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How to Leverage Military Experience for College Credit

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice

For active-duty servicemembers and veterans who wish to earn a college degree, it is possible to leverage your military experience and training for college credit. You may be surprised how much of your knowledge can be utilized for academic credit.

Using your military experience and training for college credit is a strategy well worth considering. It lessens the overall cost of earning a college degree and can help you graduate sooner.

Related link: Search for Transfer Credit

Converting Military Experience to College Credit: How It Works

The American Council on Education (ACE) offers a useful guide about receiving college credit for completed, documented military training and experience. For instance, you can earn college credit for completing basic training, training related to your military occupational specialty or rating, or on-the-job experience.

When I was seeking a degree, I earned around 20 college credits from my military experience, which counted toward my elective courses. However, be aware that ACE provides recommendations on credit that should be accepted as transferable college credit; it does not actually provide the actual credits.

College credits must be awarded by a school that accepts ACE’s recommendations for college credit from your military experience and training. When you’re reviewing different colleges and universities, check to see if those academic institutions award transfer credits based on ACE’s recommendations. Some schools will, and some will not.

Be Sure to Get a Military Transcript

You’ll also need to request a military transcript. This transcript will provide you with an understanding of how much college credit is recommended based on your military experience and training.

For Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel, an official military transcript request can be made at the Joint Services Transcript website. Air Force active-duty personnel and veterans should use the Community College of the Air Force website.  

Taking CLEP and DSST Exams

Another strategy that I found helpful was to earn academic credit before I applied to college through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) exams. These exams are free for active-duty and reserve military servicemembers, and veterans may be eligible to take the exams free through the Forever G.I. Bill, which can save money in education costs.

Universities typically require you to complete courses through the school. However, completing lower-level general education courses through CLEP and DSST exams can save you time as you’re working on your degree.

During my education, this approach enabled me to earn my associate degree, mostly based on these transfer credits coupled with some school classes that I needed to complete. DSST exams also helped me as I worked on my bachelor’s degree.

Related link: 3 Questions to Ask if You’re a First-Time College Student

Prior Learning Assessments

Military servicemembers and veterans should also investigate the possibility of getting college credit through a prior learning assessment (PLA). A PLA is a great way to save time and money because you basically describe how your past knowledge and experience has qualified you for academic credit for a specific class, based on the course’s learning objectives. You’ll likely need to complete an essay that aligns your course’s learning objectives with your resume and experience.

Earning a college degree is a common goal among many military servicemembers and veterans. Utilizing your military training and experience can be very useful in pursuing this goal.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate criminal justice professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of criminal justice and military service. He completed his college education to a doctorate through military education programs. He published a book in 2009 on using military education benefits once he completed his master’s degree from American Military University, and the book was distributed to servicemembers deployed overseas.

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