Get College Credit for Prior Learning & Life Experience

Get College Credit for Prior Learning & Life Experience

What if I told you that there were ways you could save thousands of dollars and cut down on hours of classroom time while finishing your degree program?

Although it can take some extra work and dedication to make this happen, getting on the fast-track to graduation and lowering your overall tuition bill is entirely possible.

How to Get College Credit for Prior Learning

By earning credit for prior learning, you can cut down on the classes that you are required to sit through in order to finish your degree, and hundreds of colleges and universities across the country offer a variety of options to make this a reality for their students.

Online Colleges Awarding College Credit for Life Experience / Credit for Prior Learning

Credit for Prior Learning includes any college credit given for activities outside the classroom, whether it is awarding credit for passing a multiple-choice CLEP exam (discussed below) or submitting a portfolio of your work experience to be reviewed for possible college credit.

  • Prior Learning Assessment – Get up to 30 college credits through this method. Each university has its own policy for assessing and granting prior learning credits / life experience credits. Most universities ask you to submit a portfolio detailing relevant work experience, certifications, military training, or formal training. Check with your target university to see how they assess credit for prior learning.
  • Credit by Exam – Get up to 30 college credits through this method. CLEP exams and DSST exams are the most common. Some universities also offer their own institutional challenge exams for specific courses.

The universities listed below award college credit for prior learning, as well as credit by exam.


College Credit for Life Experience and Prior Learning

Exams Accepted for Credit

Purdue University – Global
  • Awards credit for eligible work and life experiences. Will also assess military training for possible credit. You may also get credit for certain professional certifications or training.
  • Offers 6-week online classes
  • CLEP
  • DSST
  • AP
  • IB
  • DLPT
American Intercontinental University
  • Offers experiential learning portfolios and other opportunities to help you earn college credit for prior experience and training at work or in the military.
  • Offers 5-week online classes
  • CLEP
  • DSST
  • AP
Ashford University
  • Offers a number of ways to receive credit for prior learning: prior learning assessment documentation, national credit recommendation, military training, nationally evaluated courses transfer partnership, and Berlitz language evaluation.
  • Offers 5-week online classes
  • CLEP
  • DSST
  • AP
  • IB
Colorado State University
  • Will assess military coursework and training for possible college credit.
  • Offers 8-week online classes
  • CLEP
  • DSST
  • AP
  • IB
Liberty University
  • Offers opportunities to earn credit for prior learning via portfolio, professional training, certain licenses, and military training. In addition, credit may be awarded directly for certain types of job training, based on a precedent already established at the university, including:  aviation, law enforcement, insurance, real estate, and EMT.
  • Offers 8-week online classes
  • CLEP
  • DSST
  • ECE
  • Institutional Exams
  • Technical Training Assessments
  • University of Cambridge International Exams
Saint Leo University
  • Offers Prior Learning Assessment portfolio option.
  • Offers online classes
  • CLEP
  • DSST
  • AP
  • ECE

Each university has its own credit for prior learning policies. Be sure to verify the policies of your target university to see exactly what they require to award credit for your life experience, work experience, certifications, and other prior learning.

What is College Credit for Prior Learning?

When researching credit for prior learning, the information can seem overwhelming… and often confusing! That’s because this broad term covers a wide variety of different options for turning your life experience into college credit or advanced degree placement.

Your school may also refer to it under a different name, such as experiential learning or alternative credit. Whatever it is called, however, credit for prior learning boils down to one thing – taking your prior education, career, military, or life experience and translating that into credit towards specific classes in your degree that lessen the expense and duration of your program.

The first step towards figuring out how you can make these educational programs work for you is by getting in touch with your college admissions team. The transfer and advising departments of your university are a good place to start, and they can guide you in the right direction. To give you a better idea of what to expect when talking with your advisors, in the following sections I will cover some of the most common options available to earn credit for prior learning.

Testing Out of College Classes

If your college offers credit for prior learning, chances are that “testing out” of your courses is one of the options that you can consider. There are several different nationwide exams that you can take to demonstrate your mastery of a subject. After you’ve successfully completed your exam, you can present it to your school and request credit for the equivalent course. Most schools have a limit on the number of credits that you can receive through examination, so be sure that you thoroughly understand the policies before spending time and money on taking these exams!

College Level Examination Program (CLEP) Credit

The College Level Examination Program, commonly called CLEP, is the most widely accepted exam for earning credit from prior learning. Over 2,900 colleges and universities across the country accept CLEP credits, and all of the exams are reviewed and accepted by ACE Credit – the premier standard for earning credit for prior learning.

CLEP offers 33 different examinations covering a wide range of course subjects, and each test will cost you around $80. This fee is not refundable if you fail to pass the test, but it is still worth the expense if it results in saving you hundreds of dollars in taking an on-campus course!

DSST Credit

Another exam that is popular for earning credit by examination is known as DSST. Although similar to the CLEP, there are certain facts that can be helpful to know before taking this test, including:

  • Exams are accepted at over 1,900 higher education institutions
  • There are 30+ DSST exams – all of which are recommended by ACE Credit
  • Exam fee starts at $80, although additional testing center fees may apply
  • Each test covers 100 questions and you are given two hours to complete the exam

A unique feature of the DSST is their support of veterans and military members trying to advance their education. If you have been in the armed services, your first-attempt test is fully funded by the DSST program!

Excelsior College Exams (ECE)

The Excelsior College Exams are another option for earning credit by examination, although they are not as widely accepted as the DSST or CLEP. It is always a good idea to check with your specific school before registering for this test to see if they are a participating university.

The ECE offer a broader range of subjects than other nationwide exam programs, and you can test on over 50 different college-level topics. The cost of this test is also a bit higher at $110, but there are options available for payment plans and purchasing combination packages to save money when registering for your tests.

University Challenge Exams

Challenge exams (also known as Institutional Exams) are a unique way for you to progress through your degree program at a quicker pace. These are not nationwide programs – instead, they are tests offered by specific colleges that are open to their student body as a way to earn credit for prior knowledge.

The structure of these tests is often similar to the final exams of the corresponding college course, and they are designed to allow you to show your mastery of the subject matter that would be learned throughout the duration of the class. Not every school offers Challenge Exams, but if your school does offer them, they can be a low-cost, convenient option for knocking some time and money off of your degree program.

Advanced Placement and Dual Credit Options

Are you a high school student that wants to get a head start on your degree? Or maybe you’ve looked through your degree course descriptions and feel like you already know the material? Then there are several options available for you get dual credit or advanced placement in order to get through college faster!

The most common options offered by colleges and universities include:

  • Advanced Placement (AP) Programs: AP credit can be earned by taking an examination and achieving a score of three or higher. If you pass the exam, your school may offer credit towards your degree program or give you advanced standing so you can skip-over some of the general courses – shortening your degree timeframe!
  • Dual Credit Options: This option is open to high school students that want to earn college credit while completing their high school graduation requirements. By taking college-level courses at your high school, you will earn credit that will appear on a transcript that you can submit to your future college.
  • International Baccalaureate (IB): Another option for high schoolers to earn credit before graduation is through the IB Diploma Program. During your junior and senior year, you can complete a rigorous course of study that translates into credit accepted at recognized colleges around the world.

Like other credit for prior learning options, each college and university has their own set of regulations for the number and type of credit they will accept. Choosing to get started on your degree program while still in high school is an excellent way for driven students to fast-track their future education, but it is important to do your research before deciding on the route that is best for you.

Credit for Life Experience

Education is not a one-size-fits-all journey, and if you’re anything like me, you know that valuable skills and knowledge can be gained through life and job experience in addition to sitting through college classes!

There are many ways that we learn skills throughout life – from traveling and acquiring new languages to military service or on-the-job training experience. If you feel that your journey has taught you the same set of skills found in general degree classes, then exploring your options for getting credit for life experience is worth looking into!

Credit for Prior Learning Portfolio

If you’d like to earn college credit without taking exams, you can try and showcase your knowledge of specific subject areas to your school through what is called a credit for prior learning portfolio. Think of this portfolio as an abbreviated snapshot of all of the training, certifications, and specialty skills you’ve picked up along the way.

Each school has their own process for submitting a portfolio, but here are some basic steps to get you started:

  • Evaluate the course descriptions of your classes to determine which courses you would like to receive credit for with a portfolio.
  • Meet with your academic advisor to get a full understanding of your school’s policies
  • Gather all required documentation to meet your college’s portfolio requirements
  • Submit your portfolio for review, and pay the required fees outlined by your school

As with other credit for prior learning options, there is no set standard for what your college is required to accept as credit towards your degree program. Some schools may only allow a few credits to be earned through a portfolio, while others may allow you to submit portfolios for multiple courses.

Military Training and Service

Like all Americans, I’ve always had great respect for members of our armed forces, and the skills that you learned throughout your military service are applicable well beyond your job duties. There are several ways that you can turn your military experience into college credit, and a joint services transcript is probably the most common option. This official record of your training is approved by ACE Credit and can be submitted to your school for consideration in earning credit towards a degree.

In addition to a joint services transcript, you also have the option of testing out of classes through examinations such as the DSST and CLEP. You can even get the fee for your first attempt on a DSST exam covered by showing proof of your military service! Another route you can take is to submit a prior learning portfolio to your school that showcases your skills, certification, and training that relates to specific college classes.

Make it happen!

Enrolling in college and earning a degree is a major accomplishment – but that doesn’t mean that you want to spend thousands more on tuition than you have to! By exploring the various options available for earning credit for prior learning, you can take steps towards completing your degree program on a faster timeframe and cut down on the overall expense of your degree program.

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