January 02, 2008
By Tranette Ledford
How many years have you been out of school? Did you hear the bell ring for the last time a couple of years ago — or a couple of decades ago?
“It’s been six years for me,” said Sandy Stone, an Army wife. “We should stay here in San Antonio for the next couple of years, long enough for me to get a two-year nursing degree under my belt. But I’ll probably be the oldest one in the class.”
No, she won’t. Sandy may be all grown up and out of high school, but like many adult students who return to the classroom, she may be in for a surprise. In fact, she can forget about not fitting in. The average adult student these days is a 30-something woman. According to the Department of Education, a whopping 50 percent of American students enrolled in some kind of formal class are older than 25.
Getting smart starts early
Going to college begins with high school — you have to complete it. Those who did will need their transcripts. Those who didn’t will need to complete a few courses to get that diploma or opt for a GED. Many local school districts offer high school completion classes for adults. Those who go the GED route can check out www.acenet.edu to learn more about how and where to take it.
The next stop, according to Fort Leavenworth Army Education Center counselor Teresa Riggins, should be your installation education office. She explained that most schools located near installations are “military friendly,” meaning they accept veteran’s Montgomery GI Bill payments and have veteran representatives on campus. That also means they’re up-to-date on any special programs and scholarships for military family members. Those who don’t live on or near installations should still look for a military-friendly school and pay a visit to the admission’s office and financial aid office, in that order.
Whether you choose a two-year or four-year degree plan, most will require some basic “freshman” courses. But you might be able to earn credits by testing out of these through the College Level Examination Program or CLEP or DANTES Subject Standardized Tests. These programs allows students to take a test to demonstrate college-level knowledge for undergraduate courses — and skip the course altogether.
According to Collegeboard.com, an online resource for students, there are close to 3,000 colleges that grant credit through CLEP and DANTES exams. The cost for each test is about $65 — usually well below the cost of a course. While service members can take them for free, most military spouses have to pay. The exception — National Guard and Army Reserve spouses.
There was a time when frequent relocations hurt military spouses who were trying to earn college degrees. Every time they moved or transferred, they lost credits for courses they’d completed. But now there’s a way out of that. Spouses who attend school through the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges program can choose from more than 1,800 colleges and universities. The program allows credit transfers between these schools, so students don’t lose credits or have to repeat classes. It’s a great choice for military spouses, since they can continue to move around the country — and continue to stay in school. SOC courses are offered online and in traditional classrooms. There are specific programs for each branch of service, so check out www.soc.aascu.org to find out more.