If anyone can help active servicemembers get college credit for military experience, it’s Joaquin Cuenca. First, he’s a military enrollment officer at National University, and he helps people get the most from their military service every day. And, back when he was leaving the military, he’d earned enough credit to skip his entire freshman year.
“I started,” he says with a laugh, “as a sophomore.”
More on how he did that in a minute, and it should be pointed out that your results may vary. But there are multiple ways to receive college credit for military experience.
The most important step in maximizing your benefits is choosing the right school. For best results, pick a military-friendly one like National University. How military-friendly is National? Cuenca’s office is right on San Diego’s Naval Air Station North Island.
“It definitely helps servicemembers,” Cuenca says of his convenient location. “They’re able to come in during their lunch break or after or before work.”
Just Get Your JST
When someone comes in to ask about getting college credit for military experience, Cuenca says the first thing they should do is visit the Department of Defense (DoD) online and download a copy of their Joint Service Transcript, the JST. For Air Force personnel, it’s called the CCAF.
“Just log on to the DoD website, download your JST, and then go to an enrollment advisor to have them look at it,” Cuenca says. “There are systems in place here at National to help you take advantage of your military experience. They’re going to see it and reward it.”
National might be the best college for military credit in the country. The staff will examine your transcript for things like training in senior leadership, first aid, or public speaking. Then they’ll accept and transfer credit based on your accomplishments.
“If you’ve trained to speak to hundreds of soldiers, public speaking is not going to help you as a class,” Cuenca says. “And National is great about that.”
Another area where veterans pick up college credit for military experience is information technology, including cybersecurity and data management. If you’ve learned the computer language C++, for example, there’s no reason to take it again on a National campus or as part of an online degree.
“It’s already a learned language,” Cuenca says. “If you have a language and it’s on your JST, you don’t have to take it with us.”
Testing Out of Classes
Cuenca spent 20 years in the military, but in two different branches. He entered the Air Force at 18, then 10 years later he decided to switch to the Army.
“There’s something about being in the dirt,” he says with a big laugh. “At first, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do.”
But he did know he wanted to go to college, so he began taking classes wherever and whenever he had the chance. Another reason he was also able to start college as a sophomore is taking the CLEP test, the College Level Examination Program.
“I’m one of the biggest promoters of CLEP,” Cuenca says. “I tested all of them. I didn’t pass them all, but I tested every single one of them.”
The first CLEP test in every subject is free for military personnel, so Cuenca strongly encourages anyone who wants to go to college after service to take as many as possible.
The Online Option
Pursuing an online degree is often a good idea for active military personnel. After all, the military sends servicemembers everywhere, so working toward online degrees only make sense. And National is also one of the most military-friendly online colleges in the country.
“While you’re still in service, online classes are perfect,” Cuenca says. “Online classes allow you to fulfill your degree program but also be wherever you need to be for the military. Lots of students take online classes on military bases. I have students all over the world.”
No matter where you’re serving your country, you’re learning a lot in the process. So it only makes sense to gain college credit for doing it. Cuenca is working toward his MBA at National, and it all started while he was in service.
“I get to see people start businesses, become nurses; that’s important to me,” he says. “Essentially, you’re making up for lost time. Folks who went to college when they were 18 are ahead of you, so let’s catch you up. Let’s get you credit for something that you did while you were in service.”
To find out how to get started earning college credits at National University for military service, please visit the military admissions program page.