Why a defence force career makes sense


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Free tertiary study or a trade course, and a guaranteed job will seem like a windfall for many HSC graduates, and this is one of the benefits offered by the Australian Defence Force.

Officer Cadet Nick Elks left school in 2017, joined the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) in 2018, and is now in his final year at the academy.

Choosing to go into the army, next year he will attend the Royal Military Academy in Duntroon to begin a year of officer training.

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Elks moved from the Sunshine Coast to Canberra to study at ADFA, which includes three years of an arts degree at the University of NSW where he's majoring in political studies, English and media studies.

On top of his uni studies, he spends two hours a day in army training with a couple of additional two-week training blocks each year.

Elks had a long-term interest in serving in the armed forces and thought his future would be to gain a tertiary education before learning more about the defence forces, but then he found ADFA where he could complete his tertiary education and start a career simultaneously.

There were the added benefits of a guaranteed job, pay during study and a uni degree paid for with no HECS debt, he says.

"It's a fairly competitive and long process of theory and interviews, and it took probably the better part of the year [to join]," says Elks.

"It's streamlined as you go through the process to get through to the final loophole, the officer selection board, where you undergo a day's selection to decide whether you're suitable for the job or not."

After Duntroon, Elks will undergo role-specific training, in his case to get into the cavalry.

Elks says he is happy at ADFA, along with the benefits of being paid while you study, practically no living costs and a degree at the end of it. But he says it's important to understand that while joining can provide benefits, ultimately you're going to provide service so you need to sacrifice some aspects of your life to achieve that.

The advantages of a free education and designated career path may be attractive but joining the defence forces means a regimented lifestyle with high levels of discipline.

There are also times when there are restrictions in movement and lifestyle, and time spent away from family and friends, sometimes for long periods.

And, of course, service can be potentially dangerous.

"The Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) provides an opportunity for Australians with leadership potential to commence challenging and exciting careers straight out of high school," a defence spokesperson told Money.

"ADFA is the only university in Australia where students are paid to obtain a degree in the fields of arts, business, science, engineering or technology."

Entry into ADFA is highly competitive, and to be successful, applicants must demonstrate the ability to work hard, take on challenges, and excel in team environments.

Applications open each year in May and it's best for students to apply during Year 11.

This year has seen a spike in applications compared to 2019, with female applications increasing by 17% and male applications by 23%, the spokesperson says.

There have also been more people seeking trainee officer opportunities across the Navy, Army and Air Force.

Academic entry standards are consistent with the entry requirements for UNSW degrees. The defence force also considers an applicant's health, fitness, aptitude, and leadership potential.

Other ways to enter the defence force from high school include general entry as a soldier or through technical training.

The August edition of Money magazine looks at the costs and choices of tertiary education.

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
Mike Richards
August 12, 2020 5.10pm

Assuming you can actually get in; make no bones about it, there's a MASSIVE waiting list for certain roles and you can fail at almost any step in the process for a multitude of reasons. And if you do, you have a "cool down" period before you can come back in again to try. It's not as easy as some might think, and that's the Reserves as well.

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