College Credit for Military Service & Experience

Photo by Sgt. Scott Schmidt

Active-Duty and Veterans can receive college credit for military service and save time and money at the same time. Many colleges and universities provide military transfer credit for military experience via participation through ACE (American Council on Education). ACE collaborates with the Department of Defense (DoD) to extensively review military training and experiences in order to recommend appropriate course credit to member schools. ACE then works extensively with these member institutions to educate them on translating prior military learning experiences into college credit.

Receiving college credit for military service is a great benefit but the amount of credit received can often fall below expectations. There are many factors that can contribute to this but here are the most common:

  • The desired area of study or program is different than their MOC (Military Occupation Code).
  • Military experience or training is determined to be duplicate and applied to the same transfer credit recommendation.
  • Most ACE credits typically only apply to lower level, free elective coursework such as associates degree level classes.
  • Typically very few credits apply toward core requirement, upper level course work.
  • The institution’s transfer credit policies are not transparent.
  • Ultimately colleges determine the military college credits they will accept and how they will be applied to a specific degree.
  • Colleges don’t always follow the ACE recommendations or they may interpret them differently from one school to the next.

How to maximize military service for college transfer credits

  • Review your military transcript and ACE recommendations for courses and occupations.
  • Seek a degree that is aligned closely with your MOC.
  • Determine the school’s policy on accepting military college credits. Admissions counselors or college websites typically can provide this information.
  • Seek out schools that have good veterans programs or determine how military friendly your choices are.
  • Speak to several schools. Colleges interpret military training credits differently and can apply credits differently for the same degree program and military experience. The decisions may be very different!
  • Appeal any adverse decisions on military transfer credits. Successful appeals do happen.
  • Don’t enroll before the school determines your military transfer credits.

Service members or Veterans should request a military transcript as a first step.

Military Education and Experience Systems (includes Guard & Reserves by branch):

  • Air Force – The Community College of the Air Force (CCAF)
  • Army – AARTS System
  • Coast Guard – The Coast Guard Institute (CGI)
  • Marines – SMART System
  • Navy – SMART System

Veterans can access these systems unless they are not eligible. If the Veteran is not eligible they should complete the DD-295 and provide their DD-214 Discharge Document in order to receive college credit for military service.

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Online Military Friendly Colleges

A list of top online military friendly colleges for active-duty, veterans, military spouses and dependents. Online degree programs provide flexibility with lifestyle and location which can be very important to active-duty, reserves or veterans they look to make a career transition. Military spouses can benefit while juggling family and re-assignments to new locations.

This list is comprised of online schools that meet our criteria.

Note: These online schools are not endorsed by any U.S. government entity including the U.S. Armed Forces or Department of Veteran Affairs.  This list is in alphabetical order and not intended to be a ranking.

Top Online Military Friendly Colleges


American Sentinel University
Ashworth College
Azusa Pacific Online University
Baker College Online
California InterContinental University
Capella University
Central Michigan University
Colorado State University – Global Campus
Columbia Southern University
Devry University
Everest University Online
Everglades University
Florida Tech University Online
Fortis Online
Grand Canyon University
Grantham University
Herzing University Online
Jones International University
Kaplan University Online
Keiser University
Liberty University
Miller-Motte College Online
Northcentral University
Penn Foster College
Post University
Rasmussen College
Saint Leo University Online
University of Phoenix
Walden University
Western Governors University

Online Military Friendly Colleges Methodology

The Online Military Friendly Colleges list is based on schools meeting at least 3 of the criteria requirements below and offering 100% online degrees. This list is not a ranking, only a list of online colleges that meet the criteria requirements. If there is a school that you feel should be included on this list please contact us and we will add them to the list should they meet at least 3 of the requirements below.

For more information about this criteria see our Military Friendly Colleges Guide.

Criteria (minimum of 3)

  • Provides tuition discounts for veterans, military active-duty, military spouse and/or dependents
  • Provides scholarships for veterans, military active-duty, military spouse and/or dependents
  • Waive the application fee and/or books for veterans, military active-duty, military spouse and/or dependents
  • Change of Order friendly policy for active-duty or reserve military
  • College Level Examinations Program (CLEP) acceptance
  • Accepts Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP)
  • School has veterans and active duty specialized counselors
  • Website contains military and/or veterans specific information
  • Accepts ACE credit for military training and experience
  • Provides military branch specific support
  • Participates in these Programs:
        • DANTES external
        • Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) Program
        • Montgomery GI Bill® – Active Duty (MGIB-AD)
        • Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)
        • Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)
        • Service members Opportunity Colleges Consortium member (SOC)
        • The Post-9/11 GI Bill
        • VA Approved – Participant of Principles of Excellence Program
        • Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
        • Veterans Retraining Assistance Program
        • Yellow Ribbon Schools Program

Military Friendly Colleges Guide

There are many factors that go into finding the right Military Friendly College for Veterans, Active-duty service members, Reservists, Guardsmen, spouses and dependents of disabled or deceased veterans in any of the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.  Many colleges and universities promote being a Military Friendly College despite offering little to no benefits beyond the government funded support programs such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill® or MyCAA program.

Below is a Military Friendly Colleges Guide with factors to consider when selecting a Military Friendly or Inclusive College.

Does your College have these Military Friendly Benefits?

ACE (American Council on Education) – Institutions that participate in ACE are experienced at translating prior military learning experiences into college credit.   ACE collaborates with the DoD to review military training and experiences in order to recommend appropriate college credit.  Additionally, ACE will provide recommendations for formal courses and occupations based on an individual’s military training and experience.  Gaining college credit for military experience can help save hundreds or thousands of dollars in tuition costs.

DANTES External (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support) – DANTES provides education alternatives to service members who cannot attend classes or schools due to work schedules or duty locations that do not permit class attendance.  High school, college, technical, or vocational courses are all available via methods such as textbooks, video, audio tapes, internet, email or TV.  Courses can be taken from schools or colleges that are part of DANTES External.

MyCAA (Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts) Member – This program is for Military Spouses and provides up to $4,000 (over 2 years) of Financial Assistance for military spouses who are pursuing a license, certification or Associates degree in a portable career field and occupation.

Post 9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Member – This program allows approved institutions of higher learning and the VA to partially or fully fund tuition and fee expenses that exceed the established thresholds under the Post‐9/11 GI Bill.  See the list of Yellow Ribbon Schools.

SOC (Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges) Membership – SOC functions in cooperation with 15 higher education associations, the Department of Defense, and Active and Reserve Components of the Military Services to expand and improve voluntary postsecondary education opportunities for service members worldwide.  There are thousands of institutional members that are designed to specifically help the military and even if you’re a veteran, having a school on this list can mean they specialize in serving the military with Military Inclusive Benefits.

VA Approved – The Principles of Excellence Program – The Principles of Excellence are guidelines for educational schools and institutions receiving federal military and veterans educational funding.  Participating schools agree to principles and guidelines that provide service members, veterans, spouses, and dependents with the information, support, and protections they deserve.

Montgomery GI Bill – The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) is available for those who enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Active Duty members enroll and pay $100 per month for 12 months; and are then entitled to receive a monthly education benefit once they have completed a minimum service obligation.

Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) – Unemployed Veterans who are 35 to 60 years old may be eligible to receive up to 12 months of free retraining assistance.  4 year colleges do not qualify but schools such as community colleges, technical schools and colleges offering only AA degrees may.  Check with your local school to see if they have programs pre-approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Military Tuition Assistance – This benefit is provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The amount of this benefit can be equal to the difference between the total cost of a college course and the amount of Tuition Assistance that is paid by the military for the course.To be eligible for the Top-Up benefit, the person must be approved for federal Tuition Assistance by a military department and be eligible for MGIB-Active Duty benefits or the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Military Training Credit – Military Training Credit policies vary greatly across colleges.  Some will award for military training courses but not for military occupational specialties.  Compare the colleges to see how well they’ll work with you to get the credit you deserve.

Transfer Credits – You only have 36 months of GI Bill benefits and cannot afford to lose credits and graduate.  If you’re transferring to another school ensure your credits will transfer.  Typically if you stay within schools with the same accrediting body you’ll have the best chance of keeping all your credits.

Military Discounts – This is typically where Military Friendly Colleges truly differentiate themselves from a college that offers military friendly support of government programs to discounts off your education.  Discounts can range from as low as single digit percentages to greater than 50% off.  Some schools offer varying discounts based on degree program, degree seeking level, active military, veteran, reservist, spouses and children.  It’s important to understand your specific needs and find the school that offers the best military discounts as well as meeting all your other needs.  Many times if a school offers these military discounts it will be displayed prominently on a specific military section of their website, if not, ask.

State Veterans Education Benefits – Many states provide additional veterans education benefits. See your specific state and the education benefits that are offered.  State Veterans Affairs Office Directory.

Military Scholarships – Similar to Military Discounts this varies greatly by school.

Free Textbooks & Supplies – Some schools also offer free textbooks and supplies for varying military affiliations.

Military Specific Website Section – Most military friendly schools have a military specific section of the website that details specific benefits related information, news and updates.  They will typically note the programs they are members of such as Yellow Ribbon Schools, SOC or MyCAA, and they will list Military Inclusive Benefits such as tuition discounts, scholarships and free textbooks.

Veteran-Specific Point of Contacts – Veterans receive many special benefits and need specialized contacts that can cut through the red tape and bureaucracy.  Many schools offer advisors specially trained to assist the military and VA benefits.

Housing Options – If you prefer to live among peers or not to be placed in dormitories with students significantly younger than you check on the available housing options for that school.

Veterans Support – Make sure the school is “Military Friendly” to your needs.

Community Support – Look for involvement from service organizations in the area as well as mental health and medical support in the area.

Veterans Voice – Research that the administration listens to and involves Veterans in Veterans programs.

Change of Order Withdrawal – If you’re active duty or may be called to duty check to see that the school has military friendly policy that will make the best of the situation.

Distance Learning and Online Degree Programs – A campus-based learning environment may not fit your needs or your circumstances may change.  Even if attending a campus-based college you may want this option available.  Check with the college on these options and how they fit your specific needs.

Top Military Friendly Colleges and Schools Lists – There are many out there but be careful with solely using these lists.  Many of these lists are comprised of colleges and schools that are paying to market their institution on the website and the criteria used to compile Military Friendly Colleges and Schools can be suspect.

Research the School – A college’s website is designed to put the school in the best light for prospective students. Try researching the school online from reputable websites, search social media sites and read student feedback to get a balanced perspective on the school.

Other factors to consider for attending any college…

  • Graduation Rates
  • Retention Rates
  • Right Program, Degree or Curriculum for your Needs

Choosing the right college is an important decision in anyone’s life.  Be sure to speak to more than one college in order to determine the right college that meets your individual needs.

Related Articles
Military Friendly Membership Lists for Colleges Military Friendly Colleges Guide
College Credit for Military Service & Experience Online Military Friendly Colleges