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Military Spouses: The Unique Challenges of Obtaining an Education

By Susan Hoffman
Edge Managing Editor

For adult learners, getting a college education comes with various challenges. Adult learners commonly have full-time jobs and family members that need daily care, so taking classes for a degree over the course of several years requires good time management and organization.

But when you are a military spouse, the challenges of obtaining a college degree multiply because military service has a massive impact on family life. Military spouses must deal with a spouse being gone for long periods of time, handle regular moves to other states or even other countries, and become accustomed to military lingo and culture.

In addition, military spouses must care for their kids and household without the support of nearby family members, deal with chaotic schedules, and cope with intermittent internet service. COVID-19 restrictions also added another layer of complications to what military spouses normally face.

There is no road map. Everybody’s experience as a military spouse is unique. You make your own way and find something that is your own. Find your tribe, your village. — Kacie Presley, Report and Program Assessment Specialist, Career Services

Consequently, military spouses have to be flexible and creative. They determine their top priorities and maintain a focus on those priorities, while staying prepared for ongoing obstacles. They maintain a work-life balance and cope as family needs continually shift. Unfortunately, education often falls to the bottom of the priority list.

Constant Moving Can Interfere with a College Education

Although the military offers various programs to help spouses and children get used to different aspects of military life, it is often hard for military spouses to take all of the classes needed to get a college degree. Even if a degree is started at a brick-and-mortar university, military spouses may have to get through a program more quickly if their servicemembers receive advance notice about a permanent change of station (PCS) or face difficulty if some classes can only be taken in the U.S.

Bachelor’s student Amy Gurule notes, “I was a licensed practical nurse when we got married. Moving overseas for five years made it impossible for me to finish my RN.

“Attempting to get a job as an LPN overseas was practically impossible as well, so using MyCAA and creating my own job helped to support us with a little extra income. Once we moved back to the States three years ago, I went back and finished my associate (ADN) and now I’m finishing my BSN.”

Master’s student Cassie Rutter adds, “My husband and I are overseas, and what I wanted to study was almost exclusively in person.”

AMU Understands the Military and Offers Multiple Services to Assist Military Spouses

For almost 30 years, American Military University (AMU) has helped servicemembers and their military spouses to earn a college degree. Various departments, such as Admissions and Career Services, have staff members who have been (or still are) military spouses themselves and understand the unique challenges that military spouses encounter. Also, many faculty members have also served in the military, so they recognize the impact of constant moves and the disruption they cause to a student’s education.

Having gotten my undergrad in person from a university and landed with $50K in debt, I really appreciate how cheap AMU is, how flexible the professors are, and how short the classes are. — Cassie Rutter

AMU offers a variety of services to aid military spouses and other students, including:

  • Transfer Credit—Qualifying classes taken at other institutions could be applied toward a degree.
  • Prior Learning Assessments—You can obtain academic credit for volunteering, work experience, business ownership or other activities.
  • The Freedom Grant—Spouses/dependents of U.S. active-duty servicemembers, National Guard members and Reservists are eligible for this special grant that can save you money when you’re taking undergraduate or graduate-level classes. In addition, military spouses/dependents may also be eligible for a technology fee waiver and can receive course textbooks and ebooks at no additional cost through a university book grant.
  • Academic Advising—Academic Advisors can guide you along each step in your academic journey and answer your questions.
  • Financial Aid—For military spouses on a tight budget, AMU’s financial aid specialists can provide expert advice on various options for financing an education.
  • Career Services—Our Career Services department has expert staff to help you with career coaching, mock interviews, resume reviews and other career-relevant services.
  • Military Spouses Club—This student organization for military spouses offers support, networking opportunities and advocacy for military spouse causes.

AMU is ready to support military spouses who want to start a degree or finish a degree already in progress. As Anna Sommer, a Career Exploration Specialist in the Career Services Department, advises, “Don’t do it all by yourself, all the time. Figure out where you need support and reach out.”

Amy Gurule adds this advice for military spouses: “Find your tribe and stay focused. It’s okay to break down and have moments. Wipe the tears and press on; this is only a season. With military life, our lives change quickly, which gives us an opportunity to learn, grow and be more diverse. You got this!”

Susan Hoffman is a Managing Editor at Edge, whose articles have appeared in multiple publications. Susan is known for her expertise in blogging, social media, SEO, and content analytics, and she is also a book reviewer for Military History magazine. She has a B.A. cum laude in English from James Madison University and an undergraduate certificate in electronic commerce from American Public University.

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