Plan B/In the Meantime career advice
June 16, 2013 6:34 PM   Subscribe

I wasn't selected for military officer training school. Help me design my Plan B/In the Meantime career while I apply again.

I'm 30, single, and out-staying my welcome at Mom's place. I really want to get into officer training school and serve my country, but I can't put life on hold while I re-apply. Bills need to be paid, I need to move out of Mom's tiny apartment, and I'd like to pay down my massive student loan debt ($900/month).

I joined the workforce after high school (retail, warehouse, customer service, lower management in hospitality) and spent my free time playing in bands. Fell out of love with making music, decided to go to college.

I followed one of my passions and went to school for audio engineering, worked hard as an intern and did a lot free work to build my portfolio. After graduation I got a job at a post-production studio. I knew I would have to pay my dues in that industry, but I couldn't make ends meet. Spent my free time freelancing, looking for part time work, and selling things on ebay.

I followed another one of my passions and went to teach in rural Japan for a few years. It was an amazing experience and I got paid enough to chip away at the student loan debt. Picked up some language skills (not fluency) and some teaching skills (not certification). After a few years I felt like I was stagnating. I did some heavy soul searching along with the exercises in What Color Is Your Parachute and decided I want to join the military as an officer.

I moved back to the States 10 months ago to focus on my application, a process that took much longer than anticipated. So I began job hunting, started volunteering, and took a stop-gap job at the nearby coffee chain. A few months ago I got an entry-level job at a small third party logistics company, but the workplace culture isn't a good fit for me and I'm not earning enough to pay both rent and student loans. The company is doing poorly and I don't foresee getting a raise any time soon. A few weeks ago I got the news that I was not selected into officer training school. So for now I'm still living at Mom's, making low IBR payments on the federal loans and interest-only payments on the private loans.

What now?
I am going to re-apply to OTS. If I am lucky enough to get accepted, I will need to survive for the next 12-24 months before I start training. If I'm not accepted, life must go on. So now what? I can't seem to connect the dots to find a logical Plan B. My current skills aren't in demand and don't command much money. I'm open to learning a new skill/craft, but I don't want to borrow any more money. I like media production, audio post production, aviation, academia, military/defense, and IT. I'm living frugally, and would need to earn around $40k to be able to afford rent with roommates and student loan payments. I am interested in upward mobility and would ideally like to be earning 60-75k in the next 10 years. Any advice?
posted by mannermode to Work & Money (9 answers total)
I know very little about the military other than professional colleagues in the armed forces- but if you're interested in going that route, what about enlisting? From what I know from my professional colleagues, you can go to OTC after enlisting, and enlisting would take care of your short-term issues providing you a place to live, food and a salary.

In addition, when you enlist, you can be offered Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) in lieu of the GI Bill (please note, this is ONLY according to my professional colleagues, have an expert weigh in on this as well), which would help you start to take care of your student loan debt.

Your interests are all over the board - lots of interesting options, I hear you that it can be tough to narrow it down to just one. But it might be time to just pick one and go with it.
posted by arnicae at 6:53 PM on June 16, 2013

I have a cousin who was in a similar situation: after graduating from college, he tried several different things and suddenly he was 30. After talking to the recruiter, he decided to enlist rather than go the OCS route. He learned how to maintain fighter jets, which is pretty cool, and he rode around the world on aircraft carriers, which is apparently equal parts cool and boring.

But the biggest thing was that in a group of 18 year old enlistedmen, a 30 year old really stands out. Just knowing how to take care of himself and act like a mature adult automatically made him a leader in every group and he has been consistently promoted. When he joined, he imagined learning some skills and making some money and then leaving the Navy. But he was just promoted to E6, Petty Officer First Class, just before his 35th birthday, which apparently means he is all set to be a career NCO if he wants. So now he's seriously thinking about that. I know that he feels like enlisting was actually a really great decision for him, even though it wasn't what he necessarily had planned on doing with his life.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:13 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

It may not be that you are able to find a "fit" with an audio engineering degree. What service were you looking at? Does it matter?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:23 PM on June 16, 2013

If I could go back in time, cuff my younger self around, and change his mind about one thing, it would be to ENLIST in the USAF. All I could see was that the military options seemed more glamorous as an officer. I couldn't see that enlisting would put me on a path toward a commission more than floundering around on the outside would and perhaps more importantly, that a successful military career need not be a long one. Sometimes it's just a springboard to something else in the civilian world.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:36 PM on June 16, 2013

Response by poster: It's more the company than the industry that feels ill-fitting. But yes, my degree is essentially useless in most fields (hindsight hurts). Is going back to school my only hope for finding higher paying work in the civilian world?

I am trying to get into the Air Force, and have my sights set on becoming an officer. Turns out I am too old to enlist in the USAF anyhow (the Army or Navy would have me, though).
posted by mannermode at 8:44 PM on June 16, 2013

Well, flatly, we (and by "we" I mean the DoD) are in a down-cycle. Unless you have a specific skillset that is in-demand, it will be very difficult for you to come in as an officer. You will be up against young bucks with the "right" degrees. If you are set on making the military your career, you could do worse then enlist. There are well-regarded officer transition programs, and already having a degree will certainly do well for you. I seriously suggest you
1) talk to a recruiter - an officer recruiter (in my branch they are known as "accessions officers") about where you can apply and what you need
2) talk to current members of the military about what life is like.

Feel free to contact me via MeMail. Good luck!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:56 PM on June 16, 2013

The Air Force has been so topheavy with officers they offered my son an early out if he wanted it-and he is a USAFA Grad that owed them five years!

As to the other branches, I'm guessing unless you enlist you are gonna be waiting awhile. My (ex) son-in-law went Navy and likes it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:42 AM on June 17, 2013

Response by poster: How would an 'older' recruit fair in an enlisted role?
posted by mannermode at 4:58 AM on July 1, 2013

It depends on the enlisted role. I think infantry might be hard on a 30-something who was not used to it, but as I said above, in my cousin's experience there has been a lot of advantage to being an older enlisted sailor in a technical field.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:02 AM on July 1, 2013

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