Editor’s note: The following article was contributed by Marine Corps Community Services. The content may be edited for clarity, style and length. Find more at http://www.usmc-mccs.org/.

Getting a degree while on active duty could be easier than you think.

Your military training is likely worth academic credit, so you’re already ahead of the game! And through the military’s Voluntary Education program, you can get tuition assistance, or TA, to cover the cost of your classes, within certain limits.

Here’s what you need to do to get started:

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  • Get your Joint Service Transcript and check to make sure it reflects all of your training and education.
  • Contact an education services officer at your installation. He or she will assist in figuring out how many credits you can get for your military training and selecting a college and degree program.
  • Choose a degree program and college. Decide whether you want to go to school in-person or through distance learning.
  • Submit a student agreement to the college and a request for TA to the installation education center.
  • Start taking classes, and also consider credit-by-exam programs such as those offered through CLEP and DANTES.

That’s only the very beginning, though. Whether you’re serving for two months or 20 years, there are a few best practices to follow for the duration of your active duty education.

Get familiar with your education center. Many units require service members to go to the installation education center as part of their check-in process. Rather than simply getting a signature on a check-in sheet, print out a copy of your JST and sit down with an education services officer to discuss your education goals. Even if you have no desire to go to college, it is always good to find out how many college credits you have and what degree options are available.

Keep a record. Every service member should keep their education-related documents ― such as school applications, transcripts, TA paperwork, written work, JSTs, course certificates, etc. ― in a safe place. It is never too early to start tracking work and college credits. And you should go to the installation education center at least once a year so that your JST can be verified and updated. That way you’ll know you’re getting all the credit you deserve.

Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask if a course has been evaluated for credit by the American Council on Education (ACE) and how many credits it is worth. If you’re currently enrolled in a college or university, consult academic counselors or registrars to figure out what transfer credits that school will accept.

Do the research. Look online to see what schools and degree plans are covered by tuition assistance. Doing so prior to meeting with an education services officer will help you figure out what questions to ask.