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Now is the Time: Achieve Your Success through Preparation and Credit for Prior Learning (CPL)

Douglas Johnson, Program Manager, Military Training and Evaluations Program, Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES)

Michele Spires, Acting Executive Director, Learning Evaluations, American Council on Education (ACE)


How are you prepared?

As you seek to transition into the unknowns of civilian life, access to higher education is critical to compete and keep pace with an ever changing employment environment.  Regardless of whether you’re seeking a degree, credential, certificate or professional license, you must be prepared to identify the education opportunities that will put you on the road to success.  Make no mistake about it, seeking higher education post military service can be an overwhelming and daunting experience. 


Luckily for you, some of the hard work has already been completed through your previous military service.  That’s right, leveraging your experience as it relates to your prior military learning is one of the keys to securing education success.  Throughout this article, we hope to provide “YOU” the “Veteran” with some importance information about the power of leveraging your prior military experience.   Additionally, we want to visit a previously introduced concept called DEL (Determine, Evaluate, Learn), which we hope will continue to help on your educational pathways to success.  

Why is credit for prior learning important to you as a veteran?

Bottom line, credit for prior learning (CPL), or prior learning assessment (PLA), or recognition of learning (RoL) provides you with a head start.  It’s really important to think about how the learning you’ve obtained can support your admissions process, pre-requisite requirements, or be used as transfer credit to meet course equivalents. 

Edwin Duarte, Army veteran and ACE’s 2020 Military Student of the Year, received sixteen ACE-recommended credits based on his military training and experience when he began his program at Norco College. Matthew Morin, Marine and ACE’s 2019 Military Student of the Year, achieved half of his degree by presenting his military CPL. Morin stated, “In reality, in today’s culture you need to have a degree. I think it’s important to have an education no matter what.”   


In reflecting on the value of CPL, let’s also consider these aspects:

  • Saves time: Fewer courses needed to complete your degree / credential requirements.
  • Reduces costs: Reduced number of courses equal lower expenses for tuition, books, and fees.
  • Helps in career planning: Provides a means for competitive advantage in career programs (advancement, commissioning programs, transition) and in your resume portfolio.
  • Creates competitive options: More than 2,300 colleges and universities accept ACE credit recommendations giving you the chance to find the right institution that fits your needs and goals.

We recommend you take three steps and DEL (Determine, Evaluate, Learn)!

  1. Determine your long and short-term goals.
  2. Evaluate your military transcript and other academic and professional credentials.
  3. Learn transfer of credit protocols at the institution(s) and for the programs you wish to attend.

1 – Determine Your Goals

We have seen firsthand the unpredictability of life unfold right in front of our eyes.  Will we ever go back to normal operations?  Your guess is as good as mine!   However, what we do know is that across the United States, more than 100 million working aged adults do not hold a postsecondary credential. Yet, 56 percent of jobs in today’s economy require bachelor’s degrees. Despite the lack of a degree, 36 million adults have college credits who are trying to reskill or upskill in a way that will lead to a career transition, promotion, or other advancement.


2 – Evaluate Your Military Training 

Did you know that your military transcripts provide documented evidence of your professional military education and training and occupation experiences? When evaluating your prior military learning experiences, you should ask yourself two key questions:  First, am I getting maximum education credit for my prior military experience?  Second, am I wasting time and money by taking courses that may have already gained credit recommendation through ACE?     


It is 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 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. 


Like 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: 


To provide crucial support to your JST, you will want to visit the Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services, also known as the ACE Military Guide ( This go-to tool provides civilianized language, terminology, and outcomes to enhance connections from your formal military training and occupation experiences. This will help you leverage your military transcript and prepare you for selecting the right program for you!


Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) Transcripts

The Air Force continues to utilize the transcript services from (CCAF) ( for their enlisted personnel. ACE does not evaluate any Air Force courses that are directly aligned with CCAF. 

It is important to note that any service member from the USA, USMC, USN, USCG that completed Air Force training may be eligible for CCAF transcript. In exchange, any service member from the USAF that completed training from another service may be eligible for a JST. 


3 – Learn Transferring Credit Protocols 

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 several factors that affect transfer of military credit, such as institutional policy, alignment with appropriate courses, procedures, requirements, and transfer application deadlines. Here is a quick list to help you facilitate your transfer credit experience:


  • Connect with veteran services groups or organizations on your campus and within your community for support. Other veterans have learned from their experiences and are willing to share their lessons learned. Hear from their successes as part of your DEL and customize your individual journey. 
  • 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 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 be securely transferred electronically or 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. 


How do you get help?


You are not alone in navigating for next steps. Visit ACE’s online Student Guide for Credit for Prior Learning and when you need additional help, stop and ask!  Simply visit ACE’s Student Resource Center or send an email to  You can also explore the DANTES website to learn more with their upcoming webinars, financial assistance links, and review the resources under Education Programs.


DANTES partners with ACE, an established, trusted leader in higher education, to help veterans succeed by gaining maximum credit for prior military training and occupational experiences. The work includes customizing and modernizing tools, such as the ACE Military Guide, and by promoting the adoption of CPL and digital credentials. This creates a lighter lift for you because we are making military CPL easier for higher education to review, determine and process.  In addition, we are increasing the number of courses and occupations that are reviewed and validated for academic credit recommendations.


To quote John F. Kennedy, “Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which fulfilled can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation. One person can make a difference and everyone should try.”  Success can be achieved through preparedness, prior learning and education!



1.  ACE Names St. Nicholas Burrus and Edwin Duarte Jr. 2020 Students of the Year (

2.  ACE Names St. Nicholas Burrus and Edwin Duarte Jr. 2020 Students of the Year (

3.  ACE Names St. Nicholas Burrus and Edwin Duarte Jr. 2020 Students of the Year (

4.  Some College, No Degree - 2019 - National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (

5.  Student Guide to Credit For Prior Learning (

6.  Student Resource Center (

7.  DANTES - Home Page (

8.  DANTES - Education Programs (