Students are often left in the dark when it comes to benefits college graduates are offered to join the U.S. Armed Forces.
There are many perks someone who joins the military with a bachelor's degree under their belt can take advantage of, including, but not limited to, the ability to start out as an officer as opposed to being enlisted, which means receiving better pay and gaining access to competitive loan repayment programs.
On top of that, officers in the military receive better treatment, more privileges, and are given more opportunity to exercise their leadership abilities. They often supervise teams of 15-40 people - or even more – right off the bat.
An O-1 (the first rank of an officer: lieutenant in the Marines, Army, and Air Force, or ensign in the Coast Guard or Navy) with under two years of experience makes $3,035 per month, according to Navy Cyberspace. With fast promotion possibilities, pay increases are very likely.
For example, even if an O-1 doesn’t get promoted after their first year of service (which is unlikely), they’ll automatically make $3,159 per month anyway. But with a promotion to O-2, or first lieutenant, and two years of service, that number increases to $3,982. An O-10 with over 26 years of experience, receives $17,657 per month.
Not too shabby.
Loan repayment programs are also offered by all branches of the military, but the amount offered and program options differ. Someone enlisting as an E-1 would make $1,516 a month, while a second lieutenant would make almost twice as much with the same amount of time served ─ the only difference being that the second lieutenant has a four-year degree.
One example of a loan repayment plan is the College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP). Under the CLRP, a portion of money will be given towards paying off student loans for eligible members. However, it should be noted that only enlisted, active-duty members qualify.
The maximum amount of payment under CLRP is $65,000, and each branch applies their own standards and qualifications based on recruiting needs. The Army and Navy currently offer the maximum amount allowed for non-prior service active duty enlistments. However, the Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force Reserves do not offer the CLRP.
There are other options available to decrease the amount of debt you need to repay. For example, the National Defense Student Loan Discharge is for those who serve one year in an area deemed under imminent danger and/or in direct fire and have a federal Direct or Perkins student loan.
The Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment offers up to $40,000 per year on loan repayment on qualifying loans. You can qualify if you’re serving on active duty for three years, and the amount of your award depends on how many years you served after the date the loans were disbursed.
Nicole Gatliff, the Senior Registrar Service Representative at Shenandoah University, offers advice to college graduates who are considering joining the military: “Find a good recruiter. Make sure they do their homework. Listen to what the recruiter has to say and then research it on their own as well. Ask lots of questions.”
Ultimately, there are many benefits for and preferences given to those who join the military with a four-year degree, and you should weigh your options before making the decision on whether seeking a job as a civilian or stepping up and serving in the Armed Forces is right for you.