Judicious Jurist

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Careful use of his education benefits allows a former airman to get the most out of his GI Bill. What you can learn from him.

Jesse Morse is a smart guy. One of the smartest things he ever did was take online college classes while still active duty in the Air Force.

“The more credits you can finish without using your GI Bill, the further the GI Bill benefits will extend. By taking a few online classes a year during my enlistment, I was able to use the GI Bill to pay for my entire undergraduate degree and one year of law school, which saved me a ton,” Morse says.

Morse, 28, is in his second year at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Fla. “I want to be a public defender because I have a firm belief that everyone is entitled to a fair trial,” he says. “This, however, is not always the case – especially for individuals in a low socioeconomic status category. I simply want to change this.”

You can learn a lot from Morse’s story. If you’re interested in more tips on how to get the most out of your GI Bill, read on.

Why did you enlist in the Air Force?
I always heard they had the best chow halls and gyms. They do.

What were some of your duty stations?
My permanent duty station was Creech AFB, Nev. While at Creech, I had temporary duty stations, which included Fargo, N.D., with the North Dakota Air National Guard, and Holloman AFB, N.M.

Did you deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan?
I deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq, in 2008 and 2009. I deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2010.

Why did you decide to separate?
Multiple factors, both personal and professional. Personally, I couldn’t stand to be away from Florida anymore. I grew up on the water in a laid-back environment and living in deserts and big cities was beginning to take a toll. Professionally, I felt like I needed to develop and expand my horizons in a manner and pace the military simply did not facilitate. Don’t get me wrong, the military will definitely allow you to grow professionally, but I wanted to choose my future and the steppingstones necessary to get there.

What was your exit plan?
Initially, I wanted to find employment in private contracting. The money is definitely there, but as my separation date drew closer the endless possibilities of an education began to outweigh the money and I decided college was the way to go.

Why did you choose to earn your undergrad degree at the University of Florida (UF)?
I have wanted to be a Gator for as long as I can remember, and let me tell you, it is great!

Was it hard to adapt to campus culture after the military?
I did not find it too difficult. I went in with an open mind and a willingness to meet new people, try new things, and take every opportunity I could, which seemed to help.

What was it like attending class with civilian students fresh out of high school?
I found it very interesting. I was surprised at how intelligent my classmates were. They lacked some “street smarts,” but they definitely made up for it with “book smarts.” The only major disconnect I noticed stemmed from some of my jokes or older movie references, but that makes for good conversation.

When did you become interested in pursuing a law degree?
I have always been interested in the law, but the thought of obtaining a law degree was something that had always seemed unattainable. After I overcame the obstacles I experienced in the military, I realized I was capable of a lot more than I thought and decided to take a chance and pursue a law degree.

What kind of law do you want to practice?
Criminal law. I’d like to become a public defender.

Why did you choose Stetson?
Location and courtroom experience. The campus is located about a mile from the beach (in St. Petersburg) and is absolutely beautiful. Stetson’s trial advocacy team has been ranked #1 in the nation for a very long time, so I couldn’t imagine a better school to develop courtroom advocacy skills.

Does your military experience make you a better student?
I am not sure it makes you a better student, but it definitely prepares you to handle circumstances that you will experience as a student. Like the military, college puts you in situations that seem simply impossible to overcome, but you just do it. You find a way, and you finish the job. That may seem like a trite statement, but you will be surprised at how
far a military mentality will get you in the civilian world.

Which GI Bill did you use for your education?

Has it covered all of your expenses?
It covered all of my tuition expenses. The book stipend was more than enough for my books. The monthly basic allowance for housing covered my rent, with enough left over for some bills but not all.

How are you making up the difference?
Part of your GI Bill benefits is the option to participate in a work-study program, which pays you and is tax-free. I took advantage of this and made about an extra $700 a month. 

Were there any challenges or hidden surprises in using your GI Bill?
The biggest surprise was figuring out how the BAH stipend worked. For example, a semester is roughly four months long, which led me to believe I would receive exactly four months of BAH. However, the BAH payment is pro-rated, so if a semester ends on, say, the 9th of a month, you only receive nine days of BAH for that month. Learn more about 2016 BAH rates.

What advice do you have for service members who are considering using their GI Bill?
Save your money while you can. The GI Bill will help out a lot, but there are periods when you will have no money coming in and it helps to have a little stored away.

Take classes while you’re still in the military!

Are there any blunders you would urge service members transitioning to a post-military education to avoid?
Spending all their money while they are still in the military. Save money while you can. The whole college student ramen noodle diet is a real thing!

Not taking classes while you are still in.

What makes Stetson a Military Friendly® School?
Stetson is just an all-around friendly school. I was surprised at how many student veterans were on campus, as well as the number of professors with prior service, which makes for great comradery.  Stetson also participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which helped out tremendously with tuition costs.

What about UF?
UF’s support for student veterans is truly unrivaled. From the first day you step foot on campus for orientation, you literally have more support than you know what to do with. If you need a job, they will help you. You need your medical records to transfer to the required student medical insurance, they make one phone call and it is done. Student veteran clubs. Student veteran dinners with the school’s president. There isn’t enough room on this page to detail the respect and admiration the University of Florida has for the military and veterans.


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