Online Colleges Offering Credit for Work Experience

Using Your Professional & Life Skills to Graduate Faster

The cost per credit hour at American colleges and universities averaged $594 in 2018, and that number isn’t expected to go down anytime soon. Higher education can be expensive, but students with existing work and life experience may be able to shave off some of those costs by translating their knowledge into nontraditional credits. The following guide takes a look at some of the online and brick-and-mortar colleges offering credit for work/life experience, describes some of the common ways to gain these credits and answers some of the most frequently asked questions.

Colleges That Offers Credit For Work Experience

  • Berklee College of Music Online
  • Central Michigan University’s Global Campus
  • Colorado State University’s Global Campus
  • Eastern Kentucky University
  • Linfield College
  • Southern New Hampshire University
  • The University of Memphis’s Global Campus
  • University of Phoenix
  • Walden College

What is Work/Life Credit?

For many students, especially those who have been out of high school a few years before considering college, lots of learning happens outside the classroom. Whether serving as a member of the military or gaining hands-on knowledge in the professional world, students who qualify for work/life credit have often picked up additional knowledge or skills along the way which can count toward required college credits.

Pros of Earning Work/Life Credit

Hands-On Experience
Rather than focusing on the theories or methodologies behind an idea, earning credit for things you learned while in a professional or military setting allows students to build practical knowledge and then earn credit for that knowledge.
Studying at Your Own Pace
This is especially appealing for those who are still working or busy with family obligations who want to continue learning but may not have time to take a full course load or visit campus multiple times per week. Nontraditional credit by exam programs allow you to learn the material at times that suit you best.
Skipping Prerequisite Courses
The first two years of a bachelor’s degree is largely spent taking general education courses. Students who can bypass these foundational topics can save both time and money.
Saving Money
Even classes at community colleges can quickly add up for the student who doesn’t qualify for scholarships and doesn’t want to take on student loans. Most credits by exam and credits by prior learning assessment (PLA) portfolios cost far less than a college class.

Potential Cons to Consider

Missing Out on the Theoretical Knowledge
While it may be nice to skip out on the theories behind concepts, the reality is that sometimes this knowledge is needed.
Not Getting as Much Classroom Experience
Depending on the number of credits that students are able to bypass, they may feel like they aren’t getting the full college experience. Students who want to build a community in school may regret not getting to take as many classes as their peers.
Getting Non-Traditional Credits Can Take a While
Especially in the case of prior learning assessments, meeting with advisors, taking a workshop and putting together the portfolio can take several months. Students who are ready to begin the process may feel their time is better spent in the classroom.

Where Students Can Get Work/Life Credit

Thousands of schools with brick-and-mortar and online presences now allow students to gain work/life experience credit, and some of them make it really easy to do so. The following list takes a look at some of the best schools in both categories and how they go about awarding nontraditional credit.

Which Online Colleges Award Credit?


  • Berklee College of Music Online


    As a music school, BCM recognizes that much of the learning undertaken by artists happens outside the classroom. Because of this, the school allows students to earn up to 30 credits towards their bachelor’s degree by applying prior learning credit. Disciplines available include music production, music business, songwriting, guitar, electronic music production, music composition and interdisciplinary music studies. Students should compare their experience against required courses and then work with an academic advisor to create a portfolio.

  • Central Michigan University’s Global Campus


    CMU’s Global Campus offers a generous program for prior learning, allowing students to apply up to 60 undergraduate and 10 graduate credits gained through alternative learning paths. CMU started this program in the 1970’s when it began accepting military credit for learning. Since then, the school has expanded the program to include workforce experiences, training (e.g. workshops, seminars or professional development), and life experiences (e.g. volunteer activities). In addition to challenge exams, students can also submit CLEP credits and PLA portfolios for consideration.

  • Colorado State University’s Global Campus


    CSU’s online arm of learning is committed to helping students finish their degrees in smart ways that take advantage of their existing knowledge. Credit by exam options include CSU-Global’s Competency-Based Exams (CBEs), Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, CLEP, DSST, StraighterLine and Modern States. Military nontraditional credit gained via training and occupational experience can also be evaluated, as can additional non-collegiate credits gained through venues such as workforce training. These are assessed via PLA portfolios.

  • Eastern Kentucky University


    EKU allows online students to earn credit for prior learning, training or work experiences that adequately prepared them to bypass certain coursework. Students must be fully enrolled and have already completed 12 credits at EKU before being considered. Students can use CLEP exams or previous military service to qualify.

  • Linfield College


    Linfield’s department of online and continuing education oversees the process of awarding college credit for life experience and helps students earn hours for things like job training, workshops, travel, family, volunteerism and personal interests. Credits can be earned via examination through CLEP or by challenging a course final. Students previously in the military or who participated in workforce training can also have credits approved by the American Council on Education transferred. Lastly, Linfield also offers portfolio evaluations for students with knowledge that doesn’t fit in either of the two previous categories.

  • Southern New Hampshire University


    SNHU has a generous external credit policy designed to help students who have participated in nontraditional learning activities gain credits. The school currently accepts passing examinations from students who have CLEP, DSST, AP, International Baccalaureate Diploma or A-Level credits. Students may also gain up to 15 credits via a prior learning assessment portfolio.

  • The University of Memphis’s Global Campus


    Recognizing that lots of learning takes place outside the lecture hall, UM allows students to earn prior learning credit through numerous paths. Credit by exam is allowed for students who have taken CLEP, DSST, Departmental, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams. Students can also ask for a credit by portfolio assessment for licenses or certificates gained through work or for military training and experience.

  • University of Phoenix


    Arizona’s University of Phoenix allows students to take advantage of extra credit opportunities from a variety of real-world learning experiences. In addition to encouraging students to submit their industry certifications and records of military experience, the school also excepts PLA portfolios, CLEP exams, DSST credits by examination, UExcel and AP exams.

  • Walden College


    Walden College works with students at every stage to make earning a college degree easy and affordable. Learners may be able to use prior learning assessment portfolios, professional certifications or workforce training as credits.

Which Traditional Colleges Award Credit?


  • Colorado Christian University


    The College of Adult and Graduate Studies at CCU oversees the awarding of life/experience credits. Students pursuing associate degrees can earn up to 45 credits, while those in a four-year program can earn up to 75 credits. CLEP and DSST credits by examination are permitted, as are prior learning assessment portfolios. Students with previous certifications or licenses may also receive credits, provided they are approved by the American Council on Education.

  • Midway University


    As a school that caters primarily to adult and working students, Midway University is well aware of the benefits of finishing degrees quickly. To help students achieve that goal, the school allows students to gain credits via military experience, examination, prior learning assessment portfolios and licenses/certifications/trainings approved by the American Council of Education.

  • University of Maryland University College


    The University of Maryland University College encourages students to use existing knowledge to cut years off the time needed to complete a degree. UMUC allows students to gain prior learning credits through two different avenues. Course challenges allow students to gain credits if they can pass the final exam of a class, while the portfolio allows students to document their previous experiences.

  • Wilmington University


    Wilmington offers students a number of options when it comes to translating what they already know into college credits. Administrators at the school work with degree seekers to review their resume, transcripts, industry credentials and certifications/licenses to see which ones may be eligible for credit. WU works with a range of alternative providers (such as CLEP, DSST and UExcel) for credit by exam and also allows students to compile a portfolio for assessment.

FAQs

The following section offers answers to frequently asked questions on work and life experience credits and provides guidance from an educational expert.

Question Answer
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. AtWichita 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.

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