Life Experience Degree – Accredited Colleges Offering College Credit for Life Experience

Life Experience Degree – Accredited Colleges Offering College Credit for Life Experience

Is a life experience degree legitimate?

You have a lot of experience under your belt. You have worked hard, learned a lot without attending classes. Do you think you could earn a degree based solely on what you already know?

accredited life experience degree

Life Experience Degrees

The concept of putting your life experiences to use in the academic world seems like a pipe dream – at best – for most people.

But what if I told that this process is not only real, but can also cut down on up to a year’s worth of college credit without you ever having to step foot on campus?

  • What is a life experience degree
  • Which accredited colleges offer life experience degrees?
  • What kind of life experience is accepted by colleges?
  • Can I earn 100% of my college credits via life experience?
  • Best Universities for Accredited Life Experience Degrees
  • Get College Credit With Competency Exams
  • Use Accelerated Classes to Satisfy Your Residency Requirements Quickly
  • Set Your Own Pace With Competency Based Degrees
  • How Can I Tell if a College is a Scam?

To find out how earning college credit for your accumulated life experience really works, let’s spend a few moments digging into the finer points of this approach to higher education.

What is a life experience degree?

A life experience degree is a method of earning a degree that allows you to maximize alternative college credit options to your advantage. Alternative college credits can include a wide range of options but it boils down to this.

You CAN get credit for your work and life experience.

Since you have been in the work force you know what it means to have to work hard. There still will be work ahead of you before you have your degree. You can be earning your degree through submitting a portfolio, taking exams and taking online classes.

It sounds like a lot BUT in the end it will be a lot less work than somebody fresh out of high school would have to do. You have your life experience and that is valid. But a legitimate college won’t grant degrees (or even credit!) without a portfolio, exam or class.

Life experience degrees are earned through combining your experience with the college’s credentials.

Which accredited colleges offer life experience degrees?

As I mentioned, there are no universities that will award a life experience degree — but there are a number of accredited universities that award a large number of college credits for demonstrated life and work experience.

Purdue University Global  allows you to earn up to 75% of your degree credits through prior learning credit. Although the average student at Purdue Global only earns 38% of their degree through prior learning credit, that is still a lot of classes you didn’t have to attend.

Each of these colleges below will grant you Credit for Prior Learning (CPL). That means fewer classes to take and less money to spend.

Prior Learning Assessment

Credit by Exam

American Intercontinental University Up to 36 credit hours


Ashford University Up to 30 credit hours. Accepts up to 90 credits in transfer hours.  CLEP, DSST, AP, IB
Colorado State University Up to 30 credit hours. Accepts up to 90 credits in transfer hours. CLEP, DSST, AP, IB
Colorado Technical University Up to 75% of credits required for degree. Remaining 25% must be earned at CTU. CLEP, DSST, AP, Fast Track
Herzing University Residency requirement of 25%


Purdue University Global Up to 75% of credits required for degree


Liberty University Up to 30 credit hours CLEP, DSST, ECE, Institutional Challenge Exams, Technical Training Assessments, University of Cambridge International Exams
Ohio Christian University Up to 24 credit hours  CLEP, AP
Post University Up to 45 credit hours  CLEP, DSST, AP
Saint Leo University Up to 15 credit hours CLEP, DSST, AP, ECE

Is your heart pounding a little looking at that list? That part of you inside that is saying “oh, it is actually possible to get credit for what I’ve already done!” Get excited, because it IS a real thing.

What kind of life experience is accepted by colleges?

You will not get credit for all your life experiences. There’s no credit granted for “Best at Candy Crush”. But the list of what you can get credit for is quite extensive. ALL schools will use the ACE as a guide for granting credit.

Common achievements that are awarded college credit are listed below.

College Credit for Life Experience

  • Pilot’s license
  • Real estate agent
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
  • Police Department
  • Licensed Insurance agents
  • Certified Financial Planner
  • Child Development Associate
  • Military service
  • Certified Administrative Professional
  • Flight attendant
  • Certificate in Food Service Management
  • Training at McDonald’s
  • Certificate as Human Resources Professional
  • Practicing as a LPN/LVN or RN
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Certification from the American TESOL institute
  • Paralegal Certificate of Completion
  • Basic Corrections Training


Schools such as Liberty University will grant credit for experiences specific to their degrees such as evangelism, counselling and youth ministry.

This list is some of the most common life experiences that are approved by ACE for credit. Almost all schools will give credit for these experiences.

Can I earn 100% of my college credits via life experience?


You just can’t. Colleges will set a limit on how many life experience credits you can count. Even if you qualify for more credit.

The most common limit is 30 credit hours. But don’t forget that you can also use CBE and accelerated classes to speed up your degree.

Purdue University Global

But, check this out, Purdue Global is a little bit different. Like FudgeeOs and milk. Remember, you can get up to 75% of your degree at Purdue through credit for prior learning.

How it works is you pay Purdue University Global $1,500 for a portfolio evaluation fee (sounds like a lot but wait until you hear what you get) and take one of their online credit-for-work experience courses. At the end of the course your portfolio is assessed and you are granted credit for your life experiences.

If the credits you end up getting aren’t worth at least $1,500 then you get a tuition grant for the difference. You could end up with 36% of your degree done after your portfolio is evaluated. But if you do have a lot of experiences that number could be 75%. That’s ¾ of your degree. Yowzas!

Ashford University

Ashford University will assess your training in the corporate field, continuing education programs and set you up to be eligible for 30 credits towards your degree.


Liberty University will allow you to earn up to 30 credits if you have certificates or licenses in aviation, law enforcement, insurance, real estate or as a EMT.

American Intercontinental University

AIU is another college that will grant credit for prior work. In particular AIU offers up to 36 credits towards a criminal justice degree if you have already graduated from a state approved law enforcement academy or related training program. This is a HUGE advantage for you if you already have a career in law enforcement.

University Credit for Prior Learning Credits Fields where college credit may be awarded
Purdue University Global Up to 90
  • Travel
  • Volunteer work
  • Management training
  • Technology
  • Criminal Justice
  • Fire Science
  • Health Science
  • Information Technology
Ashford University Up to 30
  • Corporate training
  • Continuing Education programs
  • Seminars
Liberty University Up to 30 Certificates or licenses in:

  • Aviation
  • Law enforcement
  • Insurance
  • Real estate
  • EMT
American Intercontinental University Up to 36 Law enforcement


Using the credits from your previous life experiences will definitely accelerate how fast you get your degree.

Best Universities for Accredited Life Experience Degrees

Although most universities will offer credit for life experiences, some have programs set up that will provide you with a better advantage.

Purdue University Global

Let’s look at Purdue University Global’s Prior Learning Assessment program in a bit more detail. Like we mentioned up to 75% of your degree requirements could be met by enrolling in one of the credit for life experience classes at Purdue Global.

How it works:

  • Enroll in one of the online classes.
  • Pay a $1500 portfolio assessment fee. If you don’t get enough credits to make the $1500 fee worth it, you given a tuition grant for the difference.
  • The class will help you set up and document your knowledge and experiences into an online portfolio.
  • Once you’re done you submit your portfolio for assessment.
  • Your portfolio is evaluated and you are granted credits. Just like that!

The average student will get about 38% of their degree accomplished with the portfolio submission. Purdue Global’s website even has a drop box quiz that will help you decide if the credit-for-work experience course is a good choice for you.

Charter Oak State College

Charter Oak is one of the most generous schools for awarding credit for life experiences. How their process works is:

  • You register for their 8 week long online Prior Learning Portfolio Development course
  • The assessment will cost $320 (if you are a matriculated student) for a single course portfolio.
  • You will be guided in how to put together the documentation you need for your portfolio. This will include which course you are specifically wanting credit for and a description of how your experience has already met those requirements.
  • Submit your completed portfolio to your evaluator
  • Plan for the process to take 2-4 months

Charter Oak is known for providing multiple options for awarding credit for your personal and professional experience. This approach could save you from spending hours in the classroom.

Thomas Edison State University

Thomas Edison wasan inspirational innovator, he invented the lightbulb. It is not surprising that Thomas Edison State University is a leader in education innovation. The process for earning credit for the knowledge you gained through your life experience is this:

  • Register in 2 classes (Introduction to Prior Learning Assessment and Introduction to Portfolio Assessment).
  • Once you are done the course you write and develop your portfolio geared towards an equivalent course.
  • Submit the portfolio via their website
  • Register to have your portfolio assessed.
  • Wait while your portfolio is reviewed by a faculty member.
  • Rejoice at how much credit you earned!

Thomas Edison State University boasts that “no other University in the world provides more options” for earning credit toward your degree.

Excelsior College

Excelsior College is unique in that you don’t even have to be enrolled at Excelsior to start earning credit. Excelsior works with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) to offer credit for online Learning Portfolios.

How this works is this:

  • You call the Excelsior academic advisor and get approval to start a Learning Portfolio
  • Enroll in the 8 week long online class Prior Learning Assessment Theory and Practice.
  • Once the class is done you talk to your academic advisor to get approval for the credits you are hoping to get.
  • You go through the process with to develop and submit your Learning Portfolio (the assessment will cost $125).
  • You request that to have an official transcript mailed to Excelsior.
  • Apply all those lovely credits to your degree!

Excelsior’s partnership with CAEL makes this option a quick and cost effective way to complete your degree.

Purdue Global Charter Oak Thomas Edison Excelsior
Residency requirements Must be enrolled with school Must be enrolled with school Must be enrolled with school Open to un-enrolled students
Credit for Prior Learning limits 75% (90 credits) Any number, only limited by program applicability No limit No limits
Cost $1500 for a comprehensive portfolio assessment $320 per single course assessment $379/first 12 credits reviewed.

$215 for each additional 6 credits.

Time to complete 10 week course + 30 days to submit portfolio 8 weeks class + 2-4 months for portfolio assessment 4 week + 8 week class + time to complete portfolio 8 week class + 2 weeks for assessment


Getting credit for life experience is a big deal and some colleges just do it better than others. Need I say more?

Get College Credit With Competency Exams

Life experience credit just scratches the surface of ways you can get credit for what you know. The other Big One is Competency Exams. Just like it sounds, you write an exam on a subject that you are competent in and you get credit.

This is so important because you can test out of so many credit hours just by being the smarty pants that you are. The average number of credit hours that most colleges will accept is 15-30, but some like Charter Oak will allow you to test out of MOST of your degree requirements. You would just need to complete the Cornerstone and Capstone courses.

How to Test Out of 1 Year of College

CLEP Natural Sciences (6 credits) CLEP Human Growth and Development (3 credits) CLEP American Government (3 credits)
CLEP English Literature (3 credits) CLEP Information Systems (3 credits)


College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

CLEP exams can be worth 3 – 6 credits. There are many topics that they cover. It wouldn’t be hard to find something that you are already expert in. Topics like:

– Composition and Literature

– World Languages

– History and Social Sciences

– Science and Mathematics

– Business

This is how you take a CLEP exam for credit. It’s kind of easy! Like instructions on how to make a PB and J sandwich.

  1. Choose an exam to take.
  2. Check that the university where you are getting your degree from will give you credit. Some don’t, so ALWAYS check.
  3. Register for your CLEP exams and pay the fee of $85.
  4. Purchase the study guide that matches your exam, you can buy the guide when you register for the class.
  5. Set up your appointment with a test center. Use this search engine to find the nearest test center.
  6. Study like crazy!I didn’t say the exam is easy. But registering is.
  7. Take your exam.
  8. Do a Rocky victory lap around the test center to “Eye of the Tiger”.

CLEP exams are set up to be very user friendly. A quick and cheap way to earn the credit you need for what you already know.

Dantes Subject Standarized Test (DSST)

DSST exams are done in a similar way to CLEP. Except they are only 100 multiple choice questions. You get 2 hours to take the exam and can choice to take the exam in person or even online. Like choosing takeout or delivery. Do you want to change out of your pajamas or not?

Here’s how you take advantage of this option:

  1. Check that your college accepts DSST credit.
  2. Choose an exam from these topics (each is worth 3 credits):
  • Business
  • Humanities
  • Math
  • Physical Science
  • Social Sciences
  • Technology
  1. Find a test center and call and schedule an exam time
  2. Practice for your test online, you can take up to 3 full length tests online.
  3. Take the test. Don’t forget your $80 test fee.
  4. Hey-o! You have more credits under your belt.

Thomas Edison State Credit (TECEP)

Thomas Edison, remember he invented the lightbulb? Also offers you an opportunity to earn credit by exam.

Some of the exam options are:

  • English composition
  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences
  • Natural Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Business and Management
  • Computer Science technology
  • Applied Science and Technology

The process is similar to CLEP and DSST. That means once you know what you are doing for a CLEP exam, a DSST or TECEP exam will come much easier.

Here’s your steps:

  1. Check your school will honor TECEP credit
  2. Choose an exam and look at the test description to see what the exam covers, ideas for studying and sample questions.
  3. Register for the exam via the Thomas Edison State University website and pay the $75 application fee.
  4. Schedule to take the exam at home. Woohoo! Pajama exams are the best.
  5. Enjoy your own lightbulb moment of having earned credit without going to class. Thomas Edison would be proud!

If you are needing credit for an exam that isn’t offered Thomas Edison State University will even let you suggest exams that you would like to take. There’s that innovation again!

New York University Language Exams

NYU offers the most bang for your buck for competency exams. If you can understand, read and write in another language you can earn up to 16 credits. For one exam! That’s a semester worth of credit.

The exam will involve:

  • Multiple choice and short answer questions
  • Write one essay
  • Translate a passage into the target language
  • Respond to two audio sections
  • To earn the full 16 credits you also would have to write a 350 word essay on a complex subject using abstract ideas, supportive arguments, hypothesizes and long paragraphs.

You can get these awesome credits like this:

  1. Check with you school what credits will be accepted.
  2. Register by calling 212-998-7030
  3. Pay $450 (plus a $20 registration fee) for the 16 point exam.
  4. Make arrangements to take the exam at NYU.

If you speak a second language, you need to take full advantage of this option! That’s a lot of credit for one exam.

Excelsior College Exams (ECE)

At Excelsior you can take up to 64 credit by exams in subjects such as nursing, arts and science.

This process will look familiar to CLEP, DSST and TECEP.

  1. Check that your school will accept ECE credit.
  2. Register for your exam
  3. Choose between paying by the exam or register for a Value Package which costs $145 and allows you to retake the exam.
  4. Schedule a time in the next 8-16 weeks to take the exam at the closest test center.

Excelsior offers you are variety of supports to make sure you succeed, from online tutoring, tutorials, library access and practice exams.

Use Accelerated Classes to Satisfy Your Residency Requirements Quickly

Accelerated classes are just what they sound like. Classes that you can do faster than a typical semester. Many colleges will offer accelerated classes online. The process to register is the same as a traditional class.

Accelerated classes typically run for 8 weeks, you can take 2-3 classes at a time, earning you credits at 1.5 times the speed of a traditional semester.

Liberty University Sample Schedule

Semester Credit Hours
Fall 1 3 classes x 3 credit hours = 9 Credit hours
Fall 2 3 classes x 3 credit hours = 9 Credit hours
Winter (3 weeks) 1 class x 3 credit hours = 3 credit hours
Spring 1 3 classes x 3 credit hours = 9 Credit hours
Spring 2 3 classes x 3 credit hours = 9 Credit hours
Summer 3 classes x 3 credit hours = 9 Credit hours
Total 48 Credit Hours Per Year


Using an accelerated class schedule allows you to get the same number of credits in a much shorter timeframe.

Set Your Own Pace With Competency Based Degrees

A competency based degree allows you to work at your own pace and submit an assessment or portfolio once you have mastered the material in the course. Instead of attending classes you complete a unit at your own speed. If you learn fast you finish fast.

At Western Governor’s University (WGU) you:

  • Pay a flat fee for a 6 month term
  • Enroll in the courses you need
  • Cover the competencies outlined for each course you want to have credit for
  • Complete an online assessment such as a paper, presentation, case study or exam
  • Keep on going! Knocking course after course off your list.

If you are keen and focused, you can complete many courses in only one 6 month term.

How Can I Tell if a College is a Scam?

Nobody wants to be scammed. Especially for a big commitment like getting a degree. Here’s how to tell if a college is trying to cheat you out of your money and give you a fake degree.

  1. If you can earn an entire degree through only life experience, without any coursework, it’s a scam. It just is.
  2. A college needs to have accreditation from a nationally recognized accreditor, without this your degree will not mean anything. These accreditors are the big ones: [accreditors]

Should I Avoid Life Experience Credits Completely?

Of course not!

This is a valid way to earn credit. But life experience credits must go hand in hand with a competency exam, a CPL portfolio, or another legitimate way of earning college credit from an accredited university.

Life experience credits are a real thing. They can save you time and money. But you will still need to take classes. Classes will be the foundation of your degree but life experience credits are the icing on the cake. Still part of the cake but you can’t just have icing.


Are you imagining the possibilities that could open for you once you have your degree? You know you have already worked hard and you want to get credit for what you know.

You can! A valid option for a life experience degree is to match some of the ideas we discussed for earning life experience credits with an accelerated class schedule.

You won’t get a degree without any class work but you will get credit for what you know. What experiences do you have that are worth credit?

Academic Portfolio Credit

At the top of the list of ways to convert your life experience into credit hours is the portfolio assessment method. Essentially, if you head down this path, you’ll need to compile documentation on how your time in a certain situation – be it corporate, military, or personal – helped supplement the rigors of class-mandated coursework.

In most cases, you’ll need to submit your portfolio or relevant information to a chosen faculty member on campus. From here, the professor who handles this duty will review the content, offer up acceptance or denial, and reward credit accordingly. In some cases, you might need to provide additional information or details if the faculty member in question requires a little extra clarification.

For example, I used my experience at IBM as the basis for my portfolio, outlining my experience in computing. First, I had to select the related classes from the college handbook and then provide details for each “learning outcome” in the corresponding syllabus to prove that I had the equivalent experience. It took a little time and effort, but was well worth it considering I was awarded credit for four computer science courses.

Professional Licenses and Credentials

Who says learning stops once you start grinding away at your nine to five? Depending on your line of work, certain colleges will honor any professional licenses or credentials you’ve obtained over the years as equivalent to college credit. You’ll usually go through the American Council of Education (ACE) for this process, but some institutions do handle the verification and award process in-house.

To help give you an idea of what you can bring to the table in terms of professional licenses and credentials, I’ve compiled some of the most useful and desirable examples in the following list:

  • Certified Computer Programmer
  • Certified Public Accountant
  • FAA Pilot, Engineer, Mechanic Licenses
  • Respiratory Therapy Technician
  • Certified Purchasing Manager
  • Chartered Financial Consultant
  • Certified Novell Engineer
  • Certified Professional Secretary

Naturally, the list could go on and on with acceptable examples. However, these choice offerings should point you in the right direction when the time comes to scour your work history and start converting these professional accolades into applicable college credit.

Massive Open-Enrollment Online Course (MOOC)

Some colleges now offer credit for the completion of certain open-enrollment courses. At first glance, signing up for a massive open-enrollment online course (MOOC) doesn’t sound like it’s all that different from a standard course. While there’s definitely some truth to this statement, I think that it’s also important to point out that these courses often progress at whatever pace you choose and are offered at a fraction of the cost. This means that if you already know the content and coursework via life experiences, there’s nothing stopping you from blazing through any of the interactive materials, tests, and other requirements that stand between you and course completion.

Military Training Programs

For those who have or plan to serve in the armed forces, you know that this service can be one of the most challenging times of your life. Fortunately, the training that comes with this career path is both rewarding and enriching when you’re ready to re-enter civilian life.

The staff over at Liberty University explain that it all boils down to pairing up your coursework completed at service schools with the equivalent credits found in the Guide to the Evaluation of Education Experiences – a document provided by ACE. If you’re unsure how to navigate the particulars of this process, make an appointment with an adviser or counselor at your school. Not only will they help familiarize you with this document, but their assistance could be the key to honing in on credit opportunities that you otherwise might have overlooked.

Challenge Exams

As the name implies, the challenge exam route serves as a direct path to acquiring credits via a test or project that demonstrates your mastery of the subject matter.

The process and method of testing can vary from institution to institution, but you’ll generally run into a standardized offering that mimics the rigors and coverage found within a course’s final exam.


Obviously, as great as this accelerated approach is, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also cover some of the limitations of life experience credit. For instance, your school of choice might not offer equivalents for the credits you need, or impose a cap on how many credits you can earn this way. Additionally, some universities charge fees for testing and portfolio submissions, even if they do place a significantly smaller strain on your budget when compared to actually paying for the course.

Getting through college is far from an easy affair. In fact, it could stand as your most daunting accomplishment when it’s all said and done. However, with the knowledge of how to put your life experience to good use leading the way, you’ll be able to save a hefty chunk of time and money as you work toward this goal.

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