For the first two years of my military service, I was not aware of how powerful military education benefits are. But over time, I learned how to use my military training and how to receive funding through military education programs. I also found universities that supported military credit transfers so that I could further my education up to a doctorate without incurring extra debt.
College Credit Can Be Awarded for Military Training
One of the first and most important concepts that I learned was that college credit can be awarded for a servicemember’s training, which includes basic training and technical schools related to a rating or military occupational specialty (MOS). This training can translate to college elective credits, saving servicemembers time and money as they work toward an undergraduate degree.
In fact, my military experience allowed me to earn 44 semester hours toward my bachelor’s degree. However, it is important to understand how to successfully apply military training and experience to earn college credit and how to obtain the proper documentation.
The American Council on Education (ACE) has served the military since 1945 by conducting reviews of military training programs and experience to help determine the appropriate college credit. They provide college credit recommendations through an in-depth credit evaluation process, and a standardized assessment of military courses is available through their Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services.
This process is significant because it provides a legitimate and consistent guideline for colleges and universities to assess and award college credits for military training and experience. Based on ACE college credit recommendations, each of the military branches provide a transcript that is designed to help registrars, admissions offices, and counselors to award academic credit to servicemembers based on their documented training and experience.
Other Military Education Programs: DANTES and CLEP
There are other military education programs that helped me to earn college credit without stepping foot into the classroom. I discovered Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES), which provided me the opportunity to take examinations that provided college credit recommendations through ACE.
In academic courses where I felt I knew from my experience to complete a test without actually taking the course, I sped up the time it took me to earn my undergraduate by taking DANTES tests. These tests are free for military servicemembers.
Another program that helped me tremendously in completing undergraduate coursework without stepping into class was the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program (CLEP). Like DANTES tests, CLEP tests are also free for military servicemembers.
CLEP and DANTES were helpful because they enabled me to take correspondence tests that were recommended for college credit by the American Council on Education. In a very short amount of time, I completed CLEP tests to satisfy my undergraduate general education requirements in mathematics, English and social sciences.
Finding the Right School Where I Could Use My Military Education Credits
Once I maximized the free college credits I could earn from the military, I then learned how to find the schools that would award the most amount of military education credits possible and accepted CLEP and DANTES course credits. I discovered a resource called Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges.
This program, which has since been discontinued by the Department of Defense, provided servicemembers with a list of colleges and universities. These educational institutions partnered with the government to help find ways to accept military experience as college credit.
Universities that offered online programs were an excellent way for me to apply military college credits and earn my degree. I have now earned a total of four degrees from universities that offered online programs, and I earned each of my degrees while working full time and continuing to serve either on active duty or the reserves.
I found that American Military University (AMU) was the most effective university in serving the educational needs of servicemembers due to the university’s deep roots in military culture. That is why it is a privilege for me to be a faculty member at AMU today.
Prior Learning Assessments Also Helped Me Complete My Education Faster
To speed up the process of completing my education, I completed Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs) at the same time I was enrolled in online courses. Because of my experience in the military, I was able to submit a portfolio of my experience.
On several occasions, I was awarded academic credit for specific courses when my experience justified what I would have learned in the class. This way of earning academic credit saved me additional time and money.
Financial Aid from the Military
Once I enrolled in my undergraduate and graduate degree programs, I used military education benefits to fund 100% of my education. For coursework in my bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and the first half of my doctorate, I utilized the Tuition Assistance program, coupled with grants and small military scholarships that I applied for continuously.
Two of the most common financial aid programs that I applied for and received on several occasions were the Coast Guard Supplemental Education Grant and the Coast Guard Foundation’s USAA Reserve Scholarship. By holding off on using the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education benefit until the dissertation phase of my doctorate, I was able to transfer a significant portion of my Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to my spouse, which covered the cost of her entire education.
In 2009, I authored the book “Achieving Your Educational Goals While in Military Service – A Real-World Approach” to help other servicemembers understand and utilize their education benefits through the military. While the book is no longer in publication, I had the opportunity to partner with the USO to have the book placed in care packages that were sent to servicemembers throughout Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. My hope is that I helped other servicemembers utilize the education benefits they deserve.
I strongly urge all servicemembers to utilize the military education benefits that they have earned. But it is equally important to attend universities that understand how to award academic credit for military training and experience.
The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.
By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University