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It seems difficult to get a career, especially government, without a degree. Advice?


Andrew Bridges Washington, DC

Spending four years in the military does not equal to four years at a university. Though school is not for everyone and a reason some go into military, yet when get out it seems like it doesn’t matter for most career fields.

5 December 2018 19 replies Career Advancement



Carl Warren Holland, OH

I agree with Jo, I often say do you want a job that you will have to work extremely hard at or do you want a career where you can grow. I learned that the hard way by working hard most of my life, but when I finally received my first degree, so any doors opened up for me to better provide for my family. You can do it, because it will take a sacrifice of maybe an hour or 2 a day for 2 years without any breaks and you can have your Bachelor's degree. The difference is you can be a technician breaking your back making extra money on overtime which isn't guaranteed or you can be salary where your money is like clockwork, without the hardships of looking for overtime. Now don't get me wrong there isn't anything wrong working hourly if that is your aspirations, but as I say to my children a degree gives you many more options Good luck!


Mark Levine Southeastern, PA

Going back to get a degree is not much help. You need a job now, not 4 years from now. Well intentioned but wrong. After 4 years in USMC you no doubt have many skills and abilities that will be valued by employers. Emphasize what you have, not what you don't have. You were promoted to corporal. Shows yo were recognized for taking responsibility and getting the job done. Leading and managing people is another important strength. Also emphasize any technical skills you may have such as electronics, mechanics, etc. Stress your accomplishments. What results have you achieved, not just in USMC but in life?


Jo Prabhu Long Beach, CA

Are you looking for a job or a career? A 'job' will get you by and pay your bills as long as you are physically and mentally able=no security, but obtaining a professional degree is an investment in your future 'career' that will create a lifelong path to security.


Lex Levin Ellicott City, MD

Andrew, I work with veterans applying to Federal civilian jobs every day - that's my niche as a professional resume writer. Many of my clients do not have a college degree but are still fully competitive for the jobs they want based on their military experience (esp. in the IT, Program Management, Administration, Logistics, HR, Supply, and Transportation fields).

If you are applying to entry-level and mid-level Federal jobs - let's say GS-5 to GS-11 or so - your experience will be enough to get you consideration (assuming your experience is presented well in a strong Federal resume).

Once you start looking at higher GS positions, you will start seeing educational requirements for many of those jobs. However, if you get in at a lower GS grade, you will have time to get your degree if you decide to apply to those higher jobs later in your career. Hope this helps!


Richard Krout Detroit, MI

As a Marine NCO, you know better than anyone the value of hard work and first-hand experience. That said, I strongly suggest you consider a career the construction industry. The opportunity for career growth and financial success are outstanding Some of the industry's best Field Superintendents started their careers in the military, and learned the most valuable skill of all - leading & influencing people. Companies & Craft Unions will teach you everything you need to know to build and manage the field operations, but they specifically look for work ethic and core values like "Honor, Courage, Commitment" at the entry level.
I'm glad to talk with you more if you'd like.

Semper Fi!


Robert Lamaster Meridian, ID

I would argue that it's a combination of "industries that require a degree", but more heavily, "employers that require a degree". There are many employers, often run by veterans, that understand the value of military experience.

Having said that, I highly agree with many of the other posters here that you should consider a degree a "must have" in your professional life. You can start small just to tick that checkbox. However, don't stop there. You need to accept that your first jobs will be limited and will likely not be something you want for long. Take this time, while getting a paycheck, to get your first degree, such as an AA or AS. Move up to a slightly better job and work on your next degree, such as a BA or BS.

The key is to commit yourself to life-long learning / life-long improvement. (It's also a good buzzword during interviews! :) ). Live that mentality... always. If there is training available at little cost, take it. If there is school available, enroll!

Very few people get a great, long-lasting, rewarding, and well-paying job with advancement potential without a degree, but that's not really the point. The key is constantly improving your education, training and skills as you start small. Even if you are starting with, "do you want fries with that?", it's a paycheck that will allow you (as long as you watch your expenses) to do some community college and grow your future.


Michael Scott Yorktown, VA


I get it. I'm in the DC area, looked for a got the job. Two things you have to consider, where do you want to work and what do you want to do.

If you are planning on staying in the DMV, and want a government job at a GS9 or above, you need a degree. Consider what we do, who we work for and the products we produce. Most people need a formal education to work at this level. Sorry it just the way it is. If you write reports for Congress and the American tax payers, you'll need to know how to write. If you work for someone who does you'll need to know. Even if it's a contract, you'll need to know.

With your GI Bill and yellow ribbon you can attend some of the best colleges in the nation here in DC and won't pay a dime out of pocket. If you're not going short of little ones at home, you should ask yourself why not? It can be done. While you are working on your degree take an intern position with one of the agencies. It gets your foot in the door, gives you a flavor for the work that agency does, and builds your resume for when you do finish.

What work do you want to do? Understand just like the Marines, an 11B does many things, not just kill the bad guys. In the GS world a management and program analyst in one agency may manage a program, while in another they may review contracts, while in another write reports and perform analysis on given data.

Get in school, make some connections, work with the VA and the other veterans organizations, and before you know it you'll have the position you are looking for.

I would suggest you find a school that will take your military experience as college credit, like UMUC or AMU to start. Then transition to GW or VT, or Mason once you have your associates, if they won't give you credit. Otherwise start at one of the better schools and keep at it. Just remember a degree is a degree as long as the school is accredited. Yes some have more weight, but in the end English 101 is still the same across the board. There is one exception engineering. Depending on your discipline, schools specialize. For example VT is know for CS. Something to consider when looking at schools.

Anyway, don't give up hope. You'll make it. Just focus on one class at a time, and the rest will fall into place.


Jeanne Perdue Houston, TX

Dear Andrew:
You don't need a degree to get a good-paying job - you can go to a community college and get a certificate. Level I certificates only take 1 year, and Level II certificates take 2 years. Some examples are: welding, auto repair, HVAC, commercial drivers license, various computer programs, and health care aide. Visit your local community college and speak to one of the counselors there. They can point you in the right direction for your skills and preferences, and they may even have scholarships for veterans for certain programs or certificates.
Jeanne Perdue
Houston, TX


Daniel Brock The Colony, TX

Hi Andrew,

The temptation is strong to not pursue a degree and start your career immediately. You can make money doing a lot of things that may not require a degree, but you are barred from entry to a lot of good paying 9 - 5 jobs. I experienced this when looking for work right out of the military.

Also, every veteran I talk to, I always mention the woes of getting an online degree for Science and Engineering jobs. Ensure you are attending an ABET accredited institution, otherwise, you will be barred (again) from a lot of engineering jobs.

Best of luck!



John Parker, MBA, MSIS Vacaville, CA

Andrew, find your local/regional Veterans Employment Service Office (VESO) and explain that you want a government job. They will assign a staff member to help find gov't jobs that matche your skills and not all jobs require a degree. Once this has been determined, they will show you how to write your resume and apply for those specific jobs. Now that's veterans service!


Philip Lantz Kansas City, MO


I have had this discussion with multiple people including a CW3 and a SFC (E-7) in the counterintelligence field who are retiring after 20+ years of military service. One of the two were basically post-doctoral level in their field. They submitted resumes for actual CI positions in corporate/cleared contractors. They did not get an interview because the minimum requirement for the position was a 4 year degree. I know the individual who was hired for several of the positions and the CW3 in specific was more qualified, capable, and knowledgeable.

The bottom line is your experience doesn't matter if you don't get through the computer that screens applicants and it is looking for a 4 year degree. Your military experience is a great asset once you get past the computer screening. I strongly advise you to get your degree. Look at schools like Excelsior College. Excelsior is regionally accredited and VERY military/veteran friendly. They will maximize the credits earned from military training.

The other angle to view this topic in is the corporate side of the equation. Realistically, 4 years as an infantryman, tanker, artilleryman, etc. does not translate well to the skills needed in a corporate environment. Some of the soft skills will translate; but these skills will usually be discriminators (helping the hiring authority pick between you and another (more or less) equally qualified candidate.

Check out the many training programs for veterans. Programs like the one sponsored by the U of Syracuse will help you get certifications (usually for free) that will help you get your leg in the door. I know there are programs that focus on HVAC in Washington State. I am sure there are similar programs in most regions.

The last item to look at is translating your military experience into civilian terms. This is absolutely vital. Using vocabulary and verbiage familiar to hiring managers is imperative. I am willing to help with this if you would like it. Message me and we can discuss this in depth.


Roahso Toussaint Tampa, FL

Thank you for your service. It really doesn’t matter how we feel about the way things are... you’ve already identified that a college degree is required in most cases. Whether or not this is fair is irrelevant.. you now have to start taking the necessary steps to get one. Even if you start taking one class at a time, even online, the most important thing is to just get started. Even if you aren’t sure what field you want to pursue, you can start taking the Gen Ed classes that are required for all degrees.

I don’t know your personal situation (married, children, sole provider, etc) but that will dictate how aggressively you can start pursuing your degree. I, personally don’t agree with the straight up requirement to have a degree but it is that it is and a decent education does give you the best odds at success.

You survived the Marine Core so I know you have the mental fortitude and the necessary perseverance to knock this out in no time.

If you’re in the tech field then reach out to me directly; that’s one field where you can earn good money without a degree.


Michael Del Vecchio Killingworth, CT


Try using the military MOS cross-walk in Google. Search on "jobs for veterans". Also check out VOC REHAB - they can help find jobs/start businesses. This takes time - it took me six months to find a job when I came home. Good luck.


Louis Schwarz Somerville, NJ

Hi Andrew, thanks for your service.
Today and tomorrow, education will be the key to your future for the rest of your life. Now what does that mean. It means education has two sides formal and operational. Future success will be measured by performance, not credentials. Yes, in some fields you need credentials to open the door, but performance keeps you in the game, and affects your long term compensation. My advice is go to a community college and determine a direction. Then supplement your decision with further formal education or move toward a trade. High school is not enough, so get an associate degree. Your military experience is valuable and you will find this out as you move through your life. Don't let time push you, good things take time. Don't waste time, use it to achieve a goal. Good luck..


Paul Tusting Salt Lake City, UT

An approach in between working-your-way-up in a company (w/o a degree) and perusing a conventional degree [both of which are good options], is to look for a certificate and/or apprenticeship in a trade. These can often been at low or no cost. Working with a local union is an option, or there are non-union examples. Here is a program in Utah for ref:
If there certificate has significant cost, your GI Bill may apply.

Good luck!


Robert Jurasek Hollywood, FL

Dear Andrew,

There are many Federal positions that do not require a college degree but may ask for experience instead of the degree. The job announcements will typically state something like the following:
GS 5: At least 3 years, 1 year of which was equivalent to at least GS 4 General Experience, OR a 4-year course of study leading to a bachelor's degree, OR a combination of education and general experience.

The GS 5 pay grade is entry level; however, you should look for job announcements that have a range like GS 5-15, for example. That range will show you the promotion potential for the position.

At whatever pay grade you start, you generally will have to be there for one year before you can be promoted to the next higher pay grade. Jobs often have pay grade increases from GS 5 to 7, 9, and 11, before the grade increases in increments of one (GS 11 to 12, 13, 14, and 15.)

Here is one way that you can search: Go to > enter Washington DC as your location (or any other desired location) > on the right column, scroll down to “Pay” > click on “Grade” and select GS 5. On the resulting list, look for the job announcements that have a pay range like GS 5-15 then find a position where you can qualify based on your experience. Perhaps you have enough experience to justify starting at the GS 7 pay grade and you can work your way up from there.

Good luck with your search and thank you for your Service!

Bob Jurasek


Paul Trejo Austin, TX

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for your years of service. You're correct that Industry treats all work experience as relevant to industry. I strongly advise you to get a college degree. ANY COLLEGE DEGREE IS BETTER THAN NONE in today's industry marketplace.

The most accessible ones are the AA or AS degrees -- Associate in Arts, or Associate in Science. They can be obtained at Community Colleges, which are inexpensive compared to almost every other facility.

Many Community Colleges offer ONLINE COURSES for some of their classes. This is IDEAL for the working person. Please consider this seriously.

Some colleges will accept credit from other colleges, or grant credit for work experience.


Here are a few rules of thumb for a late college degree:

1. Take courses that you already know a lot about -- that is perfectly legitimate.
2. Take courses that you LIKE the best.
3. Take business courses -- some are easy, and they all look good on a resume.

GET THE DEGREE. You'll be so glad you did.

Best wishes,


Rob Pianka Lancaster, PA

Hello Andrew,

Read your bio. Please accept my appreciation.

Here are some questions: What did you learn in your four years in the military? What parts of that apply to a civilian career? How can you make those parts count in your career?

You may answer those questions differently, but with the little information I have here's a stab at it:

You say you have taken "some college courses and have worked in plumbing, restoration, roofing..."

Military: I learned to fit and function in a system, to always show up on time and prepared, to be lead and to lead, and to know the objective and to contribute to its achievement.

Civilian: I learned what good management is and how to be a good manager...these things are in short supply in the civilian sector.

Career: Focus, perhaps, on Project Management in the construction sector. Put your purposeful discipline into practice. (You will have to learn how to do that with people who don't take orders, i.e. how to herd cats.) Along with practicing this, take the right series of courses. Note: You can grow from Project Management to Program Management (managing multiple Project Managers and projects) and, perhaps, eventually become a Chief Operating Officer (for that level you'll need to learn Financial Management).

Courses: Off the top of my head... Steadily over years get credit for studying/knowing Management, Project Management, and relevant parts of Financial Management: budgeting, cost analysis.

Here are some resources: CLEP allows you to study intro courses and to "place out of them" so you can take higher level courses

your local Community College... Take a good look here. You may want to only work for a company that is involved with ABC. AMA courses cost a bit but they count on a resume. The AMA also has organized their courses towards career achievement. You may not want to always pay for their courses but take a good look at their career tracks.

Like I said, you may answer these questions differently but your answers should clarify the lessons you learned in the military that are valuable in the civilian world, how you need to adapt yourself and those lessons to the civilian world, and what resources are available to you.



(717) 725-4305


Derek Nielsen Hudson, NH

Build your skills up to what field you are looking to enter. If there is an ability to start as a temp or contractor, that can start building you valuable experience. Most good companies will value actual experience over a degree with no experience.

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