College Credit for Prior Learning Assessment

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Are you an adult student interested in enrolling in college? Would you like to find a way to accelerate your degree program and save money on tuition? Then it’s worth looking into the unique opportunities provided by many colleges that allow you to gain college credit based on your life experience.

College Credit for Prior Learning Assessment

There are countless ways that you learn throughout your lifetime, and formal education is only one of the methodsto gain skills and knowledge to support your future career. Whether you learned a foreign language by traveling the world or have worked your way up in your current career through exceptional communication and leadership skills, all of your experiences can add up to a wealth of wisdom – and college credit!

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Many of the nation’s top accredited universities recognize the unique skills that adult students bring to their college degree programs. By offering college credit for life experience, these schools are able to acknowledge the prior experience of adult students and help them save time and money when furthering their education.

Typically, colleges require that you submit a portfolio or take recognized examinations that showcase your life experience throughout a process called a prior learning assessment. While this is a great option for many students, there are many important factors to consider when beginning your PLA journey.

To help get you started, we’ve put together the following information on the PLA process and common questions we receive from students looking to turn their life experience into college credit.

College Credit for Prior Learning

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There are several ways that you can earn college credit through untraditional means, including military training, college credit by exam, and a prior learning assessment portfolio.

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When it comes to “testing out” of some of your degree program classes, there is no across-the-board regulation for what a college will accept. Before deciding on which path is best for you, we encourage you to discuss your school’s policies with an academic advisor.

What Is a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)?

In the simplest terms, a prior learning assessment (or PLA), is the way a college determines learning gained outside of a formal education environment. This can be accomplished in many forms, including approved examinations and evaluation of licenses or certifications.

One of the most unique options for a PLA is a portfolio-based assessment. Even if you have no prior post-secondary schooling experience, a portfolio is a way to showcase your skills, talents, and knowledge in order to take the place of certain degree program classes.

Your portfolio may contain a variety of evidence to help your school understand why you feel your life experience should be accepted for college credit, including:

  • Experiential learning essays
  • Honors or awards
  • Samples from professional employment projects
  • Certifications or licenses
  • Resume
  • Organizational memberships
  • Evidence of volunteer work.

Typically, students who have strong college-level writing skills and extensive professional experience that aligns with the college course descriptions are the most successful at earning credits through their life experience.

To help prepare you for submitting your PLA portfolio, most schools require you to complete a non-credit PLA preparation course where you will learn how to write, develop, and present the most effective portfolio.

What Is the Process for Submitting a PLA?

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The process of earning credits for life experience depends upon the route you choose to take. For example, if you want to earn credit by examination, you can register for the approved exams online and submit passing results directly to your college.

If you choose to use the PLA portfolio option, it is important to understand that it is not a speedy process, and you will want to take into consideration the length of time you will need to adequately prepare your portfolio for review.

Required preparation classes may be several weeks long, and you will also need to allow additional time to finish developing your portfolio before submitting it for evaluation.

The typical portfolio submission process consists of the following steps:

  • Meeting with an academic advisor to understand your school’s specific PLA policies
  • Completing any prerequisite requirements and PLA preparation courses
  • Declaring the credits you will be attempting to earn through portfolio submission
  • Development of your portfolio
  • College evaluation of your portfolio, which may include interviews and additional documentation

Regardless of the path you choose to take for your PLA, it is essential that you are familiar with the specific course descriptions for the classes in which you hope to receive credit. You have the highest chance of earning credit for life experience when you can adequately prove that your knowledgebase includes all areas of learning that the course covers.

How Many Credits Can I Get for My Life Experience?

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Unfortunately, this question cannot be answered in simple terms as it depends on your school’s specific policies. Most of the PLA credits by examination allow you to earn up to three credits for each exam.

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If you are using a portfolio, you may need to submit a separate portfolio for each course that you wish to receive credi for. Some schools allow up to 30 credit hours to be earned through PLA, but your school’s credit limits may vary.

What Courses Can I Submit a PLA for Credit?

Typically, schools allow a PLA in the form of examinations or portfolios to be submitted for a wide range of undergraduate courses. However, most schools will not allow credit for life experience to be applied to graduate degree programs. By researching your school’s specific policies, you will be able to see the exact courses and descriptions that are eligible for PLA credit.

Some schools have exemptions that do not allow for a portfolio to be submitted for credit in certain classes, including composition courses, “activity” courses (such as physical education), and math. If this is your school’s policy, it is best to attempt credit by examination to receive college credit for your previous life experience.

How Much Does a PLA Cost?

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The fees for submitting a PLA range based upon the process for earning credit that you choose. Exams, such as the CLEP and DSST, typically cost around $80 per exam and are non-refundable if you do not pass the test. Portfolios also have fees attached to them, so it is essential to understand the cost of submission before deciding if it is the best choice for you.

While the price tag of submitting a portfolio varies based on each school, they are typically between $100-300 per submission. This “submission fee” may cover a review of credit for one college course, or it may cover the assessment of as many as 12 credits. While financial aid may be able to cover any costs associated with prerequisite classes or PLA preparation courses, it cannot be used to pay for the submission of a PLA.

For students that have gained professional experience throughout the course of their everyday lives, a PLA is a great choice for demonstrating their skillset and knowledge to a university.  With a variety of options, including examinations, portfolios, and credit for military experience, you can save tremendous time and money on your degree program.

With the unique opportunity of a PLA, you have the chance to get on the fast track to graduation and get started on pursuing the career of your dreams quicker than you ever thought possible.

Ready to start your journey?
Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.