Fast-Track Your Way to a College Degree

There are two programs available for free to service members and veterans who want to get a jump on getting their degree. By using these programs, you can gain numerous college credits and avoid taking some classes just for the credits. Not only do these programs save you time and money, they also prevent the boredom of having to take classes in subjects you may already know.

The two programs I’m referring to are ACE (American Council on Education) and DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support). Both programs are wholly under-utilized, largely I believe, due to a lack of awareness – either people don’t know they exist or they know about them, but don’t fully realize the value of them.

Credits for Military Service

Much of one’s military occupational training and service experiences convert to college credits. ACE evaluates each enlisted, warrant officer and some officer job descriptions and translates them into credits earned in certain categories.

For example, let’s take a look at an E-6 11B Infantryman Squad Leader job – one job you would think would not translate into many credits – and see what ACE says about it. First, ACE lists the job description as:

” Leads, supervises, and serves as a member of an infantry unit of 10-20 persons, employing individual weapons, machine guns, and anti-armor weapons in offensive and defensive ground combat.”

Next, they evaluate the MOS at each skill level and write a summary on each one. At the E-6 level, the summary reads:

“Able to perform the duties required for Skill Level 20; as a first-line supervisor, directs the utilization of personnel and equipment; coordinates unit actions with adjacent and supporting elements; insures proper collection and reporting of intelligence data.”

Third, based on their summary, they make the following credit recommendation:

In the vocational certificate category, 3 semester hours in mechanical maintenance. In the lower-division baccalaureate/associate degree category, 1 semester hour in map reading, 1 in first aid, 2 in record keeping, 3 in personnel supervision, 3 in human relations, and credit in surveying on the basis of institutional evaluation.”

So, the experiences of just being an E-6 11B Squad Leader would earn you ten credits in this one MOS. Also, many of the training courses taken throughout a military career convert to credits. For example, Basic Training counts toward 1 semester hour each in personal physical conditioning, outdoor skills, marksmanship and first aid for total of 4 credits.

And the Infantryman MOS course counts for an additional 9 credits:

  • 3 credits in military science
  • 1 credit in ethics
  • 1 credit in first aid
  • 1 credit in marksmanship
  • 3 credits in physical conditioning.

So from just going to basic training, attending Infantryman AIT, and working as an 11B Squad Leader, that one MOS is worth 23 total credits.

To illustrate the value of these credits, 23 credits translate into avoiding having to take 7 three-credit classes just for the credits. If you have multiple MOSs, as many do, you could earn even more credits.

If you served after October 1, 1990, (except for the Coast Guard) you can get a transcript of your credits by sending a request to the Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET) program. Also, all school counselors have the ACE references, so if you served in the Coast Guard or before October 1, 1990, you can get credit conversions at your school by just bringing in your MOS and training course completion documentation from you Military Record. If you no longer have a copy of your military record, you can request a copy from the National Archives.


Using the DANTES program is another great way to get credits awarded. Under this program, servicemembers and veterans can take end-of-course college exams. The exams are usually for introductory-type classes – the type you would take in your first or second year of college.

As you pass a test, you are credited for the class the same as if you had sat through it and taken the exam. The biggest benefit of DANTES is you get credit for college courses, but you do not have to use up any GI Bill entitlement to get those credits.

There are three different DANTES test categories:

  • College Level Exam Program (CLEP) – Of the three, CLEP tests are the most popular. They have 33 exams in five subject areas. These tests are for courses normally found in a student’s freshman year.
  • Excelsior College Exams (ECE) – If you have healthcare or instructor training and experience from your military service, then ECE tests are a good choice as they focus on teaching and the healthcare fields.
  • DANTES Subject Specialized Tests (DSSTs) – DSST tests (38 in all) were designed with military members in mind as many of the subjects focus on training and experience gained while serving. With some additional studying, most servicemembers can pass the tests, which are similar in nature to a three-credit college final exam.

Most DANTES tests take 90 minutes to complete. With each averaging three credits, you could get 123 credits just from taking the 33 CLEP tests. Add this to your ACE conversion credits and you are well on your way to a degree and have never stepped inside a civilian classroom yet! I think you can see that the power of these two programs is awesome, yet highly under-utilized.

By using ACE and DANTES, not only does it get you into your career quicker, it maximizes your GI Bill benefits; you can use remaining entitlement toward an advanced degree. So fast-track your way to a degree and leave the others in the dust!


Photo thanks to blue_j under creative commons license on Flickr.

2 thoughts on “Fast-Track Your Way to a College Degree”

  1. Most schools I’ve talked to require an official transcript from the Coast Guard, not just a print out or copy of one’s course documentation. At least that was my experience. Fortunately for Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve members, this is an easy process. The Coast Guard Institute in Oklahoma City can provide an official transcript. You need only fill out a form that details your service schools and official training, and they will send you a transcript. It really is that easy. You end up getting credit for all kinds of courses based on formal schools you went to in the military. For example, I seem to recall my transcript reflected credit for SAR School, basic training, several parts of OS “A” school, and so forth. Not all were relevant to me, and that’s one thing to remember — the corresponding courses have to be a part of your major, and not all schools require the same lower level credits. But it’s an easy process to find out what credits you’ve already earned and might not even know about. CGI can even mail the transcript directly to your college if required.

    Look for form CGI-1561 (Application for Transcript), visit your unit’s ESO, or go to

    (Note that the website somewhat implies it’s for Active Duty. Reservists should be aware that the same application form and benefits apply to them as well.)

    LT Dan Trimble

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *