How much credit can you typically earn from work/life experience?
The American Council on Education and credit by exam organizations don’t stipulate a maximum number of credits, but individual colleges and universities often do. Students should check with their school to find out how many can be earned for their specific degree.
How long does the process usually take to apply for credits?
Figuring out how long it will take to apply for credits depends on which path a student is taking to receive those credits. CLEP and DSST exams, along with challenge exams, can be taken whenever the student feels like they are prepared to pass the test. Many schools require students who want to put together a PLA portfolio to take a zero-credit portfolio workshop, and these can last as a full semester.
When trying to figure out exactly how long it will take, a student’s best bet is to reach out to either their school or the American Council on Education.
Why do only some colleges allow students to apply these types of credits toward their degrees?
According to education consultant Susan Landry, it comes down to the type of school. “In my experience, the more prestigious a school, the fewer credits by exam they allow,” she says. “Much like how a university will require students to take ‘their’ physics class – even if the student has already taken the equivalent course at another university – colleges often believe these requirements set them apart as higher quality.”
If you earned work/life experience credits at one college, can you transfer them to another college?
Simply put, it depends on the rules of the college to which you are transferring. Like other types of credits gained at previous schools, it’s up to your new college or university to assess them to see if they match up with required coursework for your intended major and if they meet other academic requirements. If so, you should be able to transfer them just like any other college-level academic credit.
Is there a particular type of student for whom these credits are especially helpful?
“These types of credits can benefit all students, specifically in allowing them to accrue credits more rapidly and at a huge cost savings,” says Landry. “They can be especially appealing, though, for students who don't love the academic setting, or who may not do their best work in classroom settings.”
But to do well in this environment, Landry cautions that students most be focused. “Because these credits are often earned on one’s own, a certain level of self-motivation is necessary as well,” she cautions. “Many of the high school students I've worked with were highly motivated by the promise of only having to study a subject once and get it done.”
Is there such a thing as students pursuing too many work/life experience credits? At some point is it better for them to take the classes?
“There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for this question, in my opinion,” says Landry. “Certainly, some subjects lend themselves to being best absorbed through in-class experiences – especially courses with labs.” With that in mind, students should decide for themselves which subjects they feel they truly have a grasp of before trying to earn nontraditional credits.
“Students may find they prefer to tackle a particular subject with a teacher bit by bit rather than being tested on the subject as a whole,” notes Landry.
What is typically required for a Prior Learning Assessment portfolio?
Schools individually set the requirements for what they want to see in a PLA portfolio, but in general students should expect to use this document to demonstrate knowledge of a particular topic, where they learned it and how that learning translates to a specific college course. Students should be able to draw parallels between their knowledge and the stated outcomes of a course syllabus and provide a written reflection on the experiences they took part in to gain the knowledge in question.
How do these credits appear on a transcript?
Different schools may have different ways of identifying nontraditional learning credits, so students should ask. At Wichita State University, credit for prior learning is designated as “TCrE” and appears on the transcript as a transfer credit.
What can I do if I earned credits at an unaccredited college or university? Do I have to retake them?
Credits earned at a school that isn’t properly accredited can’t be transferred to a school that is, but students may be able to do a challenge exam, CLEP or DSST to demonstrate their knowledge. This question will ultimately be up to the school you’re attending, so it’s best to ask the Registrar about it.
Is the process of translating nontraditional learning worth a student’s time and effort?
“Absolutely, 100% yes!” says Landry. While students have different reasons for gaining credit through the various ways available, Landry sees money as one of the biggest motivators. “I cringe at students paying the massive prices for classes that they could easily gain at a fraction of the cost and time,” she says.