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Build your Career Path to Success

Michele Spires, Director, Military Programs, American Council on Education 

Josh Gage, Director, Human Capital & Strategy, Vantage Point Consulting 


Are you ready to pursue a degree, credential or license? Are you looking for resources you can trust? Are you wondering how to leverage your military education and training?  What is your long-term career goal?  What education and professional development investments do you need to be employable and competitive in the civilian job market?  


The Challenge of Transition 

Managing your transition from active duty to veteran status is complex! You’ve probably been pointed to a variety of websites designed to help you through these decisions and get connected to all the various resources available.  But even with all those websites and resources available, it can still be hard to solidify your choices.  


“Is it just me or does it seem like TONS of people are trying to help active duty military and veterans with transition help, benefits, schools, jobs search/placement, etc.? As a veteran, the current environment seems completely disjointed and unorganized. It “feels” like EVERYONE is trying to help, but I still have ZERO clue where to start. I wish there was one website or service that enables a military member or veteran to “search” for what they want/need.” [Anonymous LinkedIn Quote from a Veteran]


Does that experience sound familiar?  Are you trying to navigate through all the information you need to make these very important personal and professional decisions? Don’t give up hope! 

If you are reading this journal and article, you probably already recognize the importance of continuing to build upon the knowledge, skills and abilities you gained in the military by pursuing additional education and professional development opportunities.  Perhaps you even have a future job or career goal in mind that you plan to pursue.  Maybe you are already working in a post-military career field and wanting to learn more so you can continue to grow yourself professionally.  Or maybe you are like so many (sometimes myself included) and continue to find yourself asking, “what do I want to be when I grow up?”.

Finding the Tools to Trust
Career Path DECIDE
(available at is a career and education advisement capability that brings all of this critical information together in a very seamless, understandable, and useful way.  Career Path DECIDE was designed and built for the Department of Defense (DoD), Voluntary Education Program to provide Service members, Veterans, and family members with access to the critical information needed to identify long-term career objectives and help them pursue high-quality education and training opportunities to obtain the knowledge and skills needed to prepare and succeed in a given career field. 


Instead of locating and visiting numerous websites, Career Path DECIDE aligns these resources into a personalized, easy to understand, and streamlined career-wise education advisement experience.  


Let’s explore these areas:

  • Understanding Yourself and Your Options
  • The Power of Your Military Transcripts 
  • Expanding and Narrowing Your Options
  • Choosing a Career and Program of Study
  • Transferring Credit for an Academic Credential
  • Building and Implementing an Actionable Plan

Understanding Yourself and Your Options

Exploring your work values, interests, existing skills, and even your personal lifestyle aspirations is an important part of the process to understanding yourself and options as you explore career paths that match up with your personal and professional goals. Career Path DECIDE allows you to get started with this in a matter of just a few minutes, or even seconds, by using a new feature where you can upload your Joint Services Transcript (JST) to quickly capture and automate input of all of the skills you gained through your military training and work experience.  Additional assessments provide you with the ability to gain a holistic view of your options, including a new lifestyle assessment where you can identify preferred geographic locations, personal goals such as owning a home, having children, and other important quality of life factors. This information and data are designed to provide you with personalized insight to understand where you are, where you want to be, and used to guide and inform your career exploration and planning.  


The Power of Your Military Transcripts

Did you know that your military transcripts provide documented evidence of your professional military education and training and occupation experiences? It’s important that you audit your military transcripts for accuracy and understand the details of this specialized tool. This critical step of auditing supports your research of degree programs, job pathways, certificates or professional licenses for alignment. It is also an important action in determining potential gaps that you will have to mitigate in order to meet your goals. 


Your official military transcripts:

  • Provide a description of military schooling and work history in civilian language.
  • Display degrees; apprenticeships via the United Services Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP); and certifications/licensure and tuition assistance courses (past or current) for Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard Joint Service Transcripts.
  • Serve as an advising tool as you work with academic and career counselors.
  • Facilitate the preparation of your resume and explain military work experience to civilian employers.

The Joint Services Transcript (JST)

The JST ( is a document that no service member or veteran should be without. The unified transcript resolved several redundancies and allows all stakeholders (military affiliated students, academic institutions, government agencies) to concentrate on one transcript that have the same look and feel for the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard. 


Similar to standard college transcripts, the document lists all courses and occupations completed by you as a professional military learner. Many of the occupations and training courses have been evaluated by the American Council on Education (ACE) to include descriptions, academic subjects and the corresponding number of recommended college credits in semester hours. The JST is owned and managed by your respective branch of service. ACE provides quality assurance audits and provides the evaluation data to the services, but does not own student records and cannot make changes. ACE credit recommendations are recognized and considered by many regionally accredited colleges and universities throughout the United States. The benefits of JST include an increased return on investment, uniformity and centralization and the alignment of service-specific information. To use your JST: 


Log on to the JST website at

  • If you are unable to access your JST account, email

To support the recommendations on your JST, the Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services (the Military Guide) is your go-to tool! The Military Guide ( contains expanded details for the ACE credit recommendations for formal courses and occupations and is a valuable resource to use synchronously with your JST.


Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) Transcripts

The Air Force continues to utilize the transcript services from the CCAF ( for their enlisted personnel. ACE does not evaluate any Air Force courses that are directly aligned with CCAF. The program model combines the technical education offered by Air Force schools, a core of general education from regionally accredited civilian institutions of higher education, and management education from Air Force or civilian sources. CCAF is regionally accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. If you completed enlisted Air Force training after 1972, you will need to request your CCAF.


Expanding and Narrowing Your Options

While career exploration tools that match an individual to a list of possible jobs have been around for a while, one of the biggest complaints routinely heard from service members and veterans is “Why in the world am I being matched to that job?” or “Why does that relate to my experience or interests?” Career Path DECIDE designers engaged actual service members and veterans to assist in detailing what you need to know and see in order to provide the best understanding of  how your experience and skillsets apply, as well as what gaps exist for a given career field. This provides you with prioritized and actionable steps you can pursue to build your qualifications and prepare for that next career.


To inform and narrow your options, Career Path DECIDE provides you with a “Netflix-like” experience where you can explore your options based on a variety of preferences, such as high-growth careers, careers that match your current skills, interests, or preferred locations.  Another unique capability in Career Path DECIDE, is the inclusion of industry-specific “Connected Pathways” that provides a detailed career progression from entry to senior level occupations within a given career field.  


These career pathways include both professional and technical trade careers in high growth areas like information technology, cybersecurity, health care, financial services, transportation, manufacturing, construction, and the energy sector.  Understanding your options and narrowing your career choices is further enabled through dynamic salary and job market demand data that is displayed in an interactive heat map providing even more information to enable informed career decisions.


Choosing a Career and Program of Study
Once you have narrowed your choices, the next and very important step is to identify what investments you need to make in terms of education and professional development to close the gap between what knowledge and skills you have and what future employers will require.  Whether you are choosing a degree and major, thinking about a professional certification, searching for a job, or applying to grad schools, it is very important to base those decisions on a deliberate and career-wise approach to put in place a program of study designed to help you achieve all of the knowledge, skills, and abilities that will make you not only employable but competitive.  Career Path DECIDE identifies what types of academic degrees or  professional certifications are needed and in demand and includes specialized licensure or certification requirements that might apply to an occupation you are considering to ensure you develop a complete program of study to support your long term career goals.  

Transferring Credit for an Academic Credential

Acceptance of recommended transfer credit is determined by the receiving institution. When the college or university determines whether and how much credit to apply to your individual record, that credit will then appear on your college/university transcript. Typically, grades are not included with the transfer process, so they are not factored in as part of the grade point average (GPA).


Academic institutions establish their own transfer credit policies and procedures. It is recommended that you immediately identify and locate these policies to help you understand the process and set a plan for making the most of your credit recommendations. When you research these policies, you will want to comprehend the details listed in the institution’s catalog or bulletin. Often, the transfer policies will be general in nature. As you continue to research transfer information, look for more specific requirements for credit being transferred from another accredited academic institution, the military, professional training, or testing. Many institutions also post their transfer policies on the institutional web site. You may want to search for keywords such as transfer credit; military transfer credit, or transfer policies.


There are a number of factors that affect transfer of military credit, such as institutional policy, alignment with appropriate courses, procedures, requirements, and transfer application deadlines. Here’s a quick checklist to help you facilitate your transfer credit experience:


  • Research and identify an academic institution that meets your individual needs. You may want to select an institution and academic programs that have policies to maximize your nontraditional learning (military credit, CLEP, DSST, etc.). 
  • Learn, understand, and know your academic institution’s policies and procedures regarding transfer of credit. These practices are established by each institution and will vary. 
  • Audit and review your military transcripts periodically (every six months if on active duty) for updates and modifications.
  • Start the transcript and transfer review process early, with your application to the institution. Have all of your official transcripts from previous colleges and service branches sent to your new school for evaluation before you start taking any classes. Official copies must bear the appropriate institutional signatures, seal and date of issuance. 
  • Speak with your academic adviser. He or she should be able to help you avoid taking classes for which you may receive transfer credit until an official evaluation is completed. Many students waste valuable time and money taking classes that are unnecessary duplications of previous courses, because they signed up before their military and prior college transcripts were completely evaluated.

In preparation for meeting or speaking with your academic adviser, consider these steps:


  • Review your degree plan and identify potential academic courses for transfer. 
  • Consider the level of the credit recommendation and analyze the appropriateness to the degree plan.
  • Identify the comparability of the course in terms of the credit recommendation. For example, how does the content of the institution’s academic course compare to the ACE Military Guide exhibit in terms of the learning outcomes and topics?
  • Take ownership during the transfer process by following up with the transfer, registrar or admissions department. 
  • Monitor your curriculum plan, transfer approvals, and documentation within formal university systems (degree audit).

By compiling and organizing this information, you will be ready to maximize your college credits, as well as have a better idea of the remaining courses you will need for degree completion. 


Building and Implementing an Actionable Plan

One challenge is hyper focusing on a single angle of a plan. It’s equally important to put in place a complete view of the learning and professional development needed to achieve your personal and professional goals.  The final and critically important step of this career-wise education advisement process is to turn all of this into a defined and actionable plan.  


Career Path DECIDE includes a “Build Your Plan” feature where you are guided to lay out what programs of study you need to pursue and achieve towards your chosen career goal.  But it doesn’t stop there, as Career Path DECIDE also helps you find, evaluate, and connect to the learning providers (academic and professional training) that are right for you.  This is where Career Path DECIDE brings together critically important information and learning outcome data to help you choose the right program of study, and make informed decisions concerning where you will enroll, learn, and achieve the knowledge and skills required for to realize your long term goals. 


For more information, contact the American Council on Education or Career Path DECIDE: 


American Council on Education - Military Programs




Career Path DECIDE



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