current and past servicemembers (not just recruiters), including non-career officers if you can find them, and from multiple services. There are folks of many stripes in uniform, and for many people it's a good choice, but it's not for everyone. If you have serious intentions of becoming a physicist, five years in the military--regardless of specialty, including as a nuke--will not directly help you toward that goal. If you want to get a technical degree but don't know what to do with it afterwards, the military may open some doors for you.
  7. Dec 3, 2009 #6
    I agree with JDGates. Don't make this decision lightly. Make sure you explore all possibilities. If in the end you have no choice but to join the military or drop out, I'd definately go the military route. There are a few different paths you could take to have the military pay for your schooling. However, if you are trying to get into the nuclear field, NUPOC would probably be your best option right now.
  8. Dec 3, 2009 #7


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    Just to add one major point about military service...It's implied that you are willing to give your life for your country.

    This is one of the first things I was told when I went in (I'm a Navy Veteran). At the end of the day, they'll pay for your school and or put you through their own, but they expect a commitment from you.

    I would consider this strongly before deciding to join. To often people make light of military service and what it means. They join for this very reason...to pay for college. Unfortunately they don't always fully consider their end of the bargain.

  9. Dec 4, 2009 #8
    As a general rule, joining the army just for the money doesn't sound like a good idea at all. It is a very heavy commitment, and even if you think you are ready to make it now, you don't know what will happen in a few years, and what plans and wishes you're going to have. And then it will be too late to get out of it.

    So I would think of other possible ways to fund your studies, and definitely talk to other people who were in a similar situation.

    I'm not from the US though, so take my advice with caution.
  10. Dec 4, 2009 #9
    The corollary to that is that you have to be willing to give your life for any entity that has a vested interest in war. Which, by definition, is not typically an entity that is worth giving your life for.
  11. Dec 4, 2009 #10
    I assumed that the decision wouldn't just be about the money. I'm glad everyone else made that explicit. There are also certainly much more lucrative ways to start a career than to spend 5+ years in the military, if the point is to make money.
  12. Dec 4, 2009 #11


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    When I joined the army, I was never told anything about giving my life for my country. It was however made very clear that I could be required to ensure the enemy gave his life for his country.

    While this notion has a somewhat light-hearted feel, it's best to take it, and the consequences it implies seriously.
  13. Dec 4, 2009 #12
    I don't mean to hijack your thread op, but does anyone know of similar programs for Canadians?
  14. Dec 4, 2009 #13
    I don't know if Canada has ROTC at multiple schools like in the US. The only thing I have heard of similar to it is the Royal Military College of Canada. Some details can be found here http://www.bcschoolcounsellor.com/psi_update_09/CMCS_Handout.pdf".
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  15. Dec 4, 2009 #14
    While technically true I suppose, both the notion that you're expected to be willing to give your life for your country or take others lives is a bit dramatic. Unless you decide to join a combat arms branch of the military, the chances of either are very low.

    If I were you, I'd make sure you understand the commitment you'd be making. A handful of years on a sub might sound like an adventure, but it'll quickly turn you bitter if you happen to fall in love or start a family while you finish your schooling (assuming you haven't yet done either). Also, my experience in the military was that it is very competitive and that there were was really no place for the thin-skinned or those with low self-esteem. My experience was only in the Army Infantry though, so I can't really speak for other branches.

    It might make you a better person, or you might end up collapsing under the expectations and leaving with a dishonorable discharge, which I imagine (though it's really only a guess) would severely limit possible employment opportunities for someone with the kind of education you'd be getting.

    In any case, if you go this route, you'll be expected to earn the money they'll give, which really seems to surprise a lot of the people who make the sort of decision you're contemplating.
  16. Dec 6, 2009 #15


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    I'm currently enlisted in the US Air Force and I am actively working towards my degree. There are tons of military programs out there, but like someone mentioned earlier, you have to hold up your end of the contract as well.

    Also, be sure to take into consideration that "this life" is not for everyone. The military lifestyle is a totally different beast...especially when you have a family.

    If you have any questions about the Air Force (education programs, etc.), military lifestyle, etc., please let me know as I'm currently living it with a family.
  17. Dec 6, 2009 #16
    The military will teach you to do the absolute minimum required of you, while appearing to be a hard worker to onlookers, and gain your way through the ranks by "ladder climbing" and social manipulation. It will also lead you to having a false, over-inflated sense of self-confidence which can help you in some situations but make you look like/perform like an *** in others. This is not the skill set needed for success in physics.

    Also, to join for only school money would be pretty retarded - your better off working full time during school and it'd probably be less total effort/pain.
  18. Dec 7, 2009 #17


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    It's not dramatic at all. It's quite true. And your comment is precisely why I made mine. People are quite often under the wrong impression about military service and what it entails...regardless of the probabilities.

    FYI, pushing a button that launches a missile from a Destroyer that blows up a building and results in the loss of life results in the same thing as you pulling the trigger on a rifle - you killing someone.

  19. Dec 7, 2009 #18
    Hmm..I admit I wrote too quickly without completely thinking it through. I was thinking more along the line of combat service branches—like being a cook and such. I don't know what the bonuses are now, but when I enlisted the sign-up bonus for being a cook was nearly $100,000. There are plenty of things to do in the military that don't involve shooting either a rifle or missile at people—but you are right, and I don't think I really thought beyond the specific combat arms positions, when I should have.

    I stand corrected.
  20. Dec 8, 2009 #19
    I'm currently a part of the Naval ROTC program as a Marine Option. I would suggest finding something that you "wouldn't mind" doing for a significant chunk of years. I don't know the service requirements on other services but I do know that they just bumped up the Navy's to... I want to say 5 years? I think...
    Regardless, you should do some research on the job that you want within the military. I highly encourage military service as a means to better yourself morally and discipline-wise. The benefits are endless, not to mention they can pay for college.
    1. Check into your grades, see if they meet the standards for each program.
    2. Talk to your school's ROTC instructors, they will have a billion answers for any questions you have.
    3. Look at the jobs within each service that you might be interested in.
    4. Be sure that you are aware of all of the possible duties/requirements for serving (length of service/deployment/lifestyle)

    Good luck with your decision!
  21. Dec 8, 2009 #20
    Those "some people" probably don't know what the Officer world is like (not like I do either). You will be in charge of people, and you will be a problem solver. To be a successful Officer you need to reduce cynicism within your command, if you need to be a transformational leader to do that... well, you have the authority to.

    The only reason those people think that you can't be a free thinker within the military is because they believe that everyone just starts out as a Private, or PFC, or Seaman, or Airman or what have you. Those Privates don't have a whole lot of authority when they start out, they learn and build their leadership skills based on what they see in their command. Once they become a Corporal (Marine Corps), they will start to take charge of certain things, a Corporal in the Marine Corps Infantry will be a fireteam leader, in charge of four Marines, capable of a wide variety of tasks.

    As an Officer you will be expected to lead, no matter the service you choose. If you don't think yourself a very good leader, there is always this cool thing called change. Which, as per your comment, you aren't afraid of thinking outside the box. This is how invention and innovation occurs, which is sometimes a positive trait in the Officer's sense.
  22. Dec 9, 2009 #21
    I can think of a couple other options. You could go part time instead of full time. Get a job and just take one or two classes a semester. If you need to go full time, I had a friend that was a male dancer in Texas. He would make around 300 dollars per night in Dallas or Shreveport LA. I'm not sure if that is an option where you live. If you do decide to go into the military, make sure you are qualified to get money from the GI Bill or whatever (since you are not able to get finaid from your school). Don't ask a recruiter about this, they will tell you anything to get you to enlist, even if they know it is a lie.
  23. Dec 12, 2009 #22
    I graduated with a degree in EE through an Air Force ROTC scholarship. They paid full tuition, room, and board for five years for me to finish my degree. Due to some Air Force downsizing back in 2006-2007, I only served two years as an AF officer after graduation and then voluntarily separated without having to repay the money they spent in my education. Overall, ROTC was a great experience for me, and while I don't like people telling me what to do, it's something that's not that difficult to put up with in exchange for a $100K education. I enjoyed the active duty Air Force as well, but I got out because I realized that I didn't want to move every 3-4 years for my entire career. Now I work for a major defense contractor and am one semester away from finishing a masters' in software engineering. The ROTC route worked out very well for me!
  24. Dec 12, 2009 #23
    I agree with this post 100%. While I only served two years as a lieutenant in the Air Force, I found that my "free thinking" and tendency to buck authority was a huge asset to me. The military has a lot of rules and bureaucracy, but at the end of the day people who get the job done are valued. Officers who are too cautious or too "by-the-book" fail to see how they can bend the rules to get more work accomplished, and often end up fading away into the background while the rule-breaking cowboys get all the glory. Obviously, you have to follow the big rules and you can't do anything that will get you in big trouble, but you need to learn how to work the system or nothing will ever get done. During the times in your career when you do need to shut up and color (boot camp, stand-up meeting with the Colonel, etc) then you just control your temper and do what they tell you. The people that are giving you advice have probably never served, or maybe they served back in Vietnam as an enlisted Army guy and never advanced their career past the "do as you're told" point. The military can use free thinkers as long as they have some discipline!
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