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Obtaining an Education in the Navy

Updated on May 22, 2013

Don't Have the Money to go to College?

Before we get started, I am NOT trying to recruit anybody or influence anyone to choose one way or the other. I simply want to inform people of how things actually work in the Navy and to provide information that I wish I knew before joining.

If you are like me in the sense that you don't have the money to go to college after highschool, joining the military starts looking like a pretty good option. After all, one of the aspects the military likes to flaunt is their willingness to pay for your education. And they will. Kind of.

There is usually always certain criteria that have to be met before you can even request to take a college class. I will summarize my college experiences and those of my friends and provide advice on how to get the education you want. Please note, getting a college education in Navy is not an awesome experience, at least for those stationed on a ship.

My First Attempt at College

The general requirements for being allowed to take a college course or courses varies with each command, so I won't get into it.

Here is an account of when I tried to take online courses while I was underway (out at sea, for you civilians).

Several of my friends that I had on the ship were working towards their degrees, most of them using online courses that colleges provide. I was initially going to wait either until the ship pulled back into homeport or I transferred to a shore command. But my supervisors kept pestering me to go to college and get as much out of the way as possible before I got out and had to use my GI Bill (to learn more about the GI Bill, visit Eventually, I gave in and decided to start taking classes.

I began by talking to my college-going friends to see how they got started. There was a plethora of paperwork to do in order to get set up with the college and what classes I was going to take, as well as an equal amount of paperwork to get my tuition assistance in line.

So I went online to American Military University (AMU) to get registered and enrolled for the fall semester. After that, I had to submit a request chit (a form) to get permission to actually take classes and another chit to request tuition assistance. After getting permission to take online courses, I had to contact the college and let them know that I was good to go and they could then go ahead and finish my enrollment. Next, my tuition assistance request came back with approval and I had to fax all this paperwork to the Navy College Office. After running the papers through the fax machine, I had to wait to hear back from the Navy College Office for the final approval.

After several days of waiting, I sent a couple emails to the Navy College Office to find out what the hold up was and when I can expect final word. Weeks went by and there was still no word. With the start of the semester quickly approaching, I needed to know that the government was going to pay for my courses, otherwise I would have to pay out of pocket, but at that point of my life I didn't have that much money.

Eventually, I had to email AMU to let them know I had to drop out of the class because the Navy College Office never got back to me. I waited until two days before it would be too late to drop out and I would end up having to pay for the courses. So I was dropped from the classes and I felt like doing college online while underway was too much of a headache and wasn't worth it.

This whole time I was observing my buddy who had better luck with the process than I did and was actually taking classes online, but I did not envy him. He got MAYBE three hours of sleep every night because, besides having to do hours of homework every week, he still had to work a minimum of twelve hours everyday, Sunday through Saturday (in our rate, there was no such thing as holiday routine or a day off).

Needless to say, I was a little bummed that I wasn't able to take college just yet, but I was kind of relieved that I didn't have the extra work to do.

A few weeks later, I received an email from AMU telling me that I have to pay the school an obscene fortune for the classes that I was supposed to be taking. Apparently, the school didn't drop me from the classes even though they said they did. I couldn't believe it. At this point, my head felt as if it were in a vise-grip. Thankfully, I saved the chain of emails between the college and me and emailed the messages that confirmed my drop-out before the deadline to the sender of the email that intended to put me in debt, and the debt was waived.

The Navy College never got back to me about my paperwork. Even if a request gets denied in the military, the requester is always notified. So I stopped thinking about college for a long time and thought that I wouldn't think about it again until I got stationed at a shore command (base). Long story short, I didn't re-enlist to get stationed on shore, instead I extended my time on the ship and eventually got out of the navy. However, before I got out, I was able to successfully complete a college course.

Other Ways to Receive a College Education

Doing online courses may seem like a headache inducing experience, and although people have extremely rewarding experiences doing it this way, there are other ways to receive an education while serving onboard a ship.

One of the alternative ways is signing up for NCPACE (I don't remember what that acronym stands for). NCPACE is when college professors are brought onboard and actually conduct classes on the ship. The educational service officer (ESO) will email a list of offered classes to everyone on the ship, and those interested simply go down to the ESO office (which is located on the ship) and tell the ESO what class or classes they would like to take. If a class requires prerequisites to be met (ie: if you want to take English Comp II, you need to have passed English Comp I) but the prerequisite isn't offered, a placement exam can be taken in lieu of the prerequisite.

If you take online classes and use tuition assistance, you have to pay the money back to the government if you fail. NCPACE is completely free, even if you fail. If you fail, you don't have to pay any money back, but you won't be allowed to take any college classes for six months. If you decided to take NCPACE classes, you may have to pay for the books, but that's it.

Another way to get an education is through the distance learning program. This is the method I used. Like NCPACE, the course is free, but you will have to pay for the course materials, which vary depending on the course and materials required. Also like NCPACE, if you fail, you don't pay any money besides the money you already paid for the books. The difference here is that you will be given a CD/DVD that explains what your assignments are and when they are due to the ESO. There will be no instructor or any classroom time. You do all your homework at home and turn it in when it's done. You will have three months from the start date to get everything done and take a final exam, if the class requires one. This is a very easy method and you do the work at your own pace, as long as it's all done and turned in to the ESO at the class's end date.

There is one other way that I know of, though I don't know all the details. Essentially, you can route a request chit through your chain of command to attend college for two years. If it gets approved, your contract with the Navy will be put on hold for the time you're attending college, and when you're done you come back to the Navy to pick up where you left off. To help illustrate this, John Smith enlisted in the navy in 2010 for four years, making his contract in the navy end in 2014. In 2012 he requests to attend a university for two years and his chain of command gives him the ok. So Smith goes off to college and returns to the navy two years later. Now, instead of his contract ending in 2014, it now ends in 2016 to account for the time Smith was at school. This is the least common way as the Navy can't always accommodate losing people for amount of time.

Hopefully, that all makes sense, and if it doesn't, then feel free to comment and ask.

Closing Tips and Advice

Getting a college education while serving may sound like a pain in the ass, but it's not impossible. Most people I knew in the military were taking at least one class at any given time. I encourage those who are going to enlist to get as much college out of the way as possible before they get out of the military. Serving in the military entitles those who have been honorably discharged the option of using the GI Bill, which pays for college while you're a civilian. But it only pays so much; it's not unlimited. With that said, the more classes you pass while in the military, the more funds from the GI Bill you'll be able to save. Instead of using your GI Bill to get a Bachelor's when you get out of the military, get your Bachelor's while you're in the military and use the GI Bill to get your Master's.

Don't be like me and end up having to use your GI Bill to get your general education requirements out of the way. It's just a waste of money.

If there is anything else you would like to know, just comment below and I will answer to the best of my ability.


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