5 Smart College Degrees Modern Veterans Should Consider

According to Forbes Magazine, “most veterans are more qualified than they realize for well-paying jobs.” They usually have the practical experience in leading people, managing complex problems, and navigating large logistical operations. However, many times they don’t have the degree behind their work experience. G.I. Jobs asked 184 military-friendly employers — meaning they actively recruit and retain veteran employees — what their top careers are for vets. Engineering, nursing, business administrator and financial services professional are among the top jobs. Most of these jobs, however, require at least a four-year degree.

The best degrees for veterans are largely based on what skill sets vets can already bring to the table and what degree program can best complement those skills. G.I. Jobs looked at several degree programs that led to their “Hottest Jobs” list. Additionally, BestCollegesOnline — which is geared towards online degrees — listed programs it found to be well suited for student veterans.

1. Finance/Business: Veterans often have a substantial background in leadership, even as a young enlisted service woman or man. This, along with managerial skills in an often complex and fast-paced environment, is ample experience for the competitive business world, making finance and/or business administration one of top degrees for vets. Finance and business degrees can range from a bachelor’s in accounting and finance to business administration. One of these four-year degrees can lead into a position as a junior executive, financial analyst, or personal financial advisor. However, a master’s degree is usually required to move into higher positions within most major financial companies. A four-year degree in finance requires foundational courses in mathematics, economics, and statistics, and is geared toward the technically inclined.

2. Engineering: According to the U.S. Department of Education, there will be a substantial increase in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-related jobs over the next five years, including a 62% increase in the need for biomedical engineers, as well as also civil engineers and STEM educators. Engineering requires creative solutions to complex problems as well as strategic thinking and long-term dedication. Many veterans, especially those who worked as mechanics and combat engineers, and are scientifically inclined, have the basic foundation to start a four-year engineering program.

Related: 4 nanodegree programs that will help you land a job without going to college.

Engineering is a vast field and most universities are well known for one type of engineering over another. The specifics of the degree program will largely depend on what type of engineering is of interest (chemical, industrial, electrical, civil or bio-medical). Most engineering programs require core courses in calculus, physics, and chemistry followed by a more tailored course listing tied to the specifics of the degree. Engineers can get jobs in a myriad of areas from construction, city planning, industrial design, medicine, nuclear power, and sound. It is one of the most lucrative career paths, but highly demanding academically.

3. Nursing: Many veterans come away from their service feeling that they no longer belong to something greater than themselves and struggle to find a purpose in jobs that are “9-to-5.” They still want to be of service and help people. Most veterans also come away with at least a basic knowledge of medical care, especially if they served as combat medics, making nursing or emergency medicine programs and ideal place to pursue a career.

Nursing degrees can range from two-year to four-year programs. Most community colleges offer two-year programs, while most universities offer four-year degrees, yet both lead to the state boards and certification as a registered nurse. A two-year associate’s program takes less time, is less expensive, and usually does not have a very rigorous academic entry requirement, while most bachelors’ programs do. Another difference is that most leadership positions in nursing require a four-year bachelor’s degree, something to consider when weighing different programs. But an associate’s degree will get you into the job market faster.

4. Information Technology/Networking: Degree programs in information and technology or networking administration offer a wide array of job opportunities in the fast-pace tech world. An IT specialist can cover a wide range of duties from software and App designs, to managing large systems for corporations or cyber security. Many employers only require certification from a technical school, while others may require a four-year degree in networking. Since the armed services have become more technically advanced, many veterans have experience with networks and cyber security, especially those who worked in intelligence and signals positions. The degree program for IT and networking has a basis in quantitative methods and mathematics before moving on to database management, operating systems, networks, and the Internet.

5. Criminal Justice: Many veterans have an interest in criminal justice as a way of continuing service in their local communities, or at the state and federal level. Even with experience in jobs like military police, infantry or intelligence, veterans may find a two-year program in criminal justice a necessary step towards a career in law enforcement. There are also universities that offer bachelor degrees in criminal justice and these would be highly recommended for those going into law enforcement at the federal level or looking to eventually advance in leadership positions. Most degree programs are heavy in the social sciences: sociology, criminology, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology while also emphasizing state and constitutional law.

However, utilizing the degree itself to propel a career might not be enough. It is best to have a specific goal in mind when considering a degree in criminal justice. For instance, having a strong desire to work in a specific agency or city can help jobseekers decide the best path to pursue to get to that role. Any non-technical or liberal arts degree requires a certain amount of specificity (i.e., correctional officer, analyst, or federal law enforcement) if it is going to be helpful in starting a career.

Veterans can be more qualified than their civilian peers when matched with the right job. But they also need the right academic background to bolster their field experience as most technical jobs require at least certification or a two-year degree while most higher-paying jobs in the financial and business sector require a bachelor’s or higher. It makes reviewing the proper degree programs the essential first step in building a career.