According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, almost 1.4 million people currently serve in the armed forces and almost 22 million people are veterans. If you're among them, you may be able to turn that experience into college credits.
The American Council on Education (ACE) reviews military training and experiences and recommends appropriate college credit for it. Servicemembers and veterans have numerous ways to decrease the cost of college, but ACE credits offer military personnel a special, additional benefit: reducing the time it takes to earn a degree.
Getting Your Transcript
To take advantage of this benefit, the first thing both active-duty servicemember and veterans should do is obtain their Joint Services Transcript (JST). JSTs are available for officers from the Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and all Army components. If you are current or retired Air Force, contact the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) for your transcripts.
You can order and access your JST online. Transcripts from the CCAF are not available online and can take up to 10–15 days to process. The data within a JST can go as far back as 1976, though information older than 1994 may be missing or incomplete. You can request corrections/updates to your transcript, but it will take approximately 15 days for changes to go through.
Choosing A School
More than 2,300 colleges and universities provide credits for experience included on a JST. To check if a college is one of them, log on to the JST site and search for the school in their listings. You can also likely determine a school's policy by talking to an admissions counselor or visiting the college's websites.
Don't enroll at a school before seeing if they'l accept your military transfer credits. If they won't, you can appeal this decision. If that doesn't work, check with a different school. Colleges interpret military training credits differently and can apply them differently—even for the same degree program and military experience.
Once you choose a school, send them any official college transcripts and military service transcripts you have, to avoid taking unnecessary and duplicate classes. You should also review your military transcript and ACE recommendations for courses and occupations.
Maximizing This Benefit
Receiving college credit for military service is great, but before counting on this benefit, keep in mind that most ACE credits typically only apply to lower level, elective coursework—such as associate's degree-level classes.
In addition, ACE credit recommendations are valid for only 10 years, provided the course or occupation has not substantively changed. Academic institutions make the final decision about whether to award credit outside the ACE recommendation dates. Colleges may not follow the ACE recommendations, or they may interpret them differently from one school to the next.
A military-friendly school with good veterans programs can also help you get the most from this benefit—and successfully move from military service to college life, in general. That way, your transition will be smooth and come with some college credits under your belt.