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What are best practices for balancing a new career, Reserve service, and further education?


Jonathan Mattingly Columbus, GA

As I transition, I'm trying to determine the best way to balance beginning my new career, beginning my service in the Army Reserves, and beginning a Master's Program. My new career and Reserve service obviously take priority, but education is my true passion, and I would like to begin studies as soon as possible. I would appreciate advice from anyone who has been in this position before on when to apply for/start my Master's, and how to best strike a balance after my studies begin.

9 November 2018 11 replies Education & Training



Les Fieldman Minneapolis, MN

Jonathan, Thank you for your service. I was 9 years active and 19 in the Army Reserve, and mostly in HR managerial positions for 30 years. Good advice above: balance your time and especially if you are staying in the Reserves, as a leader, it will be more than one weekend a month, believe me. It may be worth looking into the CGSC program through a local USARF School so you get points and complete a military degree but have less pressure than a full time slot in the Reserves.
The difference in my advice to you: While a civilian I got into behavioral assessments and in retrospect, it is very worthwhile to know your behavioral "likes and dislikes:. When you are looking for a job, consider the functions you will be doing. You will not like every aspect of a job but if the dislikes are 50 percent of more, you will be unhappy in your work, and that will impact other areas in your life. You may not know why you are unhappy but you will be. If you can recognize what makes you unhappy or happy it will help you. Example: In the military there are command slots and staff slots. Some people love command and hate staff, and thereby do not do well in staff, but they need it to get promoted to the next command slot. Knowing yo don't like it but need it will help you do well and not shoot yourself in the foot. If you want to discuss, contact me. Good luck! Les Fieldman, LTC Ret.


Paul Trejo Austin, TX


Thanks for your years of service.

In your current situation, much depends on the Master's Program you select. A program that includes a lot of online courses was the most convenient in my case.

When I had a job and a family without a college degree, my salvation was online courses that I could take at night. Small steps; a little at a time, and eventually I got my degree.

Minimize class attendance -- which is bulky and often inconvenient -- with little actual benefit. Maximize face-time with the professor whenever possible -- inconvenient but rare enough -- and it zooms the course.

Best wishes.


Kiley Pontrelli Morrisville, NC

Jonathan -

First, thank you for your service!

I agree with what others have said - you have the ambition and the drive to make all three work at once; however, there may be a better strategy that would still allow you to have some work/life balance to keep your sanity!

I cannot emphasize enough taking advantage of the education programs that many major corporations have. Not only will they help with tuition assistance, but they are also often willing to adjust your work schedule to give you the time needed to complete courses, as you will be adding increased value to the firm! Leverage that!

Happy to connect you with other individuals who are working through this transition currently or to help with anything else you may need!


George Hernandez La Porte, TX

Lots of great advice here which should help you refine your final decision.
My take as a retiree, with 20 years of learning corporate the hard way, and being an HR professional with all the certifications, is to find a career your passionate about that you can use your transferrable skills. Also choose your corporate culture carefully, the signs are usually there, if you pay attention.

It takes 1 year to really acclimate to the corporate culture that you've chosen, especially with so 4 major events that you are taking on simultaneously (corporate job, military reserve job, educational requirements, and the most important your family.)

Chose a company where there is an educational benefit, so they can help you pay for college. Many employers offer up to $5,250 per year in tuition reimbursement for college courses. Under section 127 of the tax code, the IRS allows your employer to deduct the expense, and the benefit is not taxable to you as an employee. If you have questions about sizing up the corporate culture, feel free to call me George 832-339-1893.


Travis D. Arlington, VA


I suggest focusing on the new job and getting up to speed with the transition to civilian life. Unless you are going into a DoD or similar gov job, the culture in corporate will be enough change in your life.

Your first 3-6 months in the new job can have a major impact to your future in the company. Use spare time to research, network, and learn the business. Spending an extra 5-20 hours a week focusing on your new role will pay off more than education.

Once you feel settled in and ready for change then you can take on the additional workload of education.

After three years of work I decided I needed more work and started looking into another degree to work on in the evenings. Currently, my education is on hold because I moved companies and similarly need to spare time to get up to speed on the company and new culture. This coming Summer I will start on a doctorate part-time if it seems like an appropriate use of time. The delay in my education allowed me to focus on my career and think about what degree would be of the most value to my long-term goals.

I will say family situation makes a difference as well. I have a wife and two kids; stacking additional commitments on top of family becomes a strain you should think about. If you have a spouse / kids they will also be adjusting to the lifestyle.

Best of luck.

If you have any questions message me.



Louis Schwarz Somerville, NJ

Hi Jonathan, some thoughts on your goals. Army Reserve is a commitment today, with deployments a real issue. Most jobs will be held for you if you are deployed, depending on the size of your employer. A full time masters program may not be so flexible if you are deployed, in that you may have to retake the courses you were unable to complete. If you are going to work and be in the reserves, I suggest you take an online masters program until you determine the time required for all. You could always switch to attended classes in the masters program if time permits. Some challenging news, a lot of companies no longer do tuition reimbursement, not cost effective for them. Don't make your goals so aggressive, and put a lot of pressure on your self to achieve them. Working will be challenging on its own merits. Good luck and have fun!!


Steven Mathews Spring, TX

I saw a statistic years ago that a person with a family and a fulltime job had a 6% probability of completing a Master's program in any area.

When I was in the WA ANG, a person with a family, a fulltime job, going to school parttime for a BA, and attending drills had a very difficult time being successful in all four areas. However, if they were cross-training into a different military career field, they ended up dropping out of the ANG. We stopped enlisting people who were engaged in the first three areas who would have to cross-train.

I knew an engineer who decided to become a lawyer. He put his family on "HOLD" while he went to night school for ~6 years while he held his normal job. He passed the Bar Exam, and then his wife filed for divorce.

The comments you have received above to wait and see how much time you become obligated to in your new job and your Reserve activities should be given a lot of consideration before engaging in an advanced degree program. It can be done, but the odds are against you, and it may come with a high price tag.

You will not have much time to make a decision. If you drop the Reserves to engage in school for several years, you may discover that it is difficult to find a position in the Reserves as your current capabilities may have become outdated. A lot depends on how badly the Reserves need your MOS at that point. If you wait too long to go to school, your job responsibilities may have increased, your family will have become older and maybe larger, and your Reserve responsibilities may have increased. All these additional responsibilities will take more of your time, decreasing the likelihood for success in an advanced degree program.


Jack Crayton Glen Allen, VA


As with any major decision, you need to weigh the impact on your current obligations prior to taking on more responsibility. Based upon your interest in advice from others you are doing that.

I would take the time to transition into the civilian work force and your reserve obligations to see what the demands are on your time.

As a reserve officer, your one weekend a month will be more demanding than just two days.

A fulltime master's program will take up most of your free time outside of work.

There are a lot of different ways to approach a master's program from self paced one class at a time or full time predefined schedule.

I was in the USMC reserves, working full time and going to school full-time when obtaining my BS in Civil Engineering. I can tell you I had time to take naps and that was it. I had zero down time. The point being that anything is possible. Also, I do not recommend that to anyone.

When I obtained my MBA I was only working full-time, but waited for 5 years and was very well grounded in my full time job. Also, I was able to enjoy the benefits of tuition reimbursement.

It really all depends on your personal situation and the demands from your current obligations.

Good luck and thank you for your service.


Jack Crayton


Anqi Zhao Hakalau, HI

Hi Jonathan,

I just wanted to say getting a masters degree is a serious investment of time, money, and energy. While I was active duty I enrolled in an online graduate degree in mechanical engineering and was paying out of pocket. I did it solely for the sake of getting a graduate degree to boost my resume. It was a mistake. I had no life while I was taking the class. I spent every waking hour not working on studying or doing research. I also realized that I actually had no interest in composite material or what I thought mechanical engineering meant, thus hated the whole experience. The point is, graduate school takes serious commitment. I also see a lot of peers rushing into school post transition because of the GI Bill benefits, and squander it on programs that they are neither passionate about nor benefit their careers.

I also encourage you to breathe and slow down. Military people have a way of work, work, work, we run like machines. I took a year off and traveled, read books, sat on beaches, and "did nothing" in the opinion of many. The reality is, it matters very little if you finish a masters at age 30 or 33, if you start school in spring or fall. That one semester or one school year makes very little difference in the grand scheme of things. You will get there if you are persistent, how quickly you get there really depends on how bad you want it.

Best of luck. Aloha,



Gary Liffick Louisa, VA


First off, thank you for serving and continuing your service in the Army Reserves.

My experience has been that I did not start grad classes until I was in the new job for at least a year. It seems that a new job always takes extra effort in order to get properly oriented and to prove that they have hired a hardworking and competent individual. I had the great opportunity of completing two master's programs while working full time, and too often, while working overtime and odd shifts as an engineer in an industrial facility. I did not do the reserve duty but realize that it can take a lot of time and effort on top of job and family responsibilities.

With so many online programs available now, the time of year for applying and starting does not matter much.

After being away from college courses for some years, I found that the first grad course was usually the hardest, perhaps because I was away from some study habits. So you may want to start the first class, or any prerequisite class, with this in mind. Also, only once did I take two classes at the same time. That worked, but was a challenge.

As far as striking a balance, my experience for some years was that the course work takes a lot of time during many evenings and weekends. But once I got into this routine, it was enjoyable, mostly because the classes were interesting and I knew of many uses for such knowledge. Another major component of striking a balance has to do with family life. I could not have pursued such studies without my wife on board.

If this is your passion, I'm sure that you will find a way.

Gary Liffick


George Wilhelmsen Rochelle, IL


I'd suggest you find a job you enjoy with tuition reimbursement available. Start into the job, and see what the "churn" (i.e., how much time the job takes) is, and how it flanges up with your reserve duty.

If you find you can easily keep up and maintain your sanity, then look for a complimentary masters degree program, and start into it slowly.

You may be able to handle a lot. I would still suggest you start small, since the reserve and a full time job can be a handful. Assess your capabilities, and then expand from there.

I hope this helps. Good luck and thank you for your service.

George Wilhelmsen

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