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Penn State World Campus
Online Only School
Program Type/Area of Study: Online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
Tell us about yourself:
Earning a college degree can be challenging when you’re in the military. Yet, Petty Officer 1st Class First Class Michael S. Conrad, an aviation technician stationed at USCG Air Station Atlantic City in New Jersey, isn’t letting the demands of 10-hour workdays and a family of four stop him from earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Conrad, 37, is four classes away from earning his degree online from Penn State World Campus. He shared his thoughts about juggling college, a military career and family.
What prompted you to return to school?
I originally went to college after high school, and for a year and a half was just overwhelmed by the struggle of trying to balance freedom and responsibility. Unfortunately, I had to leave due to grades and financial problems. I returned to school in 2010 because I had felt that I did not apply myself enough the first time around, and I had already started my family. I decided that in order for me to stress education to my children, I must be willing to put forth the effort to complete my own. I also wanted to be able to provide for them after my retirement with a better opportunity to succeed, and that only happens with a good education.
Why did you choose Penn State World Campus?
I chose Penn State because as a kid growing up in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., and South Jersey, I had always thought that Penn State was a great school for both academics and sports. When I learned that they offered a psychology degree online, I immediately transferred from the school I had been attending online. I also love the fact that they treat the online students exactly like the students on campus at University Park. That was a big factor for me because as an adult student and active-duty military member, I cannot attend Penn State at the brick-and-mortar campus. The fact that my degree will simply say “Penn State” is a huge deal for me.
What military education benefits, such as the GI Bill, did you use?
I have mainly used tuition Assistance, which was stable for a few years. Now I supplement that with Pell Grants through FAFSA. I would also mention that without Penn State’s Military Grant-in-Aid Program none of it would be possible. The program drops the military members’ tuition per credit hour (by up to 44% for undergraduate degree programs) and makes it possible for someone like me to attend such a great school. I did not grow up with money and would have never dreamed of being able to go to Penn State. I appreciate the opportunity that Penn State Grant-in-Aid provides immensely.
What has your experience been like as a student?
I love the personal attention that the professors give even though we are online students. I have never had a question go unanswered or unexplained. I could not even say that for the classroom experience I had in my first year at college. It takes a lot of determination and willpower to devote your free time to class work when learning asynchronously, especially when the rigors of working salary hours for the military demand a large portion of that time. Add to that a family of four, and it has tested my limits on more than one occasion; however, with each success in those trying times, I only grow more determined. I am now four classes away from graduation and am looking forward enthusiastically to graduate school.
Do you believe your military experience has made you a better student?
Absolutely. Time management is the key to success, and I believe that the military has taught me well in this area. Within a single shift at work, I am able to coordinate the efforts of 15 aircraft mechanics in a specific time frame to maintain 10 aircraft, the busy flight schedule, and all unscheduled maintenance that may occur between flights. There is no way to learn how to make all of that run smoothly except on-the-job training. All I have to do is take those management skills, apply them to my school deadlines, and add them to my workload.
What advice do you have for veterans returning to school?
The best advice I could give is to stop waiting until you have enough time to devote to school. There will never be enough time that way. You have to make time, and the higher you are promoted, the less free time you have. I spend an average of 10 hours a day at work and still do homework – it can be done. Also, the longer you wait, the longer it takes to finish. Start small, one class at a time. Before too long you will get used to making time for it and be up to three per semester like I was. And give it your best effort; it can only open more doors for your future.