If you’re just starting a career or are looking to break into a new one, education can be an instant resume-builder. Opening yourself to new ideas and broadening your skill set not only exposes you to new ways of thinking, it also signals to potential employers that you possess the interest, drive, and academic foundation necessary to become a valuable employee.
Often, though, traditional education comes with a price tag that can be prohibitive for even the most determined students. That’s especially true for anyone with families or who is already paying off college debt.
Today, though, there are more ways than ever to skirt the traditional model’s cost while and still receiving quality instruction. Technology has made on-demand learning a reality. If work commitments are preventing you from attending classes at a local college three nights a week, you can take them online from your living room. If you feel like you lack the background to become a cyber-security professional, leading universities – think MIT and Harvard – offer free classes online that will help catch you up. The government, too, has an interest in a strong, educated workforce and is offering scholarships to students in exchange for Federal service.
So whether you’re a high school student just looking to get a leg up on college or a returning veteran seeking to acquire skills for a civilian career, there are plenty of funding opportunities and free program alternatives available for you to get you started.
The following is a quick rundown of five of those opportunities.
Opportunities for veterans
Program: Veteran’s Career Transition Program (VCTP)
Affiliation: Syracuse University
Who’s eligible: Post 9/11 veterans plus spouses and caretakers. You must already be separated from active duty or within 18 months of doing so.
Overview: VCTP is a certificate program aimed at transitioning returning veterans and their spouses into the civilian workforce. Upon enrollment you will become an official Syracuse student and receive an academic advisor. After completing requirements for a track you will be awarded a graduate certificate from the university. Classes begin quarterly. Choose one of three tracks:
- Professional Skills: prepares you to find employment with and to succeed in a modern private sector job. Courses include researching companies, writing resume and cover letters, and Advanced MS Office.
- Tech: prepares you for IT or operations careers. Completion of certain classes will result in an industry certification. Courses include foundations in MS Office and Oracle databases, network technician courses, server operations, and cyber-security.
- Independent Study: allows you to begin your studies any time and not be held to the quarterly schedule. This track is preferable if you’re already employed and need to gain certification to advance your career although it does not provide an academic advisor or result in a university certificate.
See the VCTP page for more information.
Program: Accelerated Learning Programs (ALPs) and VA Learning Hubs
Affiliation: Department of Veterans’ Affairs
Who’s eligible: Transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans from any era
Overview: As part of President Obama’s challenge to provide better opportunities to Veterans, the VA launched a pair of training programs:
- Accelerated Learning Programs: a seven-course pilot program exposing students to a range of IT-related subjects, including cyber-security training, boot camps for desktop support, certifications in networking, web services, and more. As of September 2015, registration for the pilot ALPs had closed. Check back periodically to see when registration will re-open.
- VA Learning Hubs: these offer a combination of online learning via the Coursera platform with in-person sessions facilitated by Red Cross personnel that allow students to discuss topics and ask questions. Certain in-person sessions also feature guest speakers and Q&A sessions with local experts. Learning Hubs are available nationwide with constantly updating locations. See this overview or contact email@example.com for more information.
Opportunities for civilians
Program: CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS)
Affiliation: National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. See a list of participating institutions.
Who’s eligible: Full-time undergraduate, graduate, and PhD candidate students who are two or three years away from graduating with a cyber-security degree. Must be a U.S. citizen and meet criteria for Federal employment.
Overview: The Scholarship for Service program seeks to train students to protect America’s cyber-infrastructure against attacks. The scholarship covers normal academic costs, including tuition and fees, a health reimbursement allowance, a professional development allowance, and a book allowance, but not parking or meal plans. In addition, undergraduate recipients receive stipends of $20,000; graduates receive $32,000.
If you are awarded an SFS, you will be required to serve an internship as well as accept Federal employment – most likely in Washington, DC – equal in length to the term of the scholarship or for one year, whichever is longer.
See the CyberCorps Scholarship home page for details. You can also contact Travis McKone (757-441-3181) or Kathy Roberson, SFS Program Manager (405-259-8277). Both are available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Program: Federal Virtual Training Environment (FedVTE)
Affiliation: Department of Homeland Security
Who’s eligible: All U.S. government personnel, including contractors
Overview: Another initiative aimed at propping up America’s cyber-defenses. FedTVE seeks to keep a ready supply of cyber-aware professionals available for Federal employment. Courses include Certified Ethical Hacking, Network Testing, Penetration Testing, and Windows Operating System Security. Students can enroll for online classes ranging from beginner to advanced proficiency, and will receive a FedVTE certificate upon completion of each course.
For more information, see the FedVTE program site.
Who’s eligible: Everyone
Cost: Participating in a real-time class or receiving a verified certificate to officially document your coursework will incur a minimum fee. Other courses will charge for enrollment. Auditing any class – in other words, taking the tests but not participating in discussions or receiving a certificate – is free.
Overview: EdX is an learning platform universities use to make their courses available online. If you were wondering when we would get to the online offerings from Harvard and MIT, this is it. Course selection is as diverse as at any major university: cyber-security and political affairs are available, as are economics, leadership training, chemistry, engineering, ethics, music, design, social sciences, and more. If a subject interests you or would be valuable to your career, you’ll likely find it here.
For more information, visit https://www.edx.org/.
Who’s eligible: Everyone
Overview: If you’re counting, you’ll notice this is number six in a five-item list. That’s because while volunteering isn’t an educational opportunity in the strictest sense, it absolutely fulfills the the most crucial requirement for gaining experience: hands-on exposure. If you’re happy leaving tests and studying in your past, you may want to consider donating your time to some of the countless non- and not-for-profit organizations that are always happy to accept help. Many will embrace virtual volunteers as well, meaning you can support any cause you want, whether it’s in Austin or Amman. Find opportunities at your local volunteer center, or check some of the volunteering websites such as VolunteerMatch, idealist.org, Create the Good, and serve.gov. For those of you who are more internationally minded, you can explore Benevola or the United Nations’ volunteer portal at unv.org. Even LinkedIn has gotten into the volunteering space with volunteer.linkedin.com.
Of course, the Lint Center is also looking to add quality help in exchange for real-world experience. Speaking from my brief time here, it’s a great team to be a part of!
Hopefully, if you’ve been looking for career progression but are worrying about the cost to get there, this list has provided you with some alternate paths to consider. These options will get you just as impressive a bullet on your resume, whether you’re looking for assistance with affording formal education at a brick-and-mortar institution or just need an online course to take after the kids are asleep. So register for that class or apply for that scholarship, and then give yourself a pat on the back for finding a way to get ahead without breaking the bank.
About the Author:
Ben Oatis is a technical writer in New England with an off hours passion for international affairs and how they impact national security. He holds a BA in History from Ohio State and an MS in Information Architecture from Kent State.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Lint Center Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and may not reflect the opinions of the Lint Center for National Security Studies, Inc. or any employee thereof. The Lint Center for National Security Studies, Inc. is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Lint Center Bloggers.