5 Ways to Earn College Credit for Prior Learning

For adults who have made the decision to return to college after many years in the workforce, the possibility of earning college credit for work and life experiences may sound very appealing. In some instances, it is an excellent way to save money on tuition and shorten the time it takes to complete your degree.
In the higher education industry, we call this Prior Learning Assessments or PLA. There are five basic methods that one may use to earn credit for prior learning. Here, we take a brief look at each one and give some pointers on which one (if any) may be right for you. Be sure to check out the webinar at the end of this entry for an explanation by two of our PLA experts and faculty members: Dr. Sarah Kuck and Wendy Kennedy, both from Albany State University.




Assessment Methods:
  1. CLEP - College Level Examination Program CLEP offers 33 exams in various academic fields. Students sit for this exam and can earn college credit in that field with an acceptable score. Some things to consider if thinking of taking a CLEP exam: schools do not always accept all CLEP exams. You should first check your institution's academic catalog to review which exams are accepted and the score required for credit. There are also several CLEP prep courses that you can take to “brush up” on your skills before taking a CLEP exam. For example, eCore offers a free Macroeconomics CLEP prep course that prepares you for the exam in that subject area. Visit the College Board website for more information on CLEP prep exams.
  1. AP Credit - Advanced Placement AP Credit is typically earned by high school students. Many high schools offer AP level courses with an AP exam at the end. Upon earning a successful score on the AP exam, students can receive college credit for that course. Again, parameters for earning AP credit vary by institution, so be sure to check with the college in which you intend to enroll on their AP guidelines. More information on AP credit in Georgia can be found here.
3.    Military Credit
Evaluation of military training and experience for college credit is based on SMART transcripts. SMART transcripts are provided by the military and are a recommendation from that branch of the armed services on how colleges and universities can award credit for various training and experience you may have earned during service. SMART transcripts typically go through a very strenuous evaluation process that is based on ACE. Most limitations to earning credit from military experience come from the Course Equivalency Model, which means that the institution is only able to award credit for courses offered at that school. For more information on this - check out the webinar below.
4.    Challenge Exams
These are institutionally based, and are commonly referred to as “Credit by Exam.” Any student who feels he or she is proficient in an academic subject can apply for credit by examination. Keep in mind that fees for challenge exam credit vary by institution, as do the guidelines for qualifying to take these exams. For example - some schools may stipulate that a student cannot sit for a challenge exam for a course that they have already taken, or for which they have already earned a grade.
5.     Portfolio
The last option for PLA, portfolio submission, is the most labor intensive and the one that is most commonly inquired about by potential and current students. It’s just what it sounds like - interested students compile a portfolio in order to petition for course credit. A proper portfolio should connect student learning to course learning outcomes, and needs to include both theory and artifacts that support the student’s assertions. The portfolio is then assessed by content experts from the chosen academic area, and a decision to award or not award credit is made. Compiling an adequate portfolio for credit is a large undertaking, and our experts advise that this should not be your first choice. Instead, consider the possibility of taking a CLEP or challenge exam if you truly feel like you are competent in a given area.


Are you a good candidate for Prior Learning Assessments? Do a self-evaluation to decide if this is the right route for you. Here is a good checklist to start with:


  • Determine institutional parameters at your current (or future) institution. What exams do they accept? What scores are required?
  • Evaluate your existing skills and knowledge. What knowledge do you already have that you may have learned in your current or past positions?
  • Determine fit. What courses does the institution offer that may align with your existing knowledge.
  • Lastly - discuss the process with the PLA coordinator or Registrar’s office at your institution.

Check out the webinar below for further information about the methods for PLA covered in this blog.









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