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Yes, You Can Get a College Degree While Serving as an Active Duty Military Service Member

degree while active duty

Successfully Get a Degree While Active Duty

The situation: You’re an active duty service member who is relocating anywhere from annually to every four years. You want to get a degree while serving, but believe that your current lifestyle won’t allow it. There’s an answer for that and it’s not limited to an online-degree program.

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC)

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) was created in 1972 to provide educational opportunities to service members experiencing trouble completing college degrees due to their frequent moves. SOC functions in cooperation with the Department of Defense (DoD) and active and reserve components of the Military Services to expand and improve voluntary postsecondary education opportunities for service members worldwide.

The SOC Program is a cooperative civilian and military effort designed to link servicemembers to institutions that provide high quality education while 1) maximizing the proper award of academic credit for military training and experience, and alternative testing, and 2) facilitating the transferability of credits, so servicemembers can reach their educational goals and the goals of the Services.

*This post is about the SOC program and what is entailed if you enroll in a SOC member school.*

SOC Before vs. Now

You may be thrown off if you heard of the SOC program before because it used to be separated by Service branch: Army (SOCAD), Navy (SOCNAV), Marines (SOCMAR), and Coast Guard (SOCCOAST). But now it’s consolidated into 2-year and 4-year institutions. You’ll also notice there wasn’t an Air Force SOC branch and that’s because the Air Force has the Community College of The Air Force (CCAF). CCAF is a worldwide multi-campus community college established to meet the educational needs of Air Force enlisted personnel.

*Active Duty Air Force personnel check out the CCAF instead of SOC.

The Value of SOC For Military Students

The program was reshaped in June 2016 and it is now based on Associate Degree Programs & Bachelor Degree Programs. For example, if you hear ‘school X’ is an SOC Member it means that school has at least one degree program that fits the SOC DNS Membership Degree-Level Criteria (see below).

degree while active duty

(Courtesy: Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges)

**The criteria mentioned in the screenshot above will help military students maximize their benefits, and help protect them if they need to relocate or go to another school.

Protecting Students From Deceptive Recruiting Practices

The SOC Program thinks outside of the classroom and realizes that only offering degree programs that fit a military lifestyle isn’t going to guarantee success. There needs to be on-campus support where those involved are accountable for serving military and veterans responsibly.

The Post-secondary Education Complaint System (PECS) was created to protect students against abusive and deceptive recruiting/retention practices by institutions of higher learning. PECS also works to ensure students receive the information, support, and tools they need to make informed decisions about all aspects of their education.

When Duty Calls While You Are Studying

Activation ⁄ Mobilization Support —  If you are in the middle of a semester and are called to active duty, your studies will have to be put on hold. Thankfully there’s support for that at SOC schools.

Assistance includes: A checklist for students currently attending college who were called to active duty; sample letters to college administrators, student loan administrators, and apprenticeship/OJT certifying officials advising them of the student’s activation; and information on the disposition of GI Bill benefits and student loans upon activation. 

Responsibilities of SOC DNS Students

One interesting factor is that the SOC Program doesn’t leave all of the responsibility to the schools. Students must stay on top of their studies, evaluations, and correspondence with their home university in order to stay enrolled.

As a degree-seeking student enrolled in a SOC DNS degree program, you must take the following steps:

  • Request an official evaluation and degree plan from the home college in the form of a SOC DNS Student Agreement and arrange to provide all the necessary documentation of prior learning, including official transcripts from other colleges and universities, and forms such as the Joint Services Transcript (JST) or CCAF Transcript (for Air Force) or DD 214 documenting military experience.
  • Communicate with your home college if you have not received your SOC DNS Student Agreement after you have completed your first six semester hours (9 quarter hours) of study.
  • Retain a personal copy of the SOC DNS Student Agreement signed by the college.
  • Request official approval from your home college before taking courses from other colleges for course substitutions (courses sharing SOC DNS Category Code don’t require prior approval). Once courses are completed, forward transcripts to your home college.
  • While pursuing the degree, forward documentation of additional test scores and military training and occupational experience for credit evaluation to the home college.
  • Track your academic progress after completing courses.
  • Meet the institution’s academic residency and graduation requirements prior to completing the degree.
  • File a graduation request or application with the home college when appropriate.
  • Correspond in writing whenever possible when communicating with a college about course transferability or degree completion requirements.

Is An SOC School/Program Right For You?

Does enrolling in an SOC program sound like a manageable step you can take toward building yourself a bright future? Search for schools with SOC degree programs using this online tool. You’ll be able to search for schools that fit your designated requirements (including different military assistance programs & SOC membership). Make sure to ask admissions personnel which specific degree programs are SOC approved.