Graduating from high school is a serious milestone. For the first time, you get to choose what you will do with your life instead of going where someone else tells you. That can mean many things, from college to working abroad. Many kids also consider joining a branch of the military, like the Navy, Air Force or Army. If you’re thinking a military career might be valuable, take a moment to consider a few of the pros and cons.
If you choose to pursue a military academy, you could experience a military education in prestigious surroundings, followed by a stable, interesting career. You will also receive a free college education, and every branch has an academy. According to Forbes, students who graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., get free room and board as well as a monthly stipend. Afterward, their 5-year (at minimum) military commitment comes with a salary that starts around $50,000 on average. Other branches of the service have their own academies. The Army’s, for instance, is West Point.
Or there are tuition programs that will help you become a leader in a military setting while earning a college education at the same time. The Army has the ROTC program, which offers tuition assistance for four years in exchange for service with the Army. Upon graduation, students earn the rank of Second Lieutenant, and are ready to begin their careers in the Army.
Graduating, in turn, comes with its own perks, such as discounts on everything everything from movie tickets to cars. Other benefits include fascinating careers as a lifelong service member, like astronaut Col. Robert S. Kimbrough, Chief of Robotics at the NASA Astronaut Office. Even if you don’t choose to stay with the service or if you don’t choose to pursue an education and just join active duty, the military teaches you valuable skills and sets you up for life afterward.
There are, of course, some drawbacks to joining the military. One is that federal tuition assistance, the military programs whereby soldiers were funded to take college courses, were recently cut due to budget sequestration, according to FOX23. This means that kids who join the military but do not go through a specific college program, such ROTC or an academy, can’t count on getting college aid for the time being.
When you join the service, whichever branch you sign onto will make your life decisions for you until you complete your commitment. This can mean both danger and isolation from the people you care about back at home. They can send you into war zones or keep you on a remote base for years. And dying in the line of duty is not an impossibility. A total of 4,365 were killed while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 and 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service.
It is a long time to commit to something, especially when you’re deciding right after high school. Minimum commitments are often five to seven years, and if you combine your commitment with any education beforehand, it can be much longer. So if you’re thinking about joining the military, think about what good you can do for yourself and your country, but also what else you might wish you were doing in five years before you sign the paperwork.