Earning a college degree can take several years. But receiving college credit for work experience saves students time and money.
Most colleges award credit for work or life experience, including military service. Students may need to pass an exam to demonstrate skill in the subject. These exams, which cost $90-$100, can potentially save learners thousands in college tuition. In addition, many schools award credit through a portfolio review process.
Many learners benefit from these work and life experience credits. This guide covers how to earn college credit for work experience or exam scores and things to consider when seeking credits for prior learning.
Frequently Asked Questions About Work and Life Experience Credits
Q. How many credits can you typically earn from work/life experience?
Colleges set different policies that cap credits from work or life experience. Some schools accept up to 30 credits of a 120-credit degree. Other schools accept up to 60 credits.
Q. How long does the process take to apply for credits?
The process of applying for college credits varies by school. At some schools, students submit a portfolio or test scores and hear back within days. Other schools may need a longer process.
Q. If you earned work/life experience credits at one college, can you transfer them to another college?
Yes, generally, college credits accepted at one school will transfer to another school. However, accreditation status and other factors affect transfer credits. Contact an admission advisor for more information.
Q. Can you test out of college courses and get credit?
Yes, most colleges let you test out of courses or get credit for prior learning by exam or portfolio. Students should contact their school to learn more about the process.
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How Do Students Earn Work/Life Credit?
Students get college credit for work experience in different ways. Military experience, volunteering, and professional certifications may earn students credit. Many schools award credit through a prior learning assessment process, which can involve a portfolio or exam. Learners can also take standardized tests to receive credit for their prior knowledge.
Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Portfolio
PLA portfolios collect evidence of learners' work, life, or volunteering experience. Colleges set different portfolio requirements, which may include an essay, training materials, or demonstrated skill in the area. When this experience meets the requirements for college credits, learners can earn credit.
The College Board offers CLEP exams in over 30 areas, including history and economics. Other areas include literature, business, and psychology. Each exam costs $89 and uses a computer-based testing process. More than 2,900 colleges award credit for CLEP exams.
Originally restricted to military students, the DSST exams award college credit for passing scores. Test takers choose from 38 exams, covering topics in math, business, humanities, and technology. Each exam costs $100. Nearly 2,000 colleges and universities accept DSST scores and grant credit for the exam.
Most colleges offer challenge or proficiency exams to test out of or get credit for different subjects. For example, students often test out of math or foreign language classes. Each school sets its own exam policies. Learners should contact an academic advisor to learn more.
5 Colleges That Offer Credit for Work Experience
Many schools give college credit for work experience. This section introduces a few of these colleges. Students can research policies on college websites to see if other schools offer life experience credits. Contact an academic advisor to ask about college credit for life experience or credit by exam.
Berklee students write a learning narrative. They must show experience in songwriting, the music business, or music composition. The college gives credit on a case-by-case basis.
CMU's Prior Learning Assessment Team helps students get credit for their work or life experience. Learners can apply up to 60 credits toward a bachelor's degree or 10 credits toward a graduate degree.
Students with four years of work experience can apply for a Prior Learning Assessment. Learners submit a portfolio of their experience and a resume.
EKU offers different routes to college credit. Examples include CLEP tests, departmental exams, and portfolio reviews. The university also gives credit for military experience.
In addition to credit by exam, Linfield offers college credit for life experience, workshops, and job training. Learners submit a prior learning degree portfolio to receive credit.
The Pros and Cons of Earning Work/Life Credit
Earning college credit for work experience features different pros and cons. It may seem that saving time and money outweighs the cons, but pursuing life experience credits may not suit everyone.
Gain hands-on experience: Experiential learning builds hands-on knowledge of a subject. This experience may translate better to the working environment than more theoretical knowledge would. Learners can also get credit for prior experience rather than investing more time into a subject.
Study at your own pace: Work and life credit lets learners study at their own pace rather than on the academic calendar. This appeals to working professionals and busy students who need flexibility.
Skip prerequisites: Getting college credit for work experience helps learners skip prerequisite courses that slow down getting a degree. Students can instead focus on core classes in their major.
Save money:$1,700 per three-credit class. Getting college credit for work experience can potentially save students thousands of dollars.
Earning credits may take longer: Many colleges give credit for work or life experience. However, it can actually take longer than taking a class. Students may need to study for an exam, build a portfolio, or complete a professional certification.
Missing out on the traditional college experience: Students who get college credit for prior experience spend less time in school. That can mean missing out on the traditional four-year college experience.
Lacking textbook knowledge (theoretical learning) of a subject: Experiential learning offers real-world knowledge of a subject. But work experience credits can leave learners with knowledge gaps, particularly around the theoretical side of subjects.
Missing out on opportunities to build relationships/network with college peers: College offers many opportunities to network with classmates and professors. Learners often complete internships that also build their professional network. Credit by exam can mean missing valuable career-building opportunities.
CAEL promotes education-to-career routes for learners with experience. The council provides resources that support students with experience entering school or moving into the workforce.
ACE evaluates military and workforce training to recommend college credit for life experience. The ACE National Guide includes credit recommendations for different courses and exams. These credit recommendations help students save money by earning credit for their prior experience.
Excelsior's online proctoring program gives credit in business, technology, and liberal arts. Learners take exams in areas like nursing, psychology, and calculus. Other areas include accounting and chemistry. With a passing score, test takers earn college credit.
WGU offers competency-based education that gives credit for a student's skills and learning. At WGU, learners complete courses by demonstrating mastery of the material, letting experienced students earn credits quicker.
Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.
See articles by Genevieve