Four Steps to Using Your Military Service and Education Toward a College Degree

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Whether you are currently in the military or are a veteran considering using your Post-9/11 GI Bill, you may be wondering how you can receive college credit for your military service. Many colleges offer opportunities to transfer credit from your service toward your chosen degree or certification.

Here are four steps to maximize the college credit you receive for your military training and experience.

1. Obtain Your Joint Service Transcript

Members of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Space Force or Coast Guard who are on active or reserve duty and veterans need to obtain their Joint Services Transcript (JST) from the Defense Department. The JST provides a description of your professional military education, training and occupation experiences in civilian language, which universities and colleges can translate to college credit for courses they offer. Currently, the JST is accepted by more than 2,300 educational institutions. And it isn't just for applying to college. The JST can be used to validate your experience to potential employers, as well.

The JST includes:

  • Personal service member data
  • Military course completions: all courses that have been evaluated by the American Council on Education (ACE), with full descriptions and credit recommendations
  • Military occupations: full descriptions, skill levels and credit recommendations
  • College-level test scores: CLEP, DSST, NCPACE, ACT/PEP and Excelsior
  • Other learning experiences: additional completed courses and occupations that have not been evaluated by ACE for college credit

To obtain your JST, visit the Joint Services Transcript website, and register for an account. Click on the "Transcripts" link and view, print, or save your unofficial transcripts. You can also choose to have an official transcript sent to your preferred college. Electronic transcripts are free.

Members of the Air Force should contact the Community College of the Air Force for transcripts. You can order an official transcript through the Air University or the CCAF Online Transcript System.

If you have taken courses at another university or community college, be sure to obtain an official transcript of the courses you have completed. Be sure to have all your credits evaluated before you enroll to ensure you save the most time and money.

2. Choose Your Course of Study

It's important to choose a major as soon as possible because the earlier you get started with school, the sooner you will be able to graduate, begin a rewarding civilian career, and get on with your personal goals and objectives. Think about your strengths and interests, and choose a degree that will open the door to a fulfilling vocation.

To maximize your military experience and education, you may want to consider a major closely aligned to your military occupational specialty (MOS). Your training and skills developed in the military have equipped you to work in a specialized area. Pursuing a degree in an industry similar to your MOS will help maximize college credit toward your degree.

Some careers easily align with military experience. They include:

  • Information and Technology/Computer Science
  • Education
  • Medical Field
  • Business
  • Criminal Justice

If you see yourself doing something much different in the civilian world than in your military career, that's OK too. Your GI Bill benefits can help you do just that. As you consider your major, ask yourself the following questions.

What am I interested in? Every admissions counselor will ask you this question. Think about things you enjoy doing and the tasks you find challenging. There may be an area of study that matches your interests.

What am I good at? Consider your skills and talents. What can you do easily that others find challenging? Ask your friends and co-workers for input. Sometimes, people on the outside see strengths and abilities in you that you have never considered.

Are there jobs available? According to the U.S Chamber of Commerce, veterans who leave active duty will change employers twice during their first three years of civilian employment. Why? Most hiring experts agree that low job satisfaction and low compensation are to blame. Bottom line, if you can't get hired doing the job you pursued a degree for, save your money. Choose an industry in which you can be financially successful. Of course, "success" may look different to each of us, but choose a career that enables you to do what you love and meets your financial needs.

3. Choose Your College

Your choice of university is as important as your field of study, so be sure to do your homework. Many schools claim to be "veteran-friendly." But what does that mean, exactly? Start by reviewing the Department of Education's College Scorecard. This online tool allows you to view and compare data from education institutions in five areas: cost, graduation rate, employment rate, average amount borrowed, and loan default rate. Make sure the school you choose meets your expectations and standards.

Student Veterans of America (SVA) is a nonprofit organization that provides resources to ensure veterans succeed in higher education and gain meaningful employment. With more than 1,500 on-campus chapters across the United States, SVA exists to help you reach your highest potential. SVA Chapters provide a network for student veterans that can help you adapt to the challenges of civilian and college life.

Use the GI Bill Comparison Tool to find out what your GI Bill benefits will cover. By entering a few key pieces of information, the tool measures affordability, graduation rates, average borrowing amounts, and student loan default rates. Schools that are not listed on the tool are not approved for benefits and must obtain approval to be paid.

The school you choose should be a member of The American Council on Education (ACE). ACE has developed a toolkit for schools to serve their veteran students better. The ACE Military Guide offers credit recommendations and summaries for formal courses and occupations offered by the military. The Military Guide, combined with your Joint Services Transcript, will enable you to gain credit for your past coursework and training.

Each college determines the number of credits it will accept and how they will be applied to your chosen degree. Some schools do not grant any credit for military experience. Take the time to research the school that best fits your needs and be sure to ask the admissions counselor about the school's policies for accepting ACE credits before you enroll.

Does the school you are considering participate in The College Level Examinations Program (CLEP)? Also known as CLEP tests, these exams allow students to demonstrate knowledge of course material by taking a test, rather than attending a term's worth of classes on that subject. The CLEP program is accepted by approximately three thousand colleges and universities. CLEP policies vary widely from school to school, and the test scores must be accepted by the college you attend to receive the credit. Veterans are eligible to take CLEP exams and may use their GI Bill benefit to pay for them.

4. Enroll

Once you have chosen your major and your college, you are ready to enroll. Your military experience has prepared you well to be a successful student. You already know how to be a great leader, and you've worked hard to earn your GI Bill benefits. Now, it's time to use them! Your college degree is another step in transitioning from military life to the civilian life you've always wanted.

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