Why should I go to school?: Q&A with a Military College Counselor
Stars and Stripes | .
published: August 23, 2016
John Collis is the director of the Naval College Office at Naval Air Facility Misawa. A retired chief, Collis spent 24 years in the Navy.
Q. In your experience, when servicemembers come by your office for the first time, do they already know what they want to do for their college education or do they not have much of an idea?
A. Well, it’s sort of mix. Quite a few already have what they want to do in mind and are just looking for a way to get started, the others don’t know what they want to do. I tell them it’s okay to not know what you want to do and that we will figure something out. Career development theory says that we are going to change jobs or careers an average of seven times over our working lifetime. So, you don’t have to know what you want to be next week, next month or next year. What you are now isn’t what you are going to be 20 years from now. But where do you want to be 20 years from now? How about five years from now? So that’s what we start looking at.
Q. What are the common questions service members have if they don’t have much experience going to school?
A. How am I going to pay for this? How much is it going to cost me? And then we talk about the Navy Tuition Assistance Program, then we talk about federal application for student aid and we talk about the GI Bill. How much work is this going to involve? Do I want to take class online or on-base? We answer all those questions.
Q.What are common challenges for service members looking to go to college?
A. Time, for one. A lot of folks have no idea how much time is involved in actually going to school. A lot of sailors have been out of school for months or years…they didn’t just graduate high school last week and decide they want to go to college now. I had not been in the classroom for a long time when I decided to get serious about getting my degrees out of the way. People come in here and they don’t know how much work is involved going to an online class or going to the classroom, how much time to allow for studying, going to the library or writing papers. Time management is a big thing.
Q. What types of students do you have coming into your office looking to go to school?
A. We see people of all ages and ranks. Officers…I’ve got 0-5s going to school and I’ve got E-1s going to school and everything in between. I’ve got folks coming in here reporting to their first duty station and people who are going to retire next year and are thinking, “oh my god what am I going to do? I’ve got to get a degree before I get out.” A lot of senior folks have spent their time doing what the Navy wanted them to do, and now they’re on their last tour and are starting to look at what is going to happen when they walk out the door. We (the military) don’t plan a lot for that. We’re not good at having an exit strategy. If the Navy isn’t here tomorrow, what am I going to do - what am I qualified to do? If you were going to be sent home next week, would you be ready for that? If you look at the jobs sections in the hometown newspapers, many jobs require a post-high school education.
Q. Besides increasing future job opportunities, what are some other benefits for service members attending school?
A. People that are going to school tend to do better on rating exams. They advance faster than people who are not going to school. They also tend to stay in the military at a higher rate. Studies also show that people who attend school tend to not get into trouble as much as people who don’t go to school. So it’s a win-win situation. We are advancing people, retaining people and keeping them out of trouble. To me, I’d rather see sailors in the classroom at night instead of out in town getting into trouble.
Q. Is there any advice you have for someone who is looking to start going to school?
A. The hardest part is making the decision to go to school. But once you decide, all you have to do is go to the local education center. We are going to help you get enrolled. This is what I do. I look at service members almost like I am still a Chief in the Navy. I’m here to take care of them and I’m going to do everything I can to get them to where they want to be. I don’t know where they want to be and maybe they don’t either. But we can get them started; that’s what we are here for.
– John Collis