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The Life Experience Credit: An Explanation

Jul 22, 2007 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 4 Comments

If you’ve been on the job for a few years—or a few decades—your experience may be worth credits at your online college.  Many schools offer life experience credits to students who can prove they already have the skills taught in a certain course.  If you can translate your experience into college credit, you can save money and time earning your online degree.

Be wary of schools that offer too much life experience credit, however.  Many diploma mills offer degrees based largely on life experience.  Legitimate schools usually limit the amount of life experience credit you can qualify for, and you’ll always be required to prove your expertise.  

How To Get College Credit For Your Life Experience

How do you get credit for your life experience? The process depends on the school.  Here are some of the most common ways you can prove your knowledge—and translate that knowledge into credits towards a degree.

See Also: Distance Education Colleges

Speak with the college

This is always the place to start.  Speak with your school to determine how they judge your life experience.  Some schools accept standardized test scores such as the CLEP or a job-ready assessment; others want to see a portfolio of prior knowledge, and some may want to see a combination.  Some colleges will even ask for a personal interview to judge the depth of your knowledge.

Take a CLEP test

The CLEP exams, offered by the College Board, test competency in a range of subjects under composition and literature, history and social science, foreign languages, math, science, and business. Full list of exams here.  

Many colleges accept CLEP tests, but policies change from school to school.  Most colleges demand that you make a certain minimum score to earn credit, although required scores vary by school.  Some colleges grant requirement exemptions but do not offer credit, and many limit the amount of credits you can earn.  Before signing up for the CLEP test, be sure you know your school’s policies.

Submit a portfolio

Many schools expect you to submit a portfolio showing your experience.  The criteria changes depending on the school’s policies. Most of the time, you’ll have to tailor your portfolio towards demonstrating skills taught in specific classes you feel you’re qualified to get credit for. 

Include completed work assignments, certifications, personal essays, letters from supervisors or team members, curriculums and assignments from job training classes—anything to demonstrate you already know what a certain class is teaching.

Do a Job-Ready Assessment

Like the CLEP test, a job-ready assessment is a standardized test used to gauge a student’s prior knowledge.  Job-ready assessments are typically used in vocational or technical subjects, and there are over 75 topics available.  Like with the CLEP, some colleges may offer college credits based on a job-ready assessment score, although policies vary between schools.

Get certified

If you’re certified for a certain skill, you may be able to get college credit if you can prove that the online certification covers topics taught in a certain class.  Teaching, counseling, various computer and technology fields, and some administrative and business fields all commonly require certification.  Many of these are worth at least a few credits.  Others may shave off as much as a year from the time it takes to get your degree.

Leverage your workplace training

If you’ve completed any on-the-job training programs during the course of your work, you may have been earning college credits without realizing it.  There are many schools that offer clearly defined amounts of credits certain on-the-job training courses earn. 

Many of these credit-for-training programs are managed through the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT).  Participating schools generally share the ACE guidelines. 

If you’ve waited to go back to school and earn your degree, you may stand to save some serious money and time.  Many online colleges offer life experiences that can shorten your time in school by months—or even a year.  It can take some time and preparation to earn life experience credits, but you stand to save thousands in tuition costs.  Most students agree that the up-front investment is worth it.


Virgomomaz Over a year ago

This is a great guide to get started on how to show life experience. I think it is a waste to be required to take courses that you wont use for future employment, when you can show good general life knowledge.

John Lawless Over a year ago

Prior learning experience is a wonderful opportunity for students. In my experience, students need to separate their experience from what they have learned. One may have a lot of experience but isn't curious about why they do what they do. In this instance, experience may not equate to learning. While someone who does not have a lot of experience but is very curious about the job, may have some college level credit.

Beckyboodles83 Over a year ago

I have worked as a teaching assistant at a school for 20 years and have MUCH more actual experience in a classroom setting than new teachers coming into the system. I'd like to think that some of that would translate into college level credit.

Edmund Lizotte Over a year ago

This is an important aspect for military service members to consider when looking at which school to attend. As the article discusses, the American Council on Education (ACE) provides transfer guides on a great number of military schools and occupations and provides recommend college credits both upper and lower level. Each branch of service use these guides and provides the service member with an official transcript which colleges can use to conduct their review and transfer in the appropriate credit(s). The issue is not all schools do this even if they are a member of the Servicemembers Opportunity College system. The requirement of SOC is to "review and consider" if military training and experience will be transfered. Many do, many do not.

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