Thinking about an advanced degree? Think about ACS.
By Staff Sgt. Kailey Good-Hallahan
I graduated with an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in 2019, all thanks to the Advanced Civil Schooling (ACS) program. If you’re an acquisition noncommissioned officer (NCO), then you might also be eligible to pursue an advanced degree in an acquisition- or business-related discipline at a civilian university on a full-time, fully funded basis. But first, you need to get through the application process. Here are a few things I learned from my participation.
PICK YOUR SCHOOL
Submitting a nomination packet for any military program is never without its challenges, and an ACS packet is no exception. The biggest hurdle for 51C NCOs applying to ACS is identifying and gaining acceptance into at least two schools that fit the parameters outlined by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center and the U.S. Army Human Resources Command. The prospective school’s program must be regionally accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, and the degree you’re looking to pursue must be in a business-related field with the course load taken in a physical classroom on a full-time basis. Students must complete the program in 18 months or less at a low- or medium-cost institution. For a low-cost institution, tuition cannot exceed $26,000 per year, or $39,000 total for an 18-month program. For a medium-cost institution, tuition is capped at $43,000 per year, or $64,500 for an 18-month program.
SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION
Each school has its own application requirements in addition to those spelled out in the ACS announcement, and it is vital for applicants to understand that these extra tasks can potentially extend the timeline for preparing an ACS application. For example, unless the school you’re applying to has a graduate admission exam waiver, you should allot time for exam preparation, taking the exam and waiting for schools to receive the scores. You should also consider the time it takes to prepare an application, secure and submit letters of recommendation, write a personal essay and gather any other required documents. Always consult each school’s application requirements for a full list of tasks.
It is important to note that ACS application packets require a letter of acceptance from at least two schools—this means that you must go through the academic application process at least twice before compiling your packet for submission. To build a safety net in the event of non-acceptance, it’s a good idea to apply to more than the minimum of two schools. Building these requirements into your application timeline is crucial since the school application process alone can take three to six months before starting the ACS process. The process of meeting all of the requirements of the schools you’re applying to has to be started long before the ACS application can be submitted. The good news is that after earning acceptance into two schools, the rest of the packet application for ACS is fairly straightforward.
There is a financing requirement that goes along with the application. Some schools, but not all, may waive requirements for standardized test scores and application fees. Thankfully, there are programs currently in place to offset the cost of some components of your applications. The Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support may reimburse the cost of graduate admission exams, and installation military education centers have free study materials for exam preparation. These two benefits alone help decrease the financial strain associated with applying to multiple schools.
Although the application process can seem daunting at times, the experience is worth the effort it takes to get there. For a 51C NCO, ACS is an invaluable opportunity to draw upon a breadth of knowledge from a top-tier civilian university. I knew that pursuing my MBA at a quality business school would not only lead to personal growth, but would also increase my legitimacy as an informed business advisor. Although I found the application process challenging, I also recognized that if we never extend beyond our comfort zone, we will not see what we are truly capable of achieving.
Subscribe to Army AL&T News – the premier online news source for the Army Acquisition Workforce.