Making the decision to go back to school can get a little overwhelming, at IAFF Headquarters we understand and are here to help. As you know that there is no ‘right way’ nor is there ‘one path’, getting your degree or deciding to take courses to try it out is something that you has to meet your challenging work and home schedules. Here are six steps to help make your decisions that will assist you in leading to success.

 Step one: Online vs. On campus

Thanks to the advancements of online learning programs colleges are offering online courses. In addition to fully online colleges, many traditional colleges have been able to build out complete degree programs for students that are not able to take the time physically go to a campus. A large number of the IAFF members that are taking (or have taken) college courses have found that online programs are easier for them to manage because then you are able to be flexible with when and where you are able to engage.

Step two: Which one

Identify a few programs that you are interested in. Remember, there are a lot of choices but there is not only one right choice, feel free to contact them and ask questions… which leads up to step two.

Step three:  Talk to admissions councilors 

By talking with the admissions councilors you will have direct answers to any questions you may have about each particular program. Think of these calls as an interview for them. This is there time to show you why you should be a part of their community. Don’t be embarrassed by any of the questions that you have. You should feel free to get to know the college as a community as much as an academic institution and the only way for you to do that it to ask the questions you have and get the answers you need.

Step four: Application and funding 

The application process does take time. Not only do you have to fill out the application but generally there is usually a short essay to prepare and while you are doing that be sure to request recommendation letters if they are required and request any transcripts from high school or college you have attended. Depending on the school and your education history there may be other testing requirements made by the college.

Funding is always an issue for students but even more so for continuing students that have added life responsibilities. First, you should look within the union. Contact your local to ask if there is funding available and then check out the IAFF scholarship website. After these, you should go online and fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  FAFSA is a federal document that will evaluate your funding and loan options based on you income. This is the first thing that any financial aid officer is going to ask you is whether or not you have filled out and submitted this document. Next you should look into the options available at the college that you have chosen to attend. The website of the college will be a great resource and will give you details and an idea of the types of scholarships for students (public service, veteran funding, funding based on need, etc.).

Step four: The hardest part

Most non-traditional students say that the hardest part is registering. There is a reason for the saying ‘the first step is always the hardest’ that’s because it is. At that point, you have to remind yourself of why you want to take that course, set long term and short term goals and see if you can find another IAFF member that is interested in taking courses to help create support throughout the process.

Step five: Mentorship and community support

Being part of the IAFF, you understand how the support of your IAFF brothers and sisters can help get through stressful times. Having this type of support can make a big difference while going through more difficult times and college is no different. There are so many within the union that are working toward advance degrees, professional certificates and also taking simply because the topic is of interest. You should feel free to reach out to one another and share that support.

Step six: Set goals

Long term and short term goals are very important. Talk with your advisor and set a number of courses that you would like to complete every year. This plan will give you a range to stay within every semester and will give you a target to maintain. Having this in place will allow you to take these programs and look at them in smaller chunks within the program you have chosen, that will be a little easier to manage.

This is a process that can be extremely rewarding. By thinking about each step of your education as a separate phase, it does help make the process more manageable. So take a breath in between each step, take a minute to assess and then move to the next phase.

Consider Kaplan University, the IAFF’s partner for Higher Education, visit for more information on IAFF members tuition reduction and the Kaplan Commitment.

Always remember, if you need any assistance feel free to call (202-824-1533) or email ([email protected]) us so we can help!