Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Tom Wolfe’s book, “Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition.”

“Should I supplement my existing education before I separate from the service or begin my job search?”

I hear that question frequently and always answer it the same way — maybe yes, maybe no. Yes, if your current educational profile causes you to be filtered from consideration for a job you really want. No, if you will already pass through that filter.

To find out which answer applies to you, do an educational background check that will address two issues: your current educational inventory and your motivations.

Let’s start with what is already in your educational inventory. List high school and post-high school formal and informal academic, professional, and technical training. Indicate whether or not courses were completed, degrees were conferred, certificates were awarded, or requirements were met. Include in this inventory both the basics and specifics of the courses of study and indications of academic success or accolades. Beyond the official curricula and coursework, try to identify what you actually learned.

Most military personnel accumulate an extensive array of specialized training during their time in the service. There are many instances where that training can be converted to civilian educational credits. A useful tool to determine this is the “Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services.

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Why are you thinking about enhanced education? There are many reasons to pursue that goal and it is important for you to identify yours. Here are a few to consider:

  • Your prospects for promotion during your military career will improve.
  • You have a strong interest in a particular field and want to learn more.
  • Your academic performance thus far has been poor and this second chance will allow you to redeem yourself.
  • You have never really enjoyed any of your academic pursuits and you want to give it one more try.
  • Your academic profile is incomplete and now is a good time to fix it.
  • You fear that your academic profile is insufficient to get you a good civilian job.
  • There is a job or career path that interests you but your current educational profile lacks the credentials to get you there.
  • You are not ready to make decisions about your future and going back to school allows you to delay those decisions for a while, without creating a hole on your résumé.
  • You have G.I. Bill education benefits and would hate to waste them.
  • You are searching for meaning in your life and maybe spending more time in an academic environment will help you find it.

Which ones apply to you? Which ones are actually relevant to enhancing your professional or career development? Maybe there are additional ones to consider.

Now that you have completed your inventory and identified your motivators, you can better judge the importance of, or need for, additional time in the classroom. Do you have a general or specific employment goal in mind? You may need to do some research to determine the educational and training qualifications necessary for consideration in that field. Look at your educational inventory to see if you are currently qualified.

For example, you want to be an architect. Do you have at least a bachelor’s degree in architecture? If you have the requisite academic qualifications in place and they are not outdated, you are all set. If you do not, and if you are focused on and passionate about that field, you really have no choice but to go back to school and get those credentials. The same can be said for other specific positions, such as network engineer, emergency medical technician, corporate financial analyst, etc. However, consider a more general classification, such as inventory manager. Will your existing academic profile and professional experience give you access to that field or will you need additional academic credentials to be competitive?

There are additional factors. Consider the cost of an academic break in your career, both direct (tuition, books, lab fees, living expenses, benefits) and indirect (lost income). Are you making selfish decisions or are there dependents to consider? In some cases this will be like starting over. Are you willing and/or able to do that at this point in your life?

Some people offset the cost factor by utilizing programs that are sponsored by the military, the federal government, or the private sector. Although tuition assistance and military-funded programs are available, the payback requirements have to be considered. The G.I. Bill and similar college funds can help. Many companies will pay for college courses and technical training and there may or may not be payback requirements. Regardless of the funding source, you would be wise to remember: Many people spend a lot of time and money to supplement their education and training only to find themselves in jobs for which they were already qualified. Do your homework before you go to class.

In summary, if your current academic inventory and professional experience give you access to something you want to do, put off any additional academic endeavors for now and go do it. Reevaluate your professional direction after a couple of years and, if necessary, make a course adjustment through modification of your academic profile. On the other hand, if you are highly focused on a specialty for which you are not currently qualified or competitive and you have the financial resources and support systems in place, go back to school and fix the problem.

Copyright 2015. Tom Wolfe, author; all rights reserved; excerpts from Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition; used with the permission of the author and publisher, www.potomacbooksinc.com.