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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 4 replies Education & Training



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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