Military to Civilian Jobs: Best Degrees for Veterans

Best Degrees for Veterans

Let’s face it, you’ve been following orders pretty much since you got off the bus at basic. Now you’re about to be discharged and it’s time to take control – time to make your own decisions about what lies ahead. And while that can be wonderfully freeing, it can also be a little intimidating.  

But you’ve learned a lot during your years in service and developed a number of military skills that can translate into civilian life. You’ve figured out what you’re good at, what you’re interested in, and have at least some idea of what you want to spend the rest of your life doing.

To help you channel that into a career, we’ve broken down some possible military to civilian jobs into three categories.

  • The first group is called, “Yeah, I Could Do That.” These careers can pick up where your military training left off.
  • The second group is “You Know, I Might Want to Do That.” These may not be obvious choices, but many of the skills you’ve developed could translate into these areas.
  • And finally there are careers that you may not have considered, but where you might be successful. We’ll call those, “Wow, That’s a Good Idea.”

We’ll give you an Education Battle Plan for each. This will help you figure out the academic steps you need to take to land these jobs. We’ll also give you an indication of what each might pay, and the demand there is for jobs in every field. So let’s help you get ready for civilian life.

Based on your military experience, these options may provide a few “natural” segues into a civilian career:

Criminal Justice

If you’ve served as a soldier, you’ve already taken the first steps toward becoming a police officer or a sheriff’s deputy. There are a number of reasons criminal justice careers are so popular among veterans. First, just about any position in the military teaches you the skills you’ll need in law enforcement. Many vets appreciate the rewards that come from serving their communities. And criminal justice is one of the few careers where esprit de corps is an essential part of the job.

The hours can be unpredictable and the stresses difficult, but police work does pay well. The mean salary for a police officer in the U.S. is $64,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you make it to the detective level, it’s $83,000. And criminal justice jobs will only continue to grow. Over the next seven years, they’re projected to increase by 7%.

Many of these jobs currently don’t require a college degree, but that’s changing. Many forces, especially in major cities, are looking for recruits with at least some college, according to the education website collegequest.com. Earning a college degree or professional certificate can also play a role in your potential career advancement in the field.

Education Battle Plan

If you want a career in law enforcement, a degree in criminal justice is one of the best degrees for veterans. While many colleges and universities offer a criminal justice major, National University is one of the few to do so with veterans in mind. Classes are available both day and night, so vets balancing a job and a family can work school into busy schedules. And National’s efficient, month-long classes help students focus on each one.

A BS in criminal justice administration introduces students to forensic science, civil and criminal court proceedings and criminology. For those who want to shape the future of law enforcement, a master’s degree in criminal justice administration from National is a great way to get there. And it can be earned in just one year.

If you find the second half of “Law & Order” more fascinating and you feel drawn to the legal end of the criminal justice field, National offers a bachelor’s degree in Pre-Law Studies.

Another advantage National offers is the option for an online degree in criminal justice, allowing you to maintain a job or take care of family responsibilities while you complete your studies.

Nursing

Many veterans return to civilian life with a basic knowledge of medical care which makes nursing another way to take advantage of your existing military skills. Plus, few things are more rewarding than helping sick and injured people get back on their feet. 

Nurses not only earn an excellent income, but nursing jobs will be in demand for years to come. Some areas of nursing are booming. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has calculated that over the next seven years, the need for home health aides will increase by 47%, making it the third fastest-growing job in the country. The demand for nurse practitioners will increase by 36% over that same time; moreover, the pay is excellent: nurse practitioners earn an average of $103,000 a year.

Nursing salaries can vary widely, even from state to state. A registered nurse in California, for example, earns an average salary of $102,000 a year, according to nurse.org. (South Dakota is at the other end of the list with an average salary of $57,000 a year.)

Education Battle Plan

Nursing education ranges from two- to four-year programs, as well as a number of certifications and post-degree specializations. That’s why it’s one of National’s most varied programs. The profession also offers many administrative options, like health care administration and health information.

For those who want to take the next step, National provides a master’s degree in nursing that will put graduates in a position to shape the profession. For instance, n ursing informatics, a combination of technology, health care management, and nursing may offer another interesting career option to explore.

Emergency Medical Technician 

For most active-duty servicemembers, dealing with an emergency means it’s a day that ends in “Y.” This gives military veterans a leg up when applying to be an EMT or paramedic.

And we certainly need EMTs. Over the next seven years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that these jobs will grow by 7%. And the pay is OK; EMTs in California make around $40,000 a year, according to salary.com. If your home base is in California, you will find our blog post, How to Become an EMT in California, helpful reading.

Education Battle Plan

Most EMT jobs do not require a college degree. But, as you might expect, they do require specialized training. National University’s  EMT certificate program will teach you what you need to work in the field. Once you earn your certificate, you’ll be eligible to take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, or NREMT, B exam.

To go one step further, National offers a basic course that will give you a deeper understanding of the issues EMTs face every day. National also provides training through its National University Polytechnic Institute. The institute offers hands-on classes at four of its convenient California campuses.

If you want to be inspired even more, here’s a cool video from National that shows you what it’s like to train to be an EMT.

These careers may be familiar, maybe even something you had considered at some point in your life. Maybe it’s time to think about how you can apply your military experience in these areas?

Construction Engineering

Like the military itself, engineering gives you plenty of options. Most are lucrative and in demand, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that electrical, aerospace and nuclear engineering are actually losing jobs.

On the other hand, The U.S Department of Education says there will be a substantial increase in science, technology and engineering jobs over the next five years. If you served as a combat engineer or a mechanic, you’ve already built the foundation for becoming a construction engineer. After all, you probably spent a lot of your military career building things.

And that specialty pays well: The average salary for a construction engineering manager, according to payscale.com  is $90,000.

Education Battle Plan

To qualify as an engineer almost certainly requires a bachelor’s degree, and National University offers a good option.

A bachelor’s degree in construction engineering technology prepares you for a career as a leader in the construction industry. A bachelor’s degree in construction management stresses communication skills, math and the legal aspects of construction.

Teaching

The military is as much about teaching as it is about learning, even if your only experience was showing a new recruit the ropes. To be a teacher you need patience, a strong work ethic and the ability to maintain discipline for both yourself and your classroom.

And teachers are in great demand. Many states face teacher shortages and are offering incentives to fill them. (You’ll notice that Hawaii tops the list.)

Education Battle Plan

National University’s programs in education are so vast and diverse that it’s difficult to touch on even a few. The Sanford College of Education offers bachelor’s, master’s and Ed.D degrees on more than 20 campuses in California and Nevada. And just about all of National’s education classes are offered for online degrees.

For active-duty servicemembers stationed all over the world, National has led the way in offering online classes for more than 20 years. In fact, 90 of National’s degree programs are available 100% online. That’s why National is consistently ranked as one of the top online colleges for military personnel. And, as a Yellow Ribbon school, National offers tuition discounts and support services to servicemembers and their dependents.

Wow, That’s a Good Idea!

Stretch your thinking: your experience may be applicable to areas you may not even have considered: 

Computer Science/IT/Network Administration/Cybersecurity

CybersecurityEven if you hadn’t realized it, you’ve been developing a basic understanding of computers since you picked up your first Nintendo. While you were in the service, your computer skills probably got better every day; you may even have been involved in IT-related work while you served. So a career in computer science, IT or network administration is a definite option for jobs after the military.

What’s the difference between computer science and IT? The lines blur, but think of it as hardware vs. software. IT involves setting up computer networks to process data. Computer science is developing the codes and applications that make those computers more effective. And a network administrator links them together to get the most from each and safeguard valuable systems.

If you’re still trying to narrow it all down, here are some of the careers that you can pursue in computer sciences. No matter which one you choose, working with computers pays well, and there are a good number of jobs to be had. In fact, they are projected to increase by 13% in the next 7 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

A software engineer can pull in more than $85,000, with senior engineers making $100,000. IT directors can make almost that much. But in this field, specialized training, in the form of a degree is essential, and an advanced degree is often beneficial.

While all computer-related professions are growing, the IT area that is projected to expand the most in the next ten years is cybersecurity. City, state and federal IT departments, as well as financial institutions and other large companies are increasing their pools of qualified staff to keep their your data safe from hackers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the need for information security analysts will increase by 32% over the next ten years. And these are high-paying jobs, with a median salary of $98,000. Most of them, however, require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Education Battle Plan

Computer science is a wide, rapidly-evolving field, so the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at National focuses on a wide variety of topics, including programming languages, algorithm design, computer architecture and ethics, and scientific problem-solving.

A computer science degree will give you the option to work for governments, large companies, or small start-ups. A lot of these options fall under National’s BA in IT management.

To surge straight to cutting-edge computer know-how, National offers four master’s degree programs in computer science. And if any academic discipline lends itself to online classes, it’s this one.

To meet the rising demand for cyber policemen, National offers a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity. In addition to teaching students the fundamentals of computer science and networking, this specialized degree delivers a specific focus on security. Students can choose between four-class options that concentrate on computer network defense or digital forensics.

Business and Finance

Most veterans spent much of their service managing others, even while they were still raw recruits. So weighing all the facts and making complex decisions quickly certainly helps prepare you for a career in business or finance. That’s why business administration is one of the most popular degrees for veterans, according to gijobs.org.

Again, this field is as diverse as the military. But whether your focus is on finance, or opening a chain of falafel stands, a business education will provide you with the foundational knowledge to establish a career in almost any field.

Armed with your business degree, you can expect to earn about $60,000 a year to start, according to payscale.com. That figure increases significantly with an MBA. Payscale reports that a starting MBA can probably earn around $85,000.  Check out some military vet/National alumni MBA success stories in our blog series, How I Fit an MBA Into My Life, here and here.

Education Battle Plan

National’s Bachelor of Business Administration will give you the background to succeed. You’ll learn how to communicate effectively, analyze strengths and weaknesses and apply business strategies and ethics. And since so many of National’s business students are already in the job market, there are options to earn online degrees. That includes National’s MBA program, which will set you on your way to becoming a true business leader.  

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We hope this has at least given you a place to start thinking about the future and maybe pointed you in the right direction. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all your potential career options post-military, but it will give you an idea of where to begin exploring. National’s Veteran Center is also a good place to check into for career and military transition advice. To learn more about the many program options available at military-friendly National University, you can also visit our military admissions program page.