Top 4 College Tips for Military Students

shelves of library books
(Chalon Hutson/DVIDS)

As a faculty member and faculty advisor at a community college with classes on Fort Campbell, Ky., I help students navigate the waters of higher education by helping them figure out which degree they want, choose classes and correct course when they fail. I do this for an ever-changing batch of about 130 students, most of whom are military, prior military or military family members.

My work in this field has taught me a few things that every college student with a military connection should know. Here are my top four tips:

  1. Some classes are most easily taken in-class. Online learning may be popular, but there are some classes that don’t work out very well online -- science classes with lab work or public speaking, for example. Get those classes knocked out at your earliest opportunity. If you have to move, you may be able to finish with your current school by taking online classes, but it may be a lot harder if you haven’t yet taken your public speaking class.
  2. Test out! If you’re trying to get through a degree as soon as possible (and lock it in before your next move), be sure to ask about what test-out options you have. Often you can challenge a final exam or take a CLEP test in a specific subject. While you would have to study for these exams, you may be able to pick up a few credits in less time than taking the class. For example, I took biology in high school. With just a few hours studying in the library, I was able to test out of college biology. Sweet! Maybe you speak Spanish or feel confident about your writing skills. Put that knowledge to good use!
  3. You CAN challenge those transfer credits. Nearly every student I advise has transcripts from other colleges. If you see that a class has been marked as elective credit, don’t give up!
  4. If the class is in a specific subject area, the registrar might not have had enough information to evaluate the class. Contact one of the instructors in that subject area and find out what information is needed to convince the school that your class should count as a specific class. You might need to provide a course description or syllabus.
  5. Suppose you took a class in the Physics of Rollercoasters. That would be awesome until you get to a new school at the new duty station. The new school probably doesn’t have the same class and so they will mark the class you took as an elective. You might be a little upset because the class you took was a good, solid science class and now it isn’t being recognized. Don’t fret. There is always someone who can make an exception. Usually, this person is your advisor or the coordinator for the program you are studying. Find out who has the power at your school to count your class toward your required science classes.
  6. Sometimes mistakes happen. Never be afraid to ask.
  7. Be careful to find a good school. Yes, your school choice matters. Colleges are allowed to operate because they pass accreditation. The problem is that not all accrediting organizations are created equally. What you are looking for is a school that has been "regionally accredited." If you go to a school that is not regionally accredited, then you will face long-term problems with transferring classes. There are six regional accrediting bodies in the US and you can find them listed online.

Good luck with your educational goals!

Kristen Lancaster is an army spouse and worked as a Computer & Information Technologies Instructor at Hopkinsville Community College's Fort Campbell campus and hopes to achieve the rank of Assistant Professor this year.

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