What to Know About Receiving College Credit for Military Service

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Category: Military Support

By Matt Rowley
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One of the many benefits of serving in the military is the ability to receive college credit for military experience. Transferring military education to college credits allows you to not only save time while earning your degree, but also money.

Receiving college credit for military service isn’t always easy. Policies can vary between schools, with some not granting any credit at all for military service and others offering generous transfer credit options. Therefore, if you’re transitioning from the military to college, here are three things to know.

1. Policies Vary From School to School

Unfortunately, not all schools grant credit for military service. It’s important to do your homework when choosing a university and find one that has experience working with veterans and can help you get the most from your service.

As you’re evaluating schools, ask questions about how military credits can be applied toward your degree. Not all schools will apply your military service credits toward the requirements for your major, instead counting them as elective credits. If you have extensive experience in your area of study, this can be frustrating, especially if you’re required to take introductory level courses that cover material you already know. In some cases – like if you’re changing career paths – receiving elective credits for your experience can help you complete your degree sooner, so it may still be helpful.

2. Submit Your JST Before Enrolling

In an effort to make transferring service credit easier, the Department of Defense partnered with the American Council on Education to develop the Joint Services Transcript. The JST serves as official documentation of your training and occupational experience in the military, along with an ACE recommendation for college credits for that experience. More than 2,300 colleges and universities accept the JTS.

However, just because a school accepts the JTS doesn’t mean that it accepts the ACE recommendations for credit. In some cases, veterans who don’t submit their JTS before enrolling end up taking unnecessary courses. Even if you’re eager to get started on your degree, don’t sign up for classes until the school has completed an evaluation of your JTS. If you do so, you’ll risk taking classes that are essentially repeats of those you’ve already completed.

Related: How to Read and Use Military Transcripts

3. Additional Options Are Available

While many schools use the JTS as the determining factor in how many credits will transfer and what those credits will replace, that doesn’t mean it’s the final word about which courses you need to take. Just because the ACE recommends certain credits for your experience doesn’t mean your school will accept them, and they can be modified or rejected.

In that case, you do have other options. Some schools accept test results for placement purposes. Depending on your performance on the exam, you may be granted credit for lower-level courses. The College Board's College Level Examination Program currently offers standardized exams in 34 subject areas, and military personnel may be able to take CLEP exams for free and receive free test prep materials.

Another exam option is the DSST program, which some schools use to grant credit in specific subject areas. If your school does not use either of those standardized test options, you may be able to take a challenge exam developed by the school itself to evaluate your knowledge and skill in a specific subject area.

Finally, it may also be helpful to submit a portfolio to your school for evaluation. A portfolio can include a written narrative explaining your experience and how you gained it, as well as a case for why you should receive credit. You can also include supporting documentation, such as transcripts, recommendations, work samples, course outlines and more. Portfolios are typically reviewed by faculty in your subject area, who then can make a recommendation as to whether credit should be granted.

Getting Started

When starting the process of seeking college credit for military service, remember that your military experience is valuable, and you deserve recognition for what you accomplished while serving your country.

Here at Columbia Southern University, we serve an online student population in which approximately 40% are active-duty, veterans, spouses or dependents of military service members. We offer academic support and resources specifically designed for military students, whether you’re pursuing a degree on active duty or starting your transition to civilian employment.

More information about our Career Services Department, Veterans Center and online degree programs can be found on our website.

Transferring credits does not guarantee reduced tuition or amount of courses.

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