Credit for prior learning and work experience

"Credit for prior learning and work experience" submitted by SchoolGrantsfor Editorial Team and last updated on Monday 9th January 2012

Table of Contents

Some students may be able to reduce costs and speed up their completion dates by receiving credit for prior college coursework or professional experience. Students do not have to pay for these credits. Your admissions representative can provide more information on this subject. If you’re a nontraditional student—maybe you didn’t go to college right after high school or you’re returning to college for career training—you may be eligible to receive academic credit for your job, volunteer or travel experience through the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP). Credit for prior learning and work experience could be:

Standards of Assessment

As institutions determine their level of commitment to the practice of granting credit for noncollege learning, a number of standards must be addressed to ensure legitimacy. ACE, PONSI, and CAEL have developed guidelines based upon national practices and research studies. These guidelines are available to any institution for adoption or modification. Colleges and universities can also initiate their own internal processes if they are willing to invest money, time, and resources. In either case, the institution must be aware that credit should only be granted for the learning that accompanies the experience, not for the experience itself. In addition, criteria must be determined for what constitutes college-level learning. Previous research has suggested that college-level learning must exhibit the following characteristics, being:
(1) demonstrable in some form;
(2) conceptual as well as practical;
(3) applicable outside the setting in which it was learned;
(4) related to an academic field;
(5) reasonably current; and
(6) traditionally taught at the college level.

In simplest terms, colleges and universities will consider awarding credit for knowledge that has been gained through life experience or prior educational experiences. To determine whether a student has acquired the specific knowledge and skills associated with a course that is taught at the collegiate level, schools use two separate methods of assessing.

For institutions that adopt the practice of granting credit for learning from life experience, there are other considerations which must be addressed. Financial commitments, faculty training, fee assessment, accreditation outcomes, transcript notations, and transfer issues are just a few of the university processes that may be affected. Just as adult students have changed the face of the early-twenty-first-century university, so does the very practice of assessing the learning that they bring with them.

How Do I Demonstrate My Knowledge (documents, training and work experience)?

You won't have to perform a Civil War reenactment to show you know American history. Nor will you have to churn out computer code to gain life credit for a computer course.

Instead, review curricula for the degree program you've selected. If you already have in-depth knowledge for a particular course, simply apply for life credit. Just be prepared to 'prove' your knowledge through various sources, such as:

If the knowledge you attained was strictly through work experience or community service, you may need to provide evidence of your skills. For instance, the college or university may ask you to submit letters from your employers, or other applicable entities, that confirm your job duties. The institution may also ask for a copy of your resume.


Although many legitimate institutions give academic credit for life and work experiences, beware of institutions that offer college credit and degrees based on life experience, with little or no documentation of prior learning. These institutions do not use valid methods to determine the amount of credit to be awarded. There are many employers, institutions and licensing boards that will question the legitimacy of credit and degrees earned in this way, these organizations will only recognize degrees earned from institutions accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Legitimate institutions offering credit for life or work experiences may use any combination of the following methods to determine how much credit is given: standardized tests, prior learning portfolio, oral exams, past college credit, and professional certification. The amount of credit awarded will vary from institution to institution. At legitimate institutions credit is awarded only if the work experience is equivalent to what would have been taught in a college level course.


Students should check with other institutions regarding transfer of credit policies to determine if your credits will be accepted by an institution you hope or plan to enroll in.

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