How to Return to School Without Leaving the Marines

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Many career Marines take advantage of their off-duty time to work on a college degree rather than wait until they retire to become full-time adult learners. In addition to reflecting well upon your qualifications for promotion within the U.S. Marine Corps, this is a great strategy to make yourself marketable in the highly competitive civilian job market.

It can be a tough road to follow, though, taking years to accumulate enough credits for a bachelor's degree and essentially eating up all of your free time. It may also be virtually impossible if you're in a demanding assignment with unruly hours, such as infantry, recruiting, or drill instructor.

Fortunately, the SNCO Degree Completion Program (SNCODCP) offers staff noncommissioned officers (SNCOs)—Marines of pay grade E-6 and above—an incentive to finish a four-year degree without struggling to squeeze classes in after hours.

Full-Time Study for Specific Degrees

The SNCODCP doesn't pay for your degree, but it offers the opportunity to study full-time and receive a degree that you can put to use in a new job within the corps and, potentially, civilian jobs after you leave the corps. Participating marines can use personal funds, GI bill money, or loans to cover the cost of tuition and other expenses, such as books.

Every November, the SNCODCP announces the types of bachelor's degrees Marines can pursue because the program is predicting the need for billets that are associated with those kinds of degrees. Billets are specialty assignments that fall outside the typical military occupational specialties (MOSs).

In November 2018, the SNCODCP announced that for fiscal year 2019, it would accept applications for those pursuing degrees in the following areas: Safety (Environmental and Occupational Safety, Environmental Health Management, Occupational Safety, Waste Management, Hazardous Material, Waste Control), Psychology, Accounting, Education, Paralegal, and Music. Along with the areas of study, the program listed the specific locations at which each of the various disciplines could be studied.

In March 2019, it announced the names of the five Marines who had been chosen to participate in the program.

Qualifications for the SNCODCP

Those accepted into the program must complete their bachelor's degree within 18 months on the campus of an accredited college or university affiliated with the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps. They must then work at their assigned billet for 36 months to pay back the corps for the time they were allowed to study.

Applicants must have the grade of staff sergeant or higher, up to master sergeant.
They must have completed an associate's degree or at least two years of classes toward a bachelor's degree by the accredited college or university. They must have passed all necessary entrance exams, have been accepted for enrollment into the college or university, and have lived in their current geographical area for at least 24 months, though 36 months is preferable.

Those interested in applying for the SNCODCP in fiscal year 2020 should look for the administrative message about the program that will be sent out in November 2019.