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Mommy and Me Go Back to School

 Posted by on July 27, 2016 at 08:00
Jul 272016


Yesterday I registered for my first semester of graduate school and had a fantastic first meeting with my advisor. That overachieving student in me woke up and shot out of bed for the first time in nearly 10 years. With the adrenaline I had pumping right then, I probably could’ve read my first textbook cover to cover, unfortunately, the textbook assignments haven’t been posted yet.

Today was a little different. I spent the entire morning trying to log into my student orientation. When I was finally in, I was greeted by a header that read, “Karen S.” Which is only an issue because my name isn’t Karen. If ever there was a head-to-desk moment, this was it. I had visions of my hard-earned master’s degree with the name Karen on it, and I wondered — only half seriously — if it would be easier to just legally change my name or get back on hold for the remainder of the day.

I have to see the humor in that situation. I mean, it is a pretty funny story. But, there is a lesson in it — aside from the all-important realization that the tech helpline is long on knowledge, but short on appreciating my jokes. Yes, this snafu was a hearty reality check alright. You see, I’m not the only one going back to school this fall. My son will start kindergarten (sniff, sniff), and my daughter will head to preschool for the very first time ever (sniff, sniff, cry uncontrollably).

As a mom who has worked from home longer than my babies have been alive, I saw the opportunity in them starting school. No more am I juggling my schedule around a 3-hour “school day” or no school at all. More uninterrupted time means I can accomplish more in one day. Not to mention it’s a good distraction from the fact that my kids are growing up.

Just yesterday, after my most frustrating day of grad school to date (granted I don’t start until the end of August), I was still able to remind another military spouse that there isn’t much that a mom with a goal can’t handle. And I stand by that. We can multitask. We can focus while the noisiest toys in the house sound simultaneously, cereal flies across the room and the dog barks at every … single … person walking down the sidewalk.

But, though I’d like to think so, we aren’t superheroes. To be successful, we do need a plan and some serious organization, after all this isn’t just keeping track of one person’s assignments, it’s that on top of everything else moms already do.

Put it (all of it) on the calendar

I already know I’ll get a calendar of all my assignments on the first day of class. That magical paper is getting printed and posted by our family’s communication station (which isn’t as complex as it sounds — it’s a calendar and bulletin board in our pantry). I will also post the monthly calendars for both kids in there as well — no mom wants to be the one that forgot about preschool pajama day.

Make time for school

My grad school is 100 percent online, which for convenience’s sake is more fabulous than fabulous, but it also means forcing myself to block off a time and space where I focus only on school. I figured this out years ago when I started working from home, but it’s only human to find distraction in laundry, errands, whatever is on TV and — of course — my family. I don’t have the luxury of an actual office in our quaint 1,200-square feet of townhouse, so the best I can do is section off a space for my desk in the living room. That’s my setup, and while it isn’t a favorable study space when we have a full house, it should do the job when I’m the only one home. As a backup, I’ve also found an installation library right down the street from both of the kids’ schools. Who says you can’t still be hover mom when everyone’s at school?

Fight the urge to “mom” all day

As far as small kids go, mine are pretty patient. When I tell them I need them to play on their own for 15 minutes so I can finish something, they’re pretty respectful. But a 5-year old that respects your time is not always all the respect you need to get the job done. Someone will always need a drink of water. Someone will always give you puppy-dog eyes because it’s been eight minutes since you last played with her and she’s bored. There will always be laundry, and a dirty dish, and an errand. My biggest challenge — and maybe yours too — will be tuning everything else out. I want to give my goals just as much attention as I do everyone else’s. It’s not selfish, no matter what that mothering instinct is telling you.

So, from my freshly organized desk, I’ll wrap this up so I can focus on the last few days of summer with my kids. We’re full of butterflies, and with our new school clothes (them, not me — there’s no dress code for distance learning) and a fresh stack of school supplies, we can’t wait to kick off a successful school year.




Mom Goes Back to School: Financing Graduate School

 Posted by on July 14, 2016 at 12:15
Jul 142016


I’m guilty of occasionally being a secret shopper. No, not one of those store sleuths grading customer service, but one that shops, then after returning home, quickly discards the evidence — bags and tags — and mingles the new in with the old so as not to draw attention to it.

Most of the time when I assure my husband that “We’ve had that for months,” he just rolls his eyes. It’s harmless; he would just prefer our coffee table be free of decorations so there is more room for his feet. But when I got the itch for graduate school, I knew this wasn’t going to be a purchase I could shoulder shrug out of. Graduate tuition is not a one-time purchase; it’s an investment — one that can take years to pay off — and one that requires a discussion between spouses.

As silly as it sounds, I was dreading the initiation of this discussion. The responsible mom in me felt guilty spending a large portion of our family’s income on my something for myself. An occasional new pair of jeans or throw pillows — I can live with that guilt, but thousands of dollars’ worth of tuition? I was losing some serious sleep over this.

Because my husband is an incredible guy, he was nothing but supportive of my idea to go back to school. His exact words were, “You support me, and I support you. That’s how this works.” Unfortunately, support is not an accepted method of payment when tuition is due. We had some big decisions to make.

To GI Bill or not to GI Bill

We wrestled with whether or not to use the GI Bill for my education expenses for weeks. I initially refused to use it. I wanted it there to fully fund one of our kid’s college education. Period. Case closed.

Once I was accepted to my long-shot, first-choice school and that $55,000 price tag got real, I started to doubt that forgoing the GI Bill was the smartest thing financially. Reopen that case. Here was my reasoning:

  • My family was going to have to pay for education one way or the other — whether for me, my son or my daughter.
  • There is a very real possibility that we could set aside the GI Bill for one or both of the kids, and they end up not needing it because of scholarships.
  • We have 13 years before we have an undergraduate student. That gives us 13 years to save and plan for the expense — and we are. My graduate school starts August 29.
  • We have 13 years to search and apply for scholarships for our kids. I was surprised to find that you can start applying for awards when kids are as young as 5 years old.
  • One way or another, we’ll have tuition to pay for at some point. It seemed a little self-defeating to take on that great debt, which would turn into a monthly payment after graduation now when obtaining a master’s degree could qualify me for higher wages to help fund tuition for my kids.

GI Bill findings

I filled in my own opinions with actual research and contacts to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now, since it’s a government organization, know they will not advise you on the best choice for your situation, but we all know that didn’t keep me from weaving my story for the poor woman who rescued me from hold. I believe her actual response was, “Yeah. That’s your call. I don’t know.”

She did, however, fill in some fact-based gaps for me on the Post-9/11 GI Bill:

  • The bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits. Using 24 months still left my kids with partial tuition assistance.
  • Tuition is covered in full at participating public universities. Private schools, like the one I will attend, are typically more expensive, so there is a cap on assistance. As of Aug. 1, 2016, that is $21,970.46 per academic year.
  • The recipient must apply for the GI Bill. This was a surprise step for me. I knew my husband could control distribution amounts, but the actual application was an extra — luckily, online — step.
  • The confirmation of the GI Bill award can be delayed in the fall when many students begin enrollment.

This was all enough to convince me. And after more open communication with my husband, and a few other family members, we were certain using the GI Bill was the best choice for us right now. I applied and received my award letter within three weeks. After I register for classes, the veterans department at my university will handle communications with the VA. Thus far, the process is much simpler than I gave it credit for. Truly, the hardest part of the process was deciding the best financial decision for our family.


Aug 132015

Blogger Biography: James Hinton is an Army veteran who hangs his cowboy hat in Idaho. He spends his time writing on veteran’s issues and attempting to teach his four daughters to call cadence while walking to the bus stop.


I made a mistake. I made it for reasons that made sense at the time, but it was a mistake. I’m hoping my story will help you avoid making it as well.

I enlisted in the Army back in 1998. At the time, I was looking for work and for training I could take back with me to the civilian world. I found, to my surprise, that the military was what I needed. I’d found myself in a place where I knew my role and purpose, my needs were met, and most importantly, I was part of something far larger than myself.

After my six was up, I reenlisted, intending to make a career of it. I’d already had two combat tours under my belt, so I knew the bad as well as the good. For me it was worth it. This was the life for me. I was going the full 20, and possibly even 30.

The mistake                                                                                                                  

It didn’t happen. Just as I was looking to get my E-7, a doctor at Darnall informed me I was done. My third combat tour had left me with permanent respiratory and back damage. I was no longer medically fit for service. Within a few months I was wearing civvies and wondering what in the world I was supposed to do. The monthly check I was getting for my disability was nice, but I couldn’t live on it, even if I wanted to just sit around at home (I didn’t).

I had a problem. While I had great Army skills, I was coming up short on the skills needed for the civilian world. Sure, I had been a non-commissioned officer, or NCO. I had demonstrated leadership skills. But leadership in what? The civilian world didn’t need armament dogs. In my job search I kept encountering the same thing. Unless I wanted to start a job in unskilled labor, I needed to go back to school.

The Army had, for years, been providing me the opportunity to pursue an education. I’d earned a few college credits that helped in my pursuit of rank, but it had never been a serious pursuit by me. Now I was finding that people really wanted someone with a college degree and that I was well removed from their expectations. It took three years for me to make up for that mistake, working what barely survivable jobs I could while studying late into the night for exams and writing papers.

Don’t make my mistake

If you happen to be like I was, an enlisted soldier, marine, sailor or airman planning to go all the way, it’s very tempting to make the same mistake I did. It’s easy to assume that life will be accommodating and let us make it to that 20-year letter. We’re young, we’re strong, it’ll happen.

Only, it might not happen. You could find yourself injured as a result of combat, an illness or even just a silly little accident. If it does, you need to be prepared.

There are no excuses to avoid being prepared. These days a large number of accredited and respected institutions are offering classes online that can be taken whenever, wherever. If you are thinking you can’t take classes because you could be deployed overseas in a month, wrong. If you have a laptop and a chance at Internet access you can take the classes with you without an interruption. You can attend class from your home, your barracks, your hooch, or the Morale, Welfare and Recreation tent — better known as MWR tent — of a forward operating base.

Some programs seem obvious when considering what online offerings might work well for a deployed, enlisted soldier. Norwich University offers programs in Military History, for example. NCOs with a bent for leadership can prepare for a civilian career in management with an MBA from the University of Alabama. Many vets, and not just 31Bs, consider going into law enforcement. The University of Cincinnati has an online degree for that.

Officers aren’t exempt from this. Sure, you already have a degree, but how well will that degree set you up for the future? If you suddenly find yourself out in the civilian world, will your education help you stand out, or simply make you another run-of-the-mill candidate? Set yourself apart by continuing your education with advanced degrees.

Maryville University offers online degrees in nursing perfect for an officer, with 66 series of military occupational specialties. It might seem like this would be an impossible degree to achieve online, but so long as you are working in a clinical setting (such as a field hospital in Afghanistan or at a clinic stateside), you can qualify to participate in the program. A 67E can easily transition into a civilian pharmacy career through the University of Florida. Having a master’s in medication therapy management will put you right at the top of the list for employers who need to comply with Medicare Part D requirements.

Be prepared

I failed to be prepared. Though I had the drive and leadership skills that makes a veteran desirable to employers, I did not have the degree that got me interviews. My “trade” was not applicable to the civilian world, and so I found myself in a position where I was a trained leader, but didn’t have skills to lead in a civilian job. It took three years to overcome that lack.

You can avoid my mistake. You may believe nothing can stop you from that 20-year letter, but things happen. Just like the Army requires people to have a will prepared for the worst, you should be prepared for an early and unexpected discharge. Don’t be like me, only finally able to find work three years after my expiration term of service. Get schooled, get a job and soldier on.



Guest Blog | #MyMilFam Supporting Spouse Careers

 Posted by on November 30, 2014 at 10:00
Nov 302014

Guest Blogger:CharLine Vinson

My military family month contribution may be a little different than some of the others. Sure, I am a Marine wife married to a man with no military family history and I have no family in the military, either. I am also the mother of three children — Chaun 12, Jesslene 6, and Shylon 4 — who have moved to four states in six years, with all of the grief and adventure that implies. But, I felt compelled to write not so much to describe the decade of my husband Steven’s service or the six years of our marriage and military family life. I’m writing to say thank you to the country and the military for the programs supporting spouse education.

I think the general public is aware about the GI Bill available to the members of the armed services themselves, but less widely discussed is Spouse Tuition Assistance. It’s called MyCAA and it was re-activated four years ago to contribute to education and training for spouses of junior enlisted members, junior warrant officers and junior officers.

I’ve taken advantage of the program to help fund my education as a pharmacy technician. As soon as my youngest starts kindergarten next year, I will be ready to go to work full-time.

There are many programs I’m grateful for – specifically those that occupy and support my children on base – Learning Time at the library and activities with the Armed Services Young Men’s Christian Association. But I think I can make that case that no program is as critical to the future of my family as the program that allows me to advance my career and create still more possibilities for my children. I hope this blog entry will make more couples aware of the program, so the same opportunities might be available to them.


Balancing School and Service for Military Students

 Posted by on September 30, 2013 at 21:00
Sep 302013


I know that I am not reporting breaking news by telling you that going back to school as a non-traditional student is more than difficult. However, I think going back to school as an active-duty member has its own special set of challenges. I am watching my husband take advantage of his tuition assistance to go back to school while still serving active duty, so I have seen firsthand some of the challenges military members face when going back to school.  Here are some top tips to help military learners succeed:

Start off slowly. There is no need to dive into a full-time 12 plus credit hour course load your first semester. My husband originally wanted to take two classes a semester, but since he works a swing shift, he realistically does not have the time. Not saying that it can’t be done, but most active-duty students honestly just don’t have the time to devote to full-time school and work.

Don’t tackle that Physics 410 class right out of the gate.  More than likely, it has been a few years since you have been in an academic learning environment. Ease yourself back in; no need to “knock the hard classes out of the way first.” Build your academic skills back up and your learning ego by taking some of the lower level classes that you would really enjoy first.

Grab your work calendar and your school calendar and mesh them together. Sit down and look at your work schedule and be sure to account for duty days, training missions, temporary duty assignments and deployments. If you work shift hours, make sure the course workload balances with your odd days off. Seriously consider scheduling homework and test-taking times. Do not wait until the due date to knock out everything for the week. You will only end up stressing yourself out. Plus, if you delay, you never know if a training mission may pop up and prevent you from completing your work on time.

Rely on support from your family and friends. Let them know what classes you are taking and ask them to support you, especially if you aren’t as available as you have been in the past. If you are taking classes in a traditional setting, consider letting your superiors know and see if something can be arranged for your schedule to ensure that you will always be in class.

Keep your professors in the loop. Let them know ahead of time that you are a military student and that while you plan to be present and have your work turned in on time, situations may arise where you may have to be absent for a week. They may be able to help work out your course work so that you do not fall too far behind. Don’t just go MIA and come back and expect them to understand.

While there are special challenges with being an active-duty military learner, it is completely possible to find a work, school and home balance, and achieve your goal of a college degree. It just takes motivation, drive and sometimes a little creative scheduling. In the end, it will pay off when you hold that college diploma in your hands.

Adult Education: Making It Work

 Posted by on August 31, 2013 at 08:00
Aug 312013


Are you a “nontraditional student”? If you are in school or considering going back to school and you are not in the 18-25 age range, odds are you can check yes to that question!

Just thinking about fitting school and homework into my already overtaxed schedule gives me anxiety and makes me want to grab the nearest deep fried food and eat my feelings. However, thousands of “nontraditional” students do it every day and actually survive to graduate!

So to save my body the arduous task of processing all things fried, I decided to do some searching to alleviate my anxiety. Here is a mash-up of some great advice from both human and web resources (with my own twist of course).


If you’re like me, this is the first obstacle to going back to school. Unlike my 18-year-old self, I now have to pay for braces, glasses, contacts, clothes, food and other life-sustaining items for more than just myself. Many times the money mountain just seems too big to climb. Fortunately, today there are many scholarships and grants available to nontraditional students. Not sure where to find them? Start by calling Military OneSource. Let them do the leg work for you. You might be surprised how full your inbox gets with scholarship possibilities. Don’t be picky either. Apply for ALL of the scholarships that you even remotely qualify for. All you lose is time, and the worst thing that could happen is they say no. Have a supply of chocolate on hand for rejection, but don’t overdo it!


The next thing to trip me up has always been time. Time is not something we can fix by applying for a scholarship to get awarded an extra 130 hours to dedicate to school. The good news is that just as nontraditional students now flood the halls of academia, academia offers some nontraditional halls for us to flood! Brick and mortar education is no longer the only option. Online classes, self-paced and even accelerated learning programs are literally popping up everywhere. Take time to find the one that is right for you, and make sure they have the proper accreditations.


It’s not just class time you have to work into your life. You have to find the time to study, complete projects and get all your assignments completed on time. If you are able, schedule “homework time” and put it in your calendar. Make sure you treat it as you would any other appointment or date. It is OK to politely decline other events and activities and protect your personal education dates!

Physical well-being

When our schedules get jam-packed, the first thing to go is our personal health. We cut out sleep, eat poorly and skip exercise. It’s a well-known fact that we perform better if we have enough rest, good nutrition and moderate exercise, but those go first! Think of investing in your health the same as investing in your education because that is exactly what it is—an investment! If you make time to eat well, sleep and exercise (your body AND your brain), your anxiety levels will go down, especially as test time approaches.

It’s not easy juggling a family, home, life in the military and a job, or any combination of these things. Now may not be the time for you to go back to school, and if it’s not, that’s OK too, but you will never know unless you try. So take the first step, and see if there is a program right for you and your family! Before you know it, you will be picking up your cap and gown and planning how to celebrate!

Repeat after Me: That’s Not an Excuse

 Posted by on September 19, 2012 at 15:45
Sep 192012

Repeat after Me: That’s Not an Excuse

Staff Blogger Cassie


I’m not sure whether you remember me telling you that I was a non-traditional college student. Yep, that’s me. Ms. Online Education. I completed over half of my college courses online and lived to tell about it. I also did it while raising two, small children who, at any given moment, threatened my studying by pouring grape juice on my carpet, running around the house in their diaper while belting out the Barney song with a wooden spoon and a plastic container, or crying because they got their finger stuck someplace it never should have been in the first place. It was hard. Add to that deployments, marriage, and moving—it’s a wonder I’m still here blogging to you!
I’ve heard all of the excuses about why a military spouse can’t complete a college degree as an adult:

“I can’t go to school and raise kids at the same time.”

Yes, you can. Thousands of people do. It’s just…harder.

“It will take too much time away from my family.”

Yes, it takes time away from your family. However, your time with your family is what you make it. That’s not an excuse.

“I simply cannot do it. It’s too hard.”

Yes, actually, you can. You’re just underestimating your milspouse superpowers again.

“I am not disciplined enough to do distance learning.”

You can find the discipline within yourself. It depends on how bad you want to hold that diploma in your hand.

“People who graduate from online schools aren’t taken seriously.”

Wrong. Being taken seriously isn’t about where you went to school, it’s about how you perform as a professional. I’d say I’m taken pretty seriously.

“There’s no way I can get this done in four years.”

So what? It took me ten years. In the end, the degree is the same. How long it takes you to get it is irrelevant. One class at a time, my friends.

The bottom line is that if you want a college degree (and you *really* have to want it as a non-traditional student), then you have to go after it. It’s time to stop thinking about all the reasons you “can’t” do it and start thinking about what you can achieve if you strip away all of the excuses.

The good things in life aren’t easy to achieve. They take time, structure, discipline, and sheer will power. But that’s what makes those achievements so valuable! You know you’ve pushed through enormous adversity to have reached your goal. For me, college was one of those achievements. I’m hoping that by writing this, at least one person will find strength in my words and know that I am living proof that you can do it, too! Is it you?

Apr 022012

The Non-Traditional Education Route: Hard But Worth It!


I became a mother very young. I married young…in that order.  We like to do things backwards in our house: baby, marriage, school. Statistically, we should have failed. Statistically, I should have failed. Fourteen years ago, I enrolled in school, not because I was going to complete a Bachelor’s degree, but because we needed money, and I needed skills to make that money. Before I knew it, a couple of classes turned into a bookkeeping certificate, which turned into 40 credits, and then 60, and then 121. Ten years later, I was done. It’s been one crazy ride.

I studied in my car at my son’s soccer practice, in the bathroom, on family trips, while waiting in the parking lot to pick the boys up from school, and I have even been “that girl” who typed away on her laptop during football practice.

I had to lock myself in my room on Sundays to finish papers or research information, often missing out on Sunday dinner and spending time with my family. Trips were planned around finals and papers, and my poor boys, husband included, endured me like CHAMPS when I was “finals-crazy” as they liked to call it.

On the day of my last final, I came home to find my three favorite men gathered around the kitchen table clapping and cheering. It took my breath away. It begs the question: were they happy because I had accomplished such a huge task when the odds were against me or were they clapping because “finals-crazy mommy” was finally put to rest?  I’ll always be suspicious. My kids watched me walk to the stage at the University of Maryland and take that diploma proudly. I’d earned it. They had earned it.

The greatest part, for me, is that I can look back on my time as a college student and know that not only did I graduate, but I did it while raising a family, supporting my husband, holding down jobs I never dreamed I would do, moving, and volunteering—a LOT.

When I felt like I was NEVER going to finish school, I took another class. When I thought I would never survive another move, I volunteered in the community and made my new place my home. When I felt like I was letting down my family for wanting something for myself, I remembered my education was for all of us, and then I took a study break and went to the park or playground with the kids or went on a date with my husband. I graduated when I was 32 years old. My kids are half-grown. My husband is still my husband. And I have no regrets.

This experience changed my life. It shaped who I am as a person, a mom, a wife, a professional, and as a mentor to others. It taught me I can do ANYTHING I set my mind to, no matter how long it takes. You can do it too.

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.