Tests Offer College Credit During Military Service

CLEP and DSST exams cover a variety of subjects, such as computing and information technology, world languages and calculus. (MIVPIV/GETTY IMAGES) Kelly Mae Ross, US News

Members of the armed forces can earn college credit for knowledge gained in high school, during military training or though independent study by taking a standardized test to prove proficiency in a particular subject.


The credit gained through these exams can expedite a service member's path to a degree, experts say, and help them maximize their GI Bill benefits by knocking out general education requirements or other college courses.

Joey Scott, a veteran and recent college graduate, took enough of these tests during his seven years in the Army to be able to transfer 21 credit hours to the University of Memphis, where he enrolled after leaving the service. Scott says the tests are "the best kept secret in the Army."

Two of these prior learning assessment programs are the College-Level Examination Program, or CLEP, and DSST. Each offers exams in more than 30 subject areas, and while there is some overlap, each program has distinct exam offerings, too.

The tests are available to anyone – military or civilian – but the Department of Defense will pay for active-duty service members to take CLEP and DSST exams, which cost around $80 each. This includes National Guard and Reserve component members.

The exam and administration fees are covered if an active-duty service member takes one of them on a military base – either in the U.S. or overseas – or at another site designated as a fully funded test center. DOD will pay for one attempt per test per service member, according to the tests' websites.

Not all colleges and universities award credit for these assessments, says Susan Sine, Army education services officer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. Each school has its own policies, which service members can research online via a tool on the CLEP website, and through a similar tool for DSST policies on that program's website.

More than 2,900 colleges and universities award credit for CLEP tests, according to the College Board, which owns the tests. Some 1,900 schools give credit for DSST exams, according to the DSST website.

James Schmeling, executive vice president at Student Veterans of America, a nonprofit, says the CLEP and DSST exams do not evaluate a person's military experience so much as their prior academic studies. However, he says, some types of military training can give service members a boost on certain tests.

For example, Schmeling says: "Somebody who's a public affairs officer who's getting training in English and written communication and oral communication may find some usefulness in those for the English CLEP."

CLEP exams last around 90 minutes each and contain mainly multiple-choice questions, according to the program's website. The DSST is similar, with each multiple-choice exam lasting for two hours.

Between 2012-2016, nearly 275,000 CLEP tests were taken by military-funded test-takers, which include active-duty personnel as well as some military spouses and civilian employees, according to the College Board.

Approximately 213,000 DSST exams have been given to military-funded test-takers since 2012, according to Prometric, which owns the DSST program.

Mark Brown, a Navy veteran and recent college graduate who earned credit for three CLEP exams, recommends that service members look at the military pass rates for the different exams – available on the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, or DANTES, website – to help determine which ones they have the best chance of scoring well on.

In fiscal year 2016, the CLEP exam with the highest military pass rate – 85.7 percent – was the Spanish language test. The DSST exam with the highest pass rate during the same period was Principles of Supervision, which 95.6 percent of military test-takers passed.

There are CLEP and DSST study materials available online for free to members of the military. Libraries located on base will also have study materials, says Sine.

Another benefit of these tests for some service members is that they can help them earn promotion points – Scott says that's why he started taking them in the first place.

In part from the credits he earned through CLEP and DSST tests, Scott completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Memphis in one year and will be starting law school there in August. He says earning credits through testing helped him maximize his education benefits as a veteran.

"I can get all but one semester of law school paid for by the GI Bill because of CLEP tests," he says.

Ki Monique
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Ki is an actress, tv personality, and reporter. She has many hobbies and talents. Her father is a retired military veteran.