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Tactical Veteran: Another test that can earn you college credit

Mar. 5, 2014 - 12:10PM   |  
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In my last column, I talked about the College-Level Examination Program tests that can earn you college credit for things you already know.

But if you want to earn credit in a subject for which there is no CLEP test, there’s another nationally recognized option: DSST (formerly DANTES Subject Standardized Tests) exams, designed by the military’s Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support.

Both will earn you college credit without having to sit in the classroom, although there are some differences:

■ CLEP offers 33 exams in five subjects; DSST offers 38 exams in six subjects.

■ CLEP covers introductory-level courses while DSST covers upper- and lower-level baccalaureate courses.

■ CLEP exams are administered at a test center (a college campus), while service members have the option of taking DSST exams online.

DSST is another potentially powerful tool to help you earn a degree, regardless of your situation — single, married, active-duty, reserve component or veteran. You can study on your own schedule and pay little or nothing for the credit you earn.

As a tactical veteran in today’s economy, taking advantage of credit-by-exams while in uniform can give you a big jump on the road to a degree.

Internet-based versions of the DSST were introduced in 2006 at base-sponsored National Test Centers, and all DSST titles are available in that format. Paper-based DSST tests remained available, but are being phased out.

As of Sept. 30, all paper-based DSST exams in the continental U.S. were discontinued. At overseas locations, DSST paper-based exams will end next September.

Just as with any test, you’re not going to breeze in and ace a DSST (or a CLEP) exam without studying. And if you don’t prepare, it could cost you some cash.

DANTES will pay the initial test fee for eligible military and civilian examinees at NTCs that administer the Internet-based DSST tests. But DANTES will not pay for retesting of a previously funded DSST exam. So if you don’t pass a particular test the first time, you’ll have to pay out of pocket to retake it.

One other note: DANTES does not pay the separate, nonrefundable advance registration fee charged by on-campus NTCs to reserve a date and time for testing, so you’ll have to cover that cost, which ranges from $15 to $25 per test.

So prepare yourself before taking any DSST or CLEP test by setting aside time to study. You can get more resources and information to help you prepare from your local college campus test center or base education office.

You can find the nearest campus test centers and base education officers at http://clep.collegeboard.org/searchtest-centers and www.dantes.doded.mil/Resources/EdCenters.aspx.

More information on DSST is available on the DANTES website: www.dantes.doded.mil. On the left side of the page, look for “Programs,” then click “Exams,” then scroll down and click “DSST.”

Taking these exams is a great way to get your boots wet with college courses, as well as to save your GI Bill money for when you get deeper into your studies.

Finally, a great tip from a reader to help you get started: Go online to www.nelnetsolutions.com/dod/ to find an array of free practice exams to help you prepare for the real CLEP or DSST tests. That Web page also has some other potentially useful educational tools.

Steven Maieli is the founder of TransitioningVeteran.com, which highlights links to federal, state, for-profit and nonprofit veterans benefits and other resources. He also writes a blog on transitioning veterans’ issues at www.transitioningveteran.com/wordpress. His email address is tacticalveteran@militarytimes.com.

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