Just because you are not technically in academia when you are in the service doesn’t mean you aren’t learning enough to earn college credit.
The G.I. Bill is one thing, but let’s face it: you have skills. It seems unfair for you not to get college credit in, say, engineering for your practical study if you act as an engineer for your military occupational specialty (MOS). Yet many schools simply don’t acknowledge equivalent credit from what may be hands-on work in higher stress situations than any other kind of freshman has ever faced.
So how can you position yourself to find the credits you deserve? Here’s what you can do to receive credit where it’s due.
Start with your transcript
As you probably know, the Joint Services Transcript (JST) provides a detailed assessment of your professional military education, training and occupation experiences and puts them on an official document. The American Council on Education gives instruction on how to apply for and receive a JST and is a wonderful resource for those looking to align their military experience and convert that into college credits. More than 2,300 colleges and universities take the JST document and use it to apply toward credits.
To augment your JST, make sure you use your Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) properly. This includes any college credits or AP exams. Also be certain that you retain any documentation that might assist in your credit development, including commendations, sample work, training certificates, recommendations and evaluations.
Schools will take all this into account when assessing how your JST will translate into credits.
Take the tests
There are several kinds of exams offered that allow Veterans to test out of college level courses using the knowledge built up during time in the service. The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) includes 33 standardized tests in many subjects, and many Veterans and their families can take these tests for free.
The DSST exam process is another way that Veterans can earn college credit. Exams are available for everything from Astronomy to American History. However, before you apply to take these exams, make sure institutions that interest you will take the credits these tests claim to earn for you.
Some institutions will allow Veterans to submit documentation including their JST, as well as written narratives and other supporting material. Corresponding faculty members will assess the portfolio and make a judgement on what this experience may correspond to in credits.
Do Your Research
There are many institutions that say they offer credit to incoming Veterans but do not assign those credits to associated skill sets. For example, if you had an engineering MOS, you might get some college credit, but it wouldn’t be for engineering, just for general studies—which won’t help you toward your major and would mean you might still be stuck taking remedial classes, even though you should have passed out of them. Make sure your credits will be taken for what they are worth.
- Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) helps Servicemembers with counseling and exam preparation.
- Service Members Opportunity Colleges serves to help create academic opportunities for Servicemembers and is tied directly to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
There is truly no shortage of resources to help servicemen and women take advantage of their time and education in the military and translate that to college credit. Increasingly, non-traditional students are being courted by universities, and many schools particularly embrace Veterans because their leadership training is so desirable.
The very best way to make sure you are getting all the credit you deserve is to rely on your training and take the initiative. Check in on your credits, talk to your advisors, do your research and be persistent. You’ll find that you can take years off of your college education, enter the workforce earlier and save a great deal of money in the process.
Ryan Hickey is the managing editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL; editing essays and personal statements; and consulting directly with applicants.