More and more adults are returning to school in order to enhance their careers or to finish degrees that they started years earlier. These students bring valuable experience and knowledge from their lives that can help them accelerate their academic pursuits. Many colleges and universities award college-level credits for experiential learning (also called prior learning) that has been gained through work or life experiences. Prior learning credits can expedite your degree and reduce tuition costs.
[Learn how to get College Credit for Your Life Experience with a free online course.]
What is experiential learning?
Experiential learning is the knowledge you’ve gained through real-life contexts. Experiential learning happens through academic studies, professional experience, military training, volunteer services, or travel. An evaluation of your experiential learning will identify your core knowledge and skills that equate to college-level credits. You may be surprised at the college-level learning you have acquired outside of the classroom that can automatically get you ahead in a degree program.
How is eligibility determined?
Prior learning credit is granted on a case-by-case basis, at the discretion of the school. Most educational institutions follow the standards outlined by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and regional accrediting associations when determining eligibility for experiential learning. Credits are not given for the experience, but for the learning outcomes gained from it.
Eligibility for prior learning credit may be determined in a number of ways, depending on the university:
- Your professional experience. You may be asked to submit a portfolio that demonstrates the theoretical and practical knowledge you’ve already learned. Any previous formal training, courses taken (this may include MOOCs), certifications you’ve earned, or knowledge gained through work experience should be included.
[Need some inspiration for a MOOC to take? See the 5 MOOCs to help you find your purpose.]
Some schools offer a prior learning assessment course or a portfolio development course, and fees for this can vary. The course helps you document your learning so that you can submit a portfolio to be reviewed for college credits.
Students who apply for credit through learning portfolios are able to earn their degrees faster, cutting an average of 10 months off their class time.
- Your military experience. The institution you choose may require an official military transcript for review to award credit equivalents for your military service. To request your transcripts, contact one of the following:
- Your military or workplace training. To get college credits for training programs you’ve completed, an American Council on Education (ACE) evaluation may be required. It reviews your formal training and recommends postsecondary credit equivalents.
- Through examination. To show your learning achievement outside of academia, standardized tests such as the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) or the DSST Credit by Exam Program (formerly known as DANTES) may be required.
[Military service members can Speed to a Degree with prior learning credits.]
How many experiential credits can be applied to a degree?
The number of credit hours awarded for experiential learning also depends on the institution and the degree program to which you are applying. These postsecondary institutions, both online and traditional, provide an idea of how many experiential or prior learning credits may be applied toward an undergraduate degree:
- Boise State University: Up to 33% of the total credits required for graduation may be earned through a combination of all forms of assessment of experiential learning.
- Daytona State College: The maximum number of credits that can be earned through the combined total of transfer, examination, or experiential learning is 75% of the credits necessary.
- Graceland University: Up to 30 semester hours of life experience credit for college-level learning may be awarded.
- John Brown University: Credit for prior learning is limited to 16 semester hours total per student.
- Kaplan University: Prior learning credit may be given for up to 75% of the credits required for a degree.
- Kentucky State University: Up to 40+ credit hours may be applied to course requirements based on the prior learning assessment.
- Lesley University: Up to 45 prior learning credits may be applied toward a 120-credit degree.
- New York University: Up to 50% of experiential learning credits could be applied toward a degree.
- Pace University: Depending on the degree program, 36 prior learning credits may be applied.
- Portland State University: Up to 45 prior learning credits may be applied, depending on program and departmental regulations.
- Providence College: Up to 50% of credits required to complete a degree may be awarded for prior learning.
[Find scholarships for prior learning.]
Taking some time to evaluate your experiential learning could leave you leaps and bounds ahead in your educational goals. With prior learning credits, what you’ve already learned in life and in the workforce can get you closer to your next step in earning a degree.
What kind of experiential learning has benefited you the most?