Grad School for an Officer: Before or After

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#1
I have asked a couple members of the board for some advice lately, and received some fantastic feedback. I was encouraged to put this question on the board to gain broader perspective. The consensus so far is to get what you can before joining because life happens.

I joined a few years ago about halfway through school with the intent on going 18X, eventually going to grad school and figuring out my career from there. Making a long story short, I took a little over 5 years to finish college with a 3.26-not ideal but I was directionless early on- with degrees in mechanical engineering and political science, minor in econ, and Russian proficiency though its a little dusty now. Not to list a resume, just pertinent background. I intended to go 18X right when I returned from Middlebury last summer, but I got hurt training, took some time off, got fat and ultimately decided that I wasn't where I needed to be to join and succeed. I got a job as an engineer to try to pay off loans, and thought really hard about staying in the private sector, but searched my soul and decided that I wanted to serve. While 18X is still an attractive option for me, I applied to ROTC at Georgetown (applied economics, not the establishment feeder programs but I waited too late), was accepted and will find out about the scholarship in the "coming days". My question: If I had to take out an additional 40k in loans (to put me at 60k+ total) over the next 2 years to actually live in D.C., would the impact on my career in the future still be worth it? I would be 26 when I commission, hopefully have become more proficient in my Russian, and hopefully had some rewarding work experiences as well, but that's the ideal situation.

I will most definitely go to grad school or at least do distance at some point in my life as I am fascinated by a number of subjects and would like a number of degrees because, well, school is cool, and I like the idea of being a generalist. Also, there are some very very attractive options online like Kings College, Hopkins, etc. that have proliferated in the past years. I have considered OCS, but if I am going to be an officer, I want to try to be the best while also setting myself up for success down the road. I also feel that I would be more likely to get my branch of choice out of ROTC rather than OCS (Infantry, MI branch detailed IN, or MI as top 3- completely different I know, but the ultimate goal is USASOC in some fashion and both offer truly interesting work). Ultimately, I am still deciding whether or not I want to enlist with 18X as there are pros and cons to my options, but in my wildest dreams, working in the mid to upper-levels of the national security establishment (agency or whatever) would be incredibly fulfilling toward the latter stages of my career, but things and people change. Just wanted to give you an idea of the general direction that I would like to go as of now.

There is more to my options than stated such as motivations, aspirations, etc., but this is a pretty specific question, and I wanted to be respectful of your time as well as keep the soul-searching more personal. Any feedback is appreciated.
 

Marauder06

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#2
Very thoughtful post. I wish more people seeking advice here would put this much thought and effort into researching on their own like you have done.

To answer your question: I think it's worth it. The expected earnings on a graduate degree from Georgetown would, in my estimation, offset the projected expenses.

WIth your background and interests, MI detailed Infantry seems logical and feasible. I recommend against enlisting for 18X; SF will still be there after you commission if you decide to attempt to go that route.

I'm sure there are a number of other members who have useful commentary and opinions to share.

Good luck.
 

NavyBuyer

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#6
I can't speak for any other branch but Navy, and Supply Corps at that, but there are a ton of opportunities for officers to earn their master's for free, to include it being their sole duty to attend school. In my MBA class I even had a Nuke Officer from a sub who was detached for a year to earn it (I attended a one year MBA program).
 
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#7
I second this. I live near Naval Postgraduate School and that is the way to go. They have SOF-specific programs and their engineering program is world-class. I have known many officers who have attended and all were impressed and fast-tracked professionally.

I spent 40 grand on grad school 13 years ago, am still paying for it and would never recommend doing that. I think you would be better served by enlisting or commissioning now, getting your Russian to ILR 4 and pursuing SOF and/or IC positions. A TS/SCI with full scope poly and high proficiency in a language of probable U.S. enemies will open infinitely more doors than any degree.

The definite risk of waiting is not worth the possible value of the degree. Going to grad school in your late 20s or 30s will be no problem. The younger you are when presented with physically demanding A&S opportunities the better. The years do get away from you. PT gains do get more difficult with age. The body does heal more slowly as we age. I learned these things the hard way. I'm still a PT fanatic, but I work twice as hard to maintain my fitness as I did in my 20s.

Anything physically demanding is best attempted as young as possible. Plus, many things could happen in the next two years to derail you...health problems, injuries, love, marriage, kids, university liberal indoctrination...

I wish someone had told me these things 25 years ago.
 

Ronnoc

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#8
I was in a pretty similar situation to you a few years ago, I had a lot of different aspirations and was intrigued by the various routes you can follow in the Army. Sounds like you have a lot of great potential COAs mapped out, let me throw another one into the mix.

Background: MI detailed IN O here, currently serving as a recon platoon leader.

MI detailed IN is a great option and it just got better:

The way Officers assess into Special Forces was substantially changed this year, allowing for much earlier SFAS dates and attending the Q course as soon as you're spotted on the promotion list for CPT. What this means, potentially, if you're a stud and have support from your CoC. It is possible to do all the great things expected of a IN 2LT: IBOLC, Ranger, Airborne etc. lead a platoon for 9-12 months and then hop over and try out an intel gig for 8-10 months(if your cards really fall in order you can assess to go to the 75th as well); at this point you'd be nearing your ARSOF application window and will have brief experiences with the IN and MI realms; hopefully refining what you aim to achieve as your career progresses in a relatively short timeline.

It's pretty easy to type a progression like that out in a short note, it is much different to execute. It is also worth noting that we work for the Army and not the other way around, with the exception of applying to ARSOF, your unit will dictate where/when/what you do.

I would offer you this advice, really hone in on what your professional/personal goals are for your career and try to match that up with a realistic option; all that's left then is to execute. 8-)
 
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#9
What do you want to get out of grad school?
Honestly, you kinda caught me flat-footed here as I've never asked myself that specific question. First off, I legitimately loved the upper level social science classes: IR, intl econ, foreign policy, independent research, and most of all political economy. Researching theories about how the world works, learning to analyze and asses these and even coming up with some yourself is just an eye opening experience, and one I'd like to continue. Part of why I chose applied economics is that I'm more interested in applying that methods and data heavy instruction into IR and IPE in a defense/strategically-focused context which most normal economists refuse to do in an effort to carve out a niche for myself. Then, the other side of that coin is generally better career opportunities, and from my research, I have gathered that the military is generally proliferated by those with grad degrees in IR, history, etc, but largely absent is economics (not counting Operations Research or Data) which I believe, for better or worse, will be a massive driver of strategy in the coming decades. Finally, I don't have to tell people on this board that our government has some people doing some awesome things that only got those jobs by A)experience B) education and C)timing. While I can't control A and C, I can choose to get as much education as I can in areas that are interesting to me, and ideally, I wouldn't stop at one because school is cool, but that's putting the cart too far in front of the horse and really just a hope for the future.

I understand that there are many opportunities out there for people to attend grad school on the Army's dime and specialize into a functional area like FAO, strategist, logistics, etc., but there are a bit fewer for those who want to stay operational which are highly competitive. While I'm not discounting functional areas outright because I don't know what I don't know, I'll go ahead and say that as of now, remaining operational would be my preference. Those would be badass, but they also aren't givens.That's again putting the cart before the horse, but @CryptoLingUSMC mentioned that so I wanted to address it. Also, I know I have a degree in engineering, but part of the reason my GPA is that low is because I decided not to quit and just trudge through it. Learned some interesting stuff, but a grad degree in that stuff just ain't for me.

An addendum to the original question: I am asking this because I'd like to know if it would truly make an impact on my career as opposed to joining straight up aka taking my irons out of the fire and starting to forge which is an attractive option for someone who has taken the long way around to get here.
 

Marauder06

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#10
The way I read your post, I thought you were doing grad school in part in order to earn a commission through ROTC. If you get the scholarship, it seems advantageous that you would get another degree, have two more years to get fit, and have a guarantee of a commission.
 

Devildoc

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#11
Graduate school should have a ROI. If you get a masters and if the payoff can make it worthwhile (financial payoff), then get it. If it's not going to put you in a better place in the military or in civvyland, then don't.

A masters degree is the new BA/BS. I know a lot of people walking around with a MA/MS and can't get a job commensurate with the degree.

If you join the Army, get a commission, they will put you through grad school.
 

Marauder06

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#12
While it is likely one could go to grad school as an Army officer, it is not guaranteed. Some officers serve out their initial commitment before they are eligible for degree-producing programs. Other officers choose not to go. And for some, it just doesn't work out. Unless something has changed recently, Army's ILE/CGSC isn't a master's producing program. So even high-performing officers can stay in ten or more years without getting to grad school.

But yes, for career Army officers, it's likely that you will end up with an MA/MS if you stay in long enough.
 

Devildoc

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#13
While it is likely one could go to grad school as an Army officer, it is not guaranteed. Some officers serve out their initial commitment before they are eligible for degree-producing programs. Other officers choose not to go. And for some, it just doesn't work out. Unless something has changed recently, Army's ILE/CGSC isn't a master's producing program. So even high-performing officers can stay in ten or more years without getting to grad school.

But yes, for career Army officers, it's likely that you will end up with an MA/MS if you stay in long enough.
Not arguing, serious question (because I have been out long enough to not know today's bennies): if the Army would not send him, would he not benefit from the GI Bill?
 

Marauder06

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#14
Probably, but again, it depends how long one stays in. There is a service period requirement for full benefits.

My understanding is that it also depends on how an officer earns a commission. For example, I was not eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill because I had an ROTC scholarship. I later become eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill when that became a thing.

Post-9/11 GI Bill - Education and Training

Also, the GI Bill isn't an "Army" thing so it's not the Army that sends us to school under that benefit.
 
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#15
The way I read your post, I thought you were doing grad school in part in order to earn a commission through ROTC. If you get the scholarship, it seems advantageous that you would get another degree, have two more years to get fit, and have a guarantee of a commission.
Yes, sir. I thought that was a given. I may have misunderstood @Salt USMC. Sorry, if it was unclear. The whole purpose would be to graduate with a commission and take full advantage of that time, but the reasons above are ancillary benefits that make grad school attractive to me outside of a military context.
 
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Teufel

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#16
I intended to go 18X right when I returned from Middlebury last summer, but I got hurt training, took some time off, got fat and ultimately decided that I wasn't where I needed to be to join and succeed. ... My question: If I had to take out an additional 40k in loans (to put me at 60k+ total) over the next 2 years to actually live in D.C., would the impact on my career in the future still be worth it? I would be 26 when I commission, hopefully have become more proficient in my Russian, and hopefully had some rewarding work experiences as well, but that's the ideal situation.

I will most definitely go to grad school or at least do distance at some point in my life... I have considered OCS, but if I am going to be an officer, I want to try to be the best while also setting myself up for success down the road... Ultimately, I am still deciding whether or not I want to enlist with 18X as there are pros and cons to my options, but in my wildest dreams, working in the mid to upper-levels of the national security establishment (agency or whatever) would be incredibly fulfilling toward the latter stages of my career, but things and people change.
I am a huge proponent of education for both enlisted personnel and officers. Most services will provide qualified officers the opportunity to attend graduate level education at O4 and O5. (The Navy does not appear to value resident PME as much as the other services). I attended the Naval War College on the Marine Corps’ dime and got a M.A. out of it. I’m sure someone here can tell you about all the graduate education programs the Army offers.

I think that another two years of school will make you a more mature and educated 2nd Lt. That’s good, but I don’t know if that is worth delaying your Army career by two years and picking up $40,000 of debt. Personally I think that you would be better served with two years of leading Joes and being mentored by your SNCOs. You can always push your graduate education to the right, and bring all your military experience with you into the classroom when you go. I think this time to read and reflect on your career will make for a much more enriching experience.

Finally, SOF is a young man’s game. I went to the Infantry Officer’s Course at 22, the Basic Recon Course at 26 and combatant dive school at 32. These kind of courses don’t get any easier as you get older. Additionally, something may happen in your life over the next two or three years that takes you off the track to SOF. There are a lot of young men who show up here with a solid, and sometimes not so solid, plan to become some flavor of SOF. Most don’t make it. Some quit or fail to meet training standards. Others don’t even show up to training because life gets in the way. Their girlfriends get pregnant, they get hurt or fat, or they just generally fall off the track to success. Sounds like this already happened to you once at some point in your young life; what’s to say that this won’t happen again?

If you are ready to jump; jump.
 

256

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#17
Probably, but again, it depends how long one stays in. There is a service period requirement for full benefits.
We had a Coast Guard reservist in our Police Academy, we both used our Post-911. He had been in the reserves for 6-7 years and only got like 20% of the school paid for. He didn’t have enough time toward it.
 
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