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Earning College Credit for Service

Your military service is probably already worth many credit hours – and thousands of dollars – toward a college degree.

Years ago, when he completed his service to the U.S. Marine Corps, Jim Selbe was convinced a college education was out of reach. “I was under the impression it was going to take me eight to 12 years of going to school part time, at night, to get a degree,” he says. “It was not something I was willing to make an investment in.”

When he learned that, at many institutions, the knowledge and skills he’d learned in the military would be accepted as credit hours, he decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in management. “It allowed me to really capitalize on the leadership, supervision, and management training I had received in the Marine Corps,” he says. By using the military transfer program, and earning even more college credits through equivalency exams such as the CLEP and the DSST, Selbe estimates that the 60 credit hours he earned saved him three to four years in the classroom, at a price tag of $15,000 to $20,000.

“I would never have gone to college,” he says, “without learning and being able to take advantage of earned credit from my military training.”

Where to Start
Interestingly, Selbe is today the assistant vice president for Lifelong Learning at the American Council on Education (ACE) – the organization that has, since World War II, provided a link between the Department of Defense and higher education. For members of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, ACE works to prepare, free of charge, a military transcript for individual service members, taking their training and experience and translating it into discrete academic units.

“If I’m repairing trucks, if I’m a medic, if I’m an electronics technician, I go through training to acquire the skills to serve in that military occupation,” says Selbe. “ACE evaluates the courses the military provides to the service members, in order for them to develop their occupational competencies. Through that, ACE then works with the military to develop a transcript that provides a chronology of an individual’s training record as well as their occupational history.”

[More information on the Army ACE Registry Transcript (AARTS) or the Sailor/Marine ACE Registry Transcript (SMART) is available on ACE’s Transcript FAQ page.]

For Air Force veterans, the translation of service into college credit is typically performed by Air University, the Community College of the Air Force, at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. Coast Guard members can request a transcript from the Coast Guard Institute. Step-by-step instructions for requesting transcripts from each of the four service branches are available.

After receiving your transcript, the best way to begin learning what types of training and service can earn college credit, Selbe says, is to consult ACE’s Transfer Guide, which will both help clarify a military transcript and decode transfer policies and issues.

From there, military members should research which institutions will accept units from the military transcript as transfer credits. A good bet would be one of the nearly 1,900 Servicemember Opportunity Colleges (SOC) – higher-learning institutions that have formally agreed to award credits, when appropriate, for military training.

These aren’t the only schools that will award credit for service; if you want to apply to a school that isn’t on the SOC list, it’s best to simply call either the registrar’s office or the admissions office and learn more about their credit transfer policies.

It’s important to remember, Selbe says, that military service isn’t the only way to earn college credit for service members. “I’ve known Eagle Scouts who have earned credit by taking examinations in astronomy,” he said. “You bring not only your military experiences, but your other life experiences, to the table.”


Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...