Military News Military Branches Navy

5 free programs for transitioning service members (and spouses!)

Miguel Ortiz Avatar
Many military jobs can earn you civilian certifications or credentials (COOL)

So you’ve decided to get out of the military and to go a different direction. The civilian world has a lot of opportunities that veterans can take advantage of. However, transitioning into the civilian world can be a bumpy road. After being in the military, even after just a few years, adjusting to a different type of work culture can be difficult. That said, here are a few programs you can participate in to make it a smoother journey.


This free credentialing program through the DoD is just as it sounds, cool. Although it’s an acronym for Credentialing Opportunities, On-Line, the program is one of the best for transitioning service members. However, there are some restrictions. You must have 6 months of service or more left and be enlisted (unless you are Army or Navy, then some officers can participate). If this doesn’t apply to you or you want switch careers in the civilian world, move on to the next program. However, if you are wanting to stay within your MOS, keep reading. Use the COOL website to select your service, then select your occupation. There, you are given a “map” to getting the civilian credential in that field. Complete the map to fulfill your requirements, request your voucher, and get your certification! COOL is a streamlined program to use your MOS time to get the civilian equivalent training/credential and will make your transition into the civilian world that much easier.

2. Skillbridge

Get started on Skillbridge early (DoD Skillbridge)

You’ve probably heard whispers about this program at some point in your service. This is the unicorn, the one that most troops try to do before leaving the military. Skillbridge is an internship program open to those getting out under honorable conditions (med-board, you can still do this!) with 6 months left of active service. If you are applying right at your 6-month mark, good luck. Ideally, you want to start your application packet around 10 months, especially if you are leaving your local area and need to go up the ladder for command approval. Skillbridge has a site with a search tool, but many of the companies listed have their own application processes. Perhaps the most useful tool for getting a Skillbridge internship is LinkedIn (your TAP classes should cover this extensively, so pay attention!). On LinkedIn, use the search bar and search “#dodskillbridge.” This will populate anything and everything related to Skillbridge. 50Strong on LinkedIn also frequently hosts Skillbridge networking sessions. Some Skillbridge programs have set start dates such as Helmets to Hard Hats , Airstreams Renewable, and the Hiring our Heroes Fellowship Program, while others are more open. Similarly, some programs are virtual while others are in-person. It’s really all about what you are looking for. Keep in mind you will still need to come back to your base for out-processing and terminal leave. Check with your counselors on what Skillbridge programs are available in your local area and if they allow individualized internships.

3. USO-Coursera

The USO offers other transition resources too (USO)

Spouses and those who have separated within 6 months, this one applies to you! USO Pathfinders has partnered with Coursera to provide one free certification per applicant (out of a list of five). Both the service member and active-duty spouse can choose one track! Pro tip: to enroll, complete the USO Pathfinders intake form and put “Coursera” in the blank box at the bottom. The Pathways include: Google IT Support Professional Certificate, Facebook Social Media Marketing Certificate, Salesforce Sales Development Representative Professional Certificate, IBM Data Analyst Certificate, and ASU TESOL Professional Certificate. You will have 12 months to complete the Coursera program and take the certificate exam if your track requires it. Your intake specialists will email you monthly to ensure you are tracking with a 12-month or less completion date.


Programs vary by location, so check the website for what’s available to you (IVMF-O2O)

The Onward to Opportunity program (O2O) is open to military spouses, veterans discharged honorably, and active-duty once you hit 6 months until your transition. This program is provided in-person at some installations. Others do it virtually where you receive the materials and have a set time to complete the course and take the exam (if required). The goal of the program is to get you a Professional Certificate or Professional Certification at the end of the course. There are set start dates for O2O and you will be in a cohort. Many of the pathways lead up to an industry recognized certification exam, where one test is provided for free through the program. There are pathways in everything from Business Management to IT to Customer Services. You can do one pathway for free!


Apprenticeships combine on-the-job training and technical instruction (USMAP)

The US Military Apprenticeship Program is one that civilian companies recognize. If you are changing careers and leaving your MOS, you can skip this one. If you want to continue working in the same field, read on. To be eligible you must have more than 12 months of service left, be enlisted, and work full-time in your trade (not all MOSes are eligible). Enroll online and record your hours on the provided record form. Once you complete them all, you will receive a DOL Certification of Completion and a Journeyman card. This is a great way to market your military career and acquired skills to civilian employers. Don’t wait, apply today, and tell your battle buddies about this. Even if you’re within your 12-month transition window, other service members could be eligible and benefit greatly from USMAP.

Honorable Mentions

Microsoft Military Academy, Dog Tag Bakery, and LinkedIn Learning: Transitioning Military courses.