Active-duty servicemembers have many admirable traits, including dedication, reliability, and adaptability. Their adaptability becomes especially useful when they undergo a Permanent Change of Station (PCS), which is when a servicemember or unit is assigned to a new duty station. PCSing can involve moving to a different state or even to a different country.
A PCS move can bring many challenges as servicemembers navigate this transition. In addition to moving all their belongings, if they have families or children, they also need to coordinate travel and new arrangements in activities, jobs, or schools. Many PCS assignments give only a few months of notice, and it is a lot to organize in a very little amount of time. At University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), we have served servicemembers for more than 75 years, and we understand the unique challenges servicemembers face as they PCS. We’re here to help our military students make the move and keep their education on track.
What to Do When you PCS as a Student
The most important thing a student who is PCSing can do is notify UMGC about their relocation. Students can do this either online through their student portal or by speaking to an advisor or staff member.
“If a student makes a change in duty station or campus, they can log onto their student portal and update their location, and staff will receive the relocation notification,” says Pete Haugland, advisor of military portal programs at UMGC. “They will then be connected with a staff member at their new location who will have all of their information, so that they’re ready to welcome them.”
When a student notifies UMGC about their PCS, they receive a “warm handoff” where they are connected to a new advisor in their area who can provide them with the resources and support they need.
“The value of UMGC’s frontline staff is really a strategic advantage for us because we’re able to take one less worry off of the shoulders of servicemembers and their families when they’re PCSing,” says Kelly Wilmeth, vice president of stateside military operations at UMGC. “If they can just let us know they’re leaving and where they’re going to, then we have this whole warm handoff process where we can make sure everything is in place, so those students don’t miss a beat.”
If a student forgets to update their location or notify a staff member, UMGC has a system in place where students will be asked to verify their military status and location in their student portal every four months. This system allows students to maintain the support of UMGC while they organize and handle their relocation.
“They don’t need to be worrying about that type of stuff while they’re PCSing,” says Wilmeth. “Our staff is there to assure them that if we know where they’re going, we can make this process as seamless as possible.”
How to Continue Your Education During a PCS
When a student receives their PCS notice, they have a checklist of things they need to do as they prepare for their move. Understandably, managing their education may not be at the top of their priority list. While taking a break from school is not required, many UMGC staff members strongly encourage students who are PCSing to pause their education for one term so they can prioritize their mental health during a stressful time.
“I would recommend students to focus on their PCS move because while they may think they’ll have time to take classes, life gets in the way,” says Keith Hauk, associate vice president of stateside military operations at UMGC. “There can be a lot of unforeseen circumstances that could happen while they’re PCSing.”
Students can work with their advisors to ensure that they don’t fall behind in their education and can take a break without losing momentum. When students receive a PCS order, they will still need to finish their current term at UMGC before choosing to pause. Advisors can then help them look at the academic calendar and coordinate pausing for the term that would occur during the PCS move.
“Students are only pausing their education for one term during that PCS move, and as soon as they get to their new duty station, we can welcome them back and get them back on track,” says Wilmeth.
For students who don’t want to take a break, time management is critical, as demands on the student’s time will increase and they will still be required to attend their classes and finish their coursework on time. Communication is also important.
“Students should let their instructor know that they’re PCSing so that if they’re not responsive the instructor knows why, but it doesn’t alleviate them of their student responsibilities, so they really need to be proactive in time management,” says Wilmeth. “They need to make sure they have reliable access to the internet during their PCS move and they’re able to devote time to accomplishing the learning objectives.”
Justin Merchant was in the U.S. Army and attending UMGC as a student when he received his PCS notice to move from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the United States to Vincenza, Italy. He continued his education both through his PCS and Expiration Term of Service (ETS).
“Continuing my education through my PCS and ETS was difficult at first but became easier once I reorganized my time,” says Merchant. “The professors at UMGC were extremely understanding and helped where possible, and the advisors helped me choose the classes that would be the best fit.”
Merchant agrees that both communication and time management are crucial when a student is continuing their education through a PCS. He recommends keeping an open mind and remaining flexible as unexpected circumstances may arise.
“As long as you remain on the personnel roster, you are still responsible for fulfilling your obligations to that unit. So, you might still be required to perform certain duties that reduce the amount of time you have to focus on school and PCSing,” says Merchant. “Communication with your leadership will help you balance schooling, PCSing, and any unavoidable duties. It's important to schedule a meeting with your first-line supervisor to review your priorities and potential scheduling conflicts.”
For many military students, continuing their education can be beneficial for advancing in their career both in and out of the military.
“Consider reminding your supervisor that earning college credits can help you gain promotion points; this can align your personal goals with your military career,” says Merchant. “If you're struggling to keep up with class assignments during your PCS, it's recommended to reach out to your professor and discuss the possibility of an extension.”
UMGC’s Support and Resources for PCS Students
Students who are PCSing can find a variety of resources and tools at UMGC to help support their transition. UMGC offers a Green Zone training to students, which can help them learn more about how UMGC will support them during their PCS. The training takes less than 30 minutes to complete.
Students may find themselves halfway around the globe from a PCS, and UMGC will be right there with them. UMGC is online and has more than 175 locations across the globe. Students can search their closest UMGC location to see what services are offered in their new area.
UMGC has three divisions: Stateside, Europe, and Asia. When a student has a PCS from one division to another, when they notify their move in the student portal, they are assigned a new advisor in their new division. This allows students to have access to an advisor who is not only closer by, but who can share in their experience of being abroad. When a student moves from one state to another, they may receive a new advisor who is in the same state as them if they choose to meet in person. This flexibility allows students to take their education with them no matter where they go.
How UMGC Supports Military Servicemembers
UMGC has supported military students since 1947, and more than 53,000 servicemembers, veterans, and military family members are enrolled at UMGC. Military servicemembers and their families can benefit from attending an online university. At UMGC, students can take their classes at the time that best suits them and can access their coursework from anywhere in the world.
Active-duty servicemembers have access to a reduced military tuition rate at UMGC to keep their education affordable. UMGC also offers tuition benefits for military spouses and dependents, and a variety of scholarships including the My Career Advancement Account scholarship. To fast-track their degree or certificate, military students can also transfer credit for military education and training they have previously received.
A PCS move can be a stressful and uncertain time for many servicemembers and their families. At UMGC, we are proud to support our servicemembers who do so much by providing them with an education and advisors who can understand their situation. UMGC is here to help you take the guesswork out of your education during a PCS, and we will be there to support you before, during, and after your move.