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By SSG Tonda (Dillivan-Rudoll) Navarrete
Military and Community College Outreach Director at American Military University

Note: This article was originally published at RallyPoint.

How many schools have you attended throughout your academic journey? Have you changed your career and educational goals every time you and your spouse change duty stations?

It is important to decide upon a degree path and stick to it as best as possible. Military life happens and career and educational goals change, but you can’t finish your education if the end goal is a moving target.

All too often, I work with students who have an excessive amount of credits from multiple universities. The amount of coursework completed and the credits earned far exceed the number of credits required for an associate degree or, in some cases, a bachelor’s. But the student has yet to earn any degree. This situation becomes frustrating and is a complete motivation killer for the student.

Studies show that the longer it takes to work through a degree program, the likelihood that a student will drop out increases. In 2014, the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) reported that 81 percent of those who completed their degrees did so in six years or less, whereas 64 percent of those not completing their degrees spent more than six years on their studies.

When I discuss academic goals with a military spouse, veteran, or service member, I often come across an unfortunate scenario: a large number of earned credits that cannot be transferred into a particular program of interest. Schools must carefully review transfer credit to ensure that each credit is a near match with a course in the degree plan.

Here’s how to avoid this problem in your academic journey.

Pick the Right School for Your Needs

Military families regularly find themselves in a new state or country, always integrating into a new community and often relying upon referrals from other people for quality products or services. Students often have little knowledge of the prominent schools in particular areas or the online options available to them. These situations can lead to picking the wrong school for your educational needs.

Finding a school that will work with you to achieve your goals and show you a clearly defined path is relatively painless if you know with whom to connect and where to look. Now that more schools offer quality online programs, it is easier to complete a degree as you move from one duty station to another. It just takes some planning and a school that is willing to work with you to achieve your educational goals.

If You Change Schools, Maximize Your Transfer Credits

The term “student swirlhas gained popularity over the past decade as educators found that many of today’s college students tend to change schools at least once during the pursuit of a degree. In 2015, the National Student Clearinghouse reported that over one-third of college students transfer at least once throughout their academic careers and almost half of those students transfer more than once.

The “student swirl” is an interesting trend as more and more adult learners enter colleges where many students are affiliated with the military. In many cases, it is beneficial for some students to change schools. The trick is to make sure you maximize your transfer credits to a new school without losing your academic credits or to minimize the loss of credits.

Have a Plan

First-time college students should focus on general education courses within the first 33-36 credits of their college venture. General education program requirements usually yield the most transfer credits, compared to the specialized major or minor courses. When you transfer to a new school or degree program, most of your credits will probably be transferable because you completed the general education courses first.

Know Who to See about Your Educational Situation

Many military installations have education centers with resources to help you plan your academic career. If you are unsure of your next move, talk with a guidance counselor at the education center. He or she should have good advice on what schools best suit your needs.

School admission representatives and counselors at the university are able to assist you with your transfer credit questions either at the point of admission or through the transfer credit process. If you are not happy with the information and assistance you are receiving, contact AMU’s transfer credit department at creditaward@apus.edu. They will provide you with a road map of how your previously earned credits can be applied toward your program of interest.

Get the information you need before you apply for admission. Many schools offer a courtesy review of your prior credits and non-traditional credits, so you’ll have a good idea of what to expect regarding your credits should you decide to transfer. If the school cannot provide this information or if their application of your transfer credit is unacceptable, it may be best to find another option.

Ask Yourself the Right Questions

Before you go through the transfer credit process, it’s helpful to analyze your situation and think hard about your academic goals. Here are some questions to consider during that self-analysis:

What degree is best suited for me and how can I maximize my transfer credits?

If you have a lot of credits beyond general education courses, you have what I call “potluck” credit. You may have some credits in criminal justice, some in IT and even some in emergency management. How do all of these courses translate into a degree? Select a program with a lot of room for elective credit to maximize the number of previous credits that you can apply toward a degree.

Are my credits from a nationally- or regionally- accredited school and what type of credit does this school accept?

College credit comes in many forms: regional, national, and non-traditional credit such as standardized test (CLEP, for example) and American Council on Education (ACE) Recommended Credits. Schools treat various types of credits differently. Find out how the school you’re considering will treat each type of credit that you have.

Is there credit for prior learning?

Many schools work with you to evaluate your past experience and help you build a portfolio for potential academic credit. Determine if the school you are considering accepts prior learning credit and discuss the process with them in detail.

Are there any internal institutional policies that apply to me?

Service members and veterans may have military training that is directly relevant to a program offered by the school based on ACE-recommended credit. Look for schools that offer programs and internal policies that accept military training and directly apply that credit toward a degree program.

By doing your research, picking the right school and being savvy about where to transfer your credits, your credit transfer experience will become smoother. You may even make your academic journey shorter by converting your work experience into academic credit.

Benefits of Transferring Your Credit

Transferring academic credit has several benefits. You may save on time and educational expenses. There is also the satisfaction of knowing that your degree is finally complete as you start your next career. If you have any additional questions about transfer credit, contact an admissions representative at info@apus.edu.

About the Author

Tonda Navarrete is the Director, Central Region, of American Public University System’s Military and Community College Outreach. Prior to working for APUS, Tonda was a communications specialist for the United States Army. In 2016, she earned an M.B.A. in business administration and marketing from American Military University.

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by Bradley Hood
In Military Education Contributor

During my time at American Military University, I encountered a number of individuals who managed to complete classes while deployed. Since I have not deployed myself (despite being in service since 2008), I cannot yet speak from experience on how feasible it is, though I would imagine it depends significantly on the individual circumstance.