Best Online Colleges for Military

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Are you a military member who would like to earn your college degree? Are you wondering if there is a way to translate the skills and training learned during your time in the military into college credit? Fortunately, there are several options available to those who desire to further their college education after serving in our nation’s armed forces, and we have the information that you need to take the next step in your educational journey!

Our nation relies on its service members and veterans to protect and serve the country, and many of them participate in advanced military training or leadership development courses throughout their years with the armed forces. To support our veterans in advancing their education after their military service, accredited universities throughout the country recognize the effort and skills gained from this experience by offering a variety of ways to earn college credit towards an undergraduate degree.

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In the information below, we will cover three standard ways that you can earn college credit for your military experience. However, it is important to note, that every college has its own unique policy for transferring credits and advanced placement in their programs. We always recommend that you speak with an academic advisor to ensure that their policies align with your educational and career goals.

Opportunities to Turn Military Experience into College Credit

Earning credit for your military experience has a number of advantages for veterans looking to further their education. Not only will you have the opportunity to potentially accelerate the timeframe of your degree program, but you can also save a substantial amount on long-term tuition costs!

When choosing one of the options below to receive credit for your military training, keep in mind that there are no standard requirements for what a college has to accept in terms of untraditional college credits. While many schools are willing to work with students in this regard, their individual policies are ultimately the deciding factor on how your military experience can play into placement within your degree program.

Joint Services Transcript

The most popular way of requesting college credit for military experience is through the submission of a Joint Services Transcript (JST). This academic document is accepted at over 2,000 institutions across the country and is used to validate a service member’s military occupation experience in accordance with the American Council on Education (ACE) recommendations.

When it comes to earning credits for life experience, the ACE is the standard that most accredited universities use to determine what can be applied to the degree program. The ACE has collaborated with the Department of Defense since the 1950s to review JST submissions of service members and help ensure that military personnel receives credit for their training. However, it is still up to the individual school to make the final decision on which credit recommendations will be accepted. So how do you submit a JST to your school?

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The process is fairly straightforward and simple. If you are a member of the Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, or Navy you can access your JST by visiting the JST website. If you served with the Air Force, you can receive your JST by contacting the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF). From there, you can work with your academic advisor to officially submit your transcript to the school for credit consideration.

While the JST is an excellent start to earning college credit towards your degree program, you still have to be aware of the fine print in your college’s policies. Some schools only allow credit based on ACE recommendations to apply to general elective credit – not to any specific degree requirements.

Credits by Exam

If you do not receive the college credit that you hoped for with the JST, there are still other options to earn advanced placement in your degree program. Thousands of accredited schools across the country accept successfully completed examinations as a way to “test out” of specific college courses.

There are several recognized exams available that you may take in an attempt to earn college credit for your experience and prior knowledge, including:

  • College Examination Program (CLEP) – The CLEP exam is the most widely accepted test for college credit by examination and is recognized by over 2,900 colleges and universities in the country. With 33 different examinations offered, passing a CLEP exam can help you to earn credit that can be applied towards a wide range of degree programs.
  • DSST Program – Recognized by over 1,900 higher education institutions, the DSST exam is an excellent choice for military members to try and earn college credit for their life experience. This exam was originally designed to support those who served in the military, and it is fully funded to offer free, first-attempt examinations for eligible service members.
  • Excelsior College Examinations (ECE) – Although not as widely accepted as the DSST and CLEP, this examination program offers 50 different tests covering a broad range of subjects. Due to the nature of the ECE exam, it is essential to check with your individual school to see if they accept credits earned through this program.

The credit by examination program is a useful tool for military members to receive credit for experiences that may not appear on a JST or official transcript from the prior educational experience. While some schools have restrictions on the type of courses that are eligible for credit by examination, other colleges may offer up to 60 credits earned through the successful passing of these exams.

Submitting a Portfolio PLA

While the most time-effective ways of applying for college credit for your military experience is through a JST or credit by examination, service members can also attempt to present a portfolio through a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA).

A PLA portfolio gives you the opportunity to showcase the skillset and knowledge you’ve gained through your military experience, and many schools across the country offer this option to students looking to earn advanced placement in their degree program. It is typically required that you are already enrolled as a student at the university before submission of a PLA, and it is also important to note that the majority of institutions only accept portfolio submissions for undergraduate credit consideration.

The process of submitting a portfolio can be lengthy, and may include:

  • Meetings with an academic advisor or counselor
  • Completion of PLA preparation courses
  • Successful completion of any prerequisite university course requirements
  • Development of your professional portfolio for submission
  • College evaluation process – including interviews and submission of additional documentation

The goal of a portfolio is to demonstrate to the college that your prior military experience has taught you essential skills that match the college course descriptions for which you wish to earn credit. You can use a variety of documentation to build your portfolio for submission, including military certification and leadership training, honors and awards, and experiential learning essays.

Serving our country through the military offers students the unique opportunity to acquire skills that can greatly benefit them in their future careers. By the above methods, you have the opportunity to turn this valuable training into college credit that can be applied towards a professional degree program. Regardless of the major, you wish to study in college, it is worth the effort to look into the different ways that your military experience could save you time and money when taking steps to further your educational journey.

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Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.