Moving is hard. Going to school is hard. But doing both at the same time can be very overwhelming. Luckily, there are milspouses who have done this before, so sit back and learn from their experiences.
Rachel's Marine husband was headed north for a course he would have to take in Virginia Beach, but she was knee-deep in the middle of school.
"I was four and a half semesters into school and had hoped to finish in the same place,” Rachel said. "I was studying for finals. Instead of registering for a new school in Virginia, I put the degree on hold."
Can you guess what happened next? "Five years later, I'd like to finish it,” Rachel said.
Transferring schools is an all-too-common occurrence for military spouses, many of whom struggle to complete their degrees. And statistics are not on their side: 44% of students who transfer mid-bachelor's degree don't end up finishing college at all.
Want to make sure that isn't you? Follow these five steps to transfer your degree with ease.
Step One: If applicable, get an associate's degree.
Unless you are sure you can start and finish all four years of your schooling in one place, there is a lot of merit to pursuing an associate's degree upfront with plans to finish a four-year degree immediately after.
Not only can you apply your MyCAA benefits to cover the majority of your associate's degree, it will also give you a two-year time frame for degree completion that you can probably complete before your next PCS.
It also puts you in good standing when you do have to PCS: Students who transfer mid-college with a two-year degree already in hand are a lot more likely to get their bachelor's degree. Seventy-two percent of associate's degree holders who transfer mid-schooling still get their bachelor's degree.
"I should have done that," Rachel said. "I had that option, and I really regret not taking it. If I had an associate's right now, even if I still paused school, I would be so much more hirable."
That's smart planning in the event you are forced to PCS someplace where there isn't a perfect school for you. There are still plenty of great jobs you can get with an associate's degree wherever you wind up -- and that might be a good placeholder job as you try to find a new school home.
Step Two: Get all your forms before you go.
All those pesky things you had to gather when you applied or enrolled in the first place? High school transcripts, FAFSA applications and copies of your tax returns as applicable, and any other current transcripts? You're going to need to hunt them down all over again to get going at your next school.
In the face of a PCS, that means it's important to go get them now. Bond with the people working at the registrar's office and make sure they know you're leaving. Walk away with all the paperwork in hand, and whatever you do, don't send it on the moving truck.
Also, make sure you also stop by the financial aid office before you leave. While you would think that not receiving your upcoming semester's class plan would be enough for your loan holders or MyCAA to know you're not enrolling in the next semester, you actually need to call and alert them of the change.
In the case of certain loans, this is particularly important since you might be on the hook for repayment if you're not currently enrolled in school. Both MyCAA and your bank are here to help you, so even if it seems like a somewhat scary call, place it as soon as you know you're going to have to move.
Step Three: Work with your current counselor to find a new school.
Do you know the No. 1 way you are most likely to get your degree done smoothly and without a five-year (or more) hiatus? It's a no-brainer: Get registered for classes today and make a seamless transition into the next semester.
Doing that, though, can be really tough, so start with the people who are dedicated to helping you.
If you currently have an academic adviser, meet with her regularly to discuss your options. Depending upon the institution, your school might have a transfer counselor who helps place students in four-year schools.
Those transfer advisers are just as helpful when you are transferring your current degree to a new school, so seek them out. The one thing you can count on in a military town is that you aren't the only one asking these questions. Chances are, they've heard them a hundred times, and by now, they probably have good answers.
Networking with your new community will also be a great way to find a new school where you will be challenged and happy. Reach out to your friends on Facebook and ask them to ask around for you. And go ahead and place a call to your new installation's employment office -- most of them also have education resources on hand and can help make you aware of what your options are.
Step Four: Consider staying put.
"I hate people talking about not PCSing with their husbands," says Navy wife LaShea. "Whenever they talk about the wives who don't move, it's always negative. It automatically makes you a bad wife."
In truth, though, staying put might be the right move for your family depending upon the situation. Having personally done it (truth!), I can attest to it being a smart move sometimes. Our marriage didn't suffer, and my degree certainly benefited.
"I'm thinking about it," says LaShea. "But I hate the attitude around it. It makes me not want to do it."
Military wife Jessica weighed in on our Facebook page to explain that her husband actually encouraged her to stay put and put her degree first. "My husband made me promise I would stay in Texas and finish school (I had a year of school to finish with my BS) while he was stationed in GA," she wrote. " I'm glad he made me stay and finish."
If you think that staying put to finish your degree might be a good move for you and your family, start the conversation with your spouse. It does not make you a bad wife to pursue the conversation. As a family, you will be able to come to a conclusion that works for everyone.
Step Five: Consider learning online.
If you haven't found a suitable new school and you know you are on board for the move, you might want to consider looking into online educational opportunities. From GEDs to bachelor's and graduate degrees, online learning hubs can be a great resource for military spouses who want to PCS-proof their education.
"If you told me a year ago I'd be looking at an online school, I wouldn't have believed it," says Navy wife Kristina. "I went to a good school for undergrad. I worked on the Hill before I met my husband. But now I want to do graduate school, and there aren't any options nearby."
Kristina is instead pursuing online homes of brick-and-mortar institutions. "I'm looking at Northeastern's online program the most seriously, but who knows what will happen." No matter what, she says, she knows this is a degree she can do while she moves. "Wherever we are next, I can still finish it."
Have you transferred schools mid-degree because of your family's military commitments? What advice do you have for other spouses in your position? Facebook reader Sarah offers one last piece. "My advice is don't give up!" she says. "It really can be challenging with the moves but the reward is worth it."
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