Here’s how to be your own best advocate when returning to school


One of the best things about writing The Millennial Military Spouse is getting to regularly meet and interview some amazing military spouses from all walks of life. Alicia Amrhein is one of those extraordinary military spouses who has truly taken life by the horns. A military spouse of four years to an active duty sailor, Alicia is working on her second (yes, second) bachelor’s degree.

Before she became a military spouse, Alicia had studied and graduated with a degree in social work… and getting married meant she walked away from a senior position she had been groomed for. But you know the story (perhaps it’s even happened to you!)—when she married and moved to a different state, she learned how difficult each individual state licensing process is. It means hundreds of dollars spent on a license in a state that she would live in for one year. And it would mean getting a different license in every state they’d move to until her husband’s military career was over. Hundreds of dollars, tons of credits, and a lot of paperwork that frankly, she didn’t have the time or money for.

When she realized that all of her hard work was for nothing (or so it seemed), she found herself “depressed for awhile.” “I got really angry with my husband a lot. I felt really resentful towards him,” Alicia remembers. “And one day I realized that the only way to make everything better was if I went out and did it myself. I looked at my husband and said, ‘I’m gonna go back to school.’”

Alicia went back to school with a mission: to graduate with a degree that complemented her first so she was career ready, no matter what the military threw at her. Here’s how she did that:

Know what you’re in for

Through research, Alicia discovered that she was able to complete another full Bachelor’s degree in a little more than 18 months because she had already completed another undergraduate degree. Knowing exactly what your school expects of you and how you can fulfill those requirements can help you get the most out of your educational experience.

Explore financial options

While many military spouses use the 9/11 GI Bill or MyCAA to help finance their education, it’s not an option for all spouses—and it might not be the best option for you. Know the fine print for those benefits. And then sit down with a financial counselor from the college and ask about all of your other funding possibilities. Some schools may offer scholarships or grants specifically for military spouses. You might also qualify for other grants and programs that you don’t know about. Alicia found a school that offered a 50% reduction in tuition for military members and their families. She was also awarded a scholarship because of her prior bachelor’s degree. Lesson? It’s worth it to ask!

Keep a weather eye

When one of the schools Alicia applied to wouldn’t recognize her as an in-state resident and disregarded her husband’s active duty status, Alicia contacted the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs to get the scoop. Some educational institutions are currently under investigation by the federal government for practices related to their treatment of members of the military and their families. Does something feel funny to you or sound wrong? Check with the Department of Veterans Affairs to make sure that you’re getting a square deal.

Know your passion

Alicia knew that she had always been passionate about law; she says it fits her personality. She knew that her social work degree would be useful with a paralegal degree to create a “super-career.” How can you turn your passion into a career? And how can you make it fit your lifestyle? Be creative!

Be your best ally

Many military spouses choose online education because it is mobile and makes sense for their lifestyle. Alicia chose to go online for her degree as well and has a few words of wisdom for how to succeed in an online setting: learn how to manage your time, create a place where you can focus, and dig into your personal drive. “You’re not sitting in a classroom all day. Find the drive to teach yourself the knowledge. You have to find the drive inside yourself to do it.”

If you’ve been a military spouse for any length of time, you know it can be a wonderful thing… but it also can provide obstacles and frustrations especially when it comes to careers and education. Alicia has experienced both: “Don’t give up hope. I gave up hope a few times and it puts you in an ugly place,” she says. “Fight for everything that you want, because sometimes it’s going to be a fight.”