I would never discourage someone from pursuing a college degree. However, not every veteran is interested in obtaining a four-year degree. Also, many vets have completed academic degrees while they were on active duty. Many veterans, especially those who served in the Reserve component of their service branch, may be entitled to only a portion of the total benefit provided by the GI Bill.

With vets who fall into these categories in mind; here are two fun ways to use up your GI Bill without committing to four years of full-time schooling.

Marine Mammal Behavior and Training Certificate

I’m going to say this upfront; I like dolphins. One of my favorite memories was body surfing on a beach in Venice, Florida. Near dusk, a wild dolphin approached me, and surfed with me for about half an hour.

As I watched the sunset, the dolphin continued to swim around me. It was fascinating. Unfortunately, due to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, there are severe limitations placed on interaction with wild dolphins.

One of the few places where you can interact with dolphins is Florida Keys Community College.

FKCC offers a certificate in marine mammal behavior and training. The program requires 15 credit hours and includes courses in marine mammal care and basic training; advanced marine mammal training and enrichment; cognitive and behavioral research with marine mammals; and marine mammal interpretation.

FKCC is headquartered on Stock Island, just east of Key West. The marine mammal courses are taught at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key.

Tuition and fees are currently $109.22 per credit hour. FKCC does offer dormitory accommodations, but the demographics trend between 18 and 21 years of age. Housing in the Keys is expensive, but the E-5 BAH for Key West is currently a generous $2,928 per month.

For more information, consult www.fkcc.edu.

Scuba Instructor Training

There are several scuba instructor training programs that are approved by the Veterans Administration. Which one you choose has mostly to do with what you want to do with your certification.

There are four main recreational training agencies in the United States; the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, (PADI), the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), Scuba Schools International (SSI), and Scuba Diving International (SDI-TDI). Each has its virtues and its detractions.

PADI: PADI is the largest dive training organization in the world. It was founded in 1966 and began to dominate the market in the 1980s due aggressive advertising. I have mixed feelings about PADI.

First the bad; PADI is a for-profit company that seems to be sold from one holding company to another every few years. It is usually the first training organization to lower standards, such as the minimum number of dives required for certification, and lowered age limits. For that reason, and personal opinions, it is not my favorite organization.

But, and this is a very big but, if you want to use your instructor certification to travel, and work in the Caribbean, Polynesia, Asia, and on cruise ships, then you will likely need a PADI Instructor certification to find employment.

NAUI: NAUI is the oldest dive training organization, having been founded in 1959. It grew out of the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department.

As a former member for 10 years, I am biased in favor of NAUI (pronounced like Maui). NAUI is composed of voting members, and policy is made by a board of trustees. I consider NAUI to have the highest training standards.

For example, students are instructed in snorkeling skills before they can move on to scuba. The benefit of becoming a NAUI instructor is that your skills will be the highest in the industry.

The downside is that it may be difficult to find placement in a dive shop, due to PADI’s market saturation. If you want to own your own shop, or be an independent instructor, then NAUI is the way to go.

SDI-TDI: I love taking SDI courses. They are clear and straight-forward. Also, the organization offers courses that other agencies do not, such as solo diving and air cylinder inspection. Its sister organization, Technical Diving International is (in my opinion) the premier technical diving agency. The downside of SDI is that, as an instructor, you must be affiliated with an SDI dive shop.

SSI: SSI is a forward-thinking agency, with well-designed courses. It places a great deal of trust in its instructors, such as letting instructors print their own certification cards.

SSI probably offers the best customer service in the industry. SSI is a solid choice if you plan to own your own shop. Again, the downside of SSI is that an instructor must be affiliated with an SSI shop.

The following are a few institutions where you can use your GI Bill for scuba instructor training.

Florida Keys Community College offers both associate degrees and certifications in diving. It also offers a wide range of options to complement your scuba instructor certification, such as scientific diver certification; EMT; dive medical technician; hyperbaric chamber operations; and marine technician training. FKCC only offers PADI recreational scuba courses. FKCC’s tuition and fees are very reasonable.

Hall’s Diving Center: Hall’s has been around for a long time. It is located in Marathon, Florida, and it offers certification through most of the major agencies.

It also offers training in technical diving, videography, and equipment repair. The owner, Bob Brayman, designed and copyrighted most of the curriculum. In addition to being well-respected in the industry, Bob is a pretty cool guy.

The downside of training at Hall’s is that the training is more expensive than getting your certification through your local dive shop. The upside is that, as mentioned, it is approved for the GI Bill.

Dive Oahu: If you’re interested in taking an extended paid vacation in paradise, then Dive Oahu’s PADI Go-Pro program might be right for you. The program is customizable to your goals.

You can spend a few months going from non-diver to dive master, or continue on to become a full instructor, or instructor trainer. Dive Oahu’s program includes a complete set of gear, including lift bags and AL80 cylinders.

While you may not get rich training dolphins or teaching people how to scuba dive, these are not bad ways to use up your remaining GI Bill.