Can I get credits for previous learning assessments, life and work experiences, and/or job training?
Many non-traditional students enter online programs in a field they already have a good deal of knowledge and familiarity with due to life experience, professional experience, volunteer experience, or military experience,. In some cases, universities recognize this knowledge and award Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) credits. While students must pay to have these credits recognized (at a reduced rate from the cost of coursework), they receive benefits from earning PLA credits such as a reduction in the overall money and time spent earning a degree. PLA credits allow students to bypass redundant coursework and focus on learning new information.
Universities typically limit the number of PLA credits a student can earn. Moreover, PLA credits may not transfer from one institution to another, so if a student begins a program at one college with PLA credits and decides to transfer across the country to another university halfway through, the new college may not recognize those credits and thus the student may need to take the courses in question.
Types of Prior Learning Experience to Get Credits
College and universities recognize and award credit for prior learning experience through a variety of avenues. Some of the most common include:
- Advanced Placement (AP) – Many high schools offer AP courses, allowing high school students to complete advanced coursework, followed by a comprehensive exam. If students achieve a high enough score, they receive credit that typically replaces general education course requirements in college.
- Challenge Exams – Some colleges and programs allow students to “test out” of some coursework (such as prerequisites, or languages) through exams designed to assess prior learning and life experience.
- College Level Examination Program (CLEP) – Similar to challenge exams, CLEP allows students to bypass material they already understand, drawing on knowledge gained in volunteer work, professional work, and self-directed and private study.
- Portfolio-Based Prior Learning Assessments – Students can't readily demonstrate some types of knowledge through standardized tests. Portfolio assessments allow students to showcase knowledge gained in professional experience or private study through a portfolio of their work and experience. Some colleges require students to take a “portfolio gathering” course as part of this option.
- Training-Based Prior Learning Assessments – Students with professional or military backgrounds may have already completed training programs in particular subjects; students can earn prior learning credits for this type of knowledge.
- Veterans Education Transfer Systems (VETS) – Specifically pertaining to veterans, VETS assesses prior learning gained through military experience and training.
Credit for Prior Learning Experience: What to Avoid
Unfortunately, some schools take a student's money without offering much in return in the way of an education. Some less-than-reputable schools might promise students they can earn huge amounts of college credit for life experience, making for a very quick degree program. Unfortunately, these colleges have little concern about whether or not the student actually possesses sufficient knowledge of a subject, resulting in a low-quality program and degree.