Going back to college can be a stressful time because you feel like you're starting from square one, but you might be able to get a head start by turning your work experience into college credits.
Prior Learning Assessment Portfolio
Depending on which college you attend, you could get credit for your work experience by creating a prior learning assessment (PLA) portfolio. Your portfolio will document the college-level knowledge you have obtained outside the classroom, which will then be evaluated for potential credit toward your college degree.
If your school offers a PLA option, they will most likely also offer a course to help you prepare your portfolio to ensure you do everything correctly in order to successfully receive credit. You will have to choose undergraduate courses that are comparable to your work experience and describe how your experience fulfills the learning objectives for that course. Additionally, your portfolio might include:
- Descriptions of your job, work environment, and equipment used
- Letters verifying knowledge and skills from supervisors or employers
- Certificates, licenses, and awards
- Resume and transcripts
- Other proof and documentation of college-level learning
You will have to pay a fee, which is different for each institution, to have your portfolio evaluated, but that fee is often much less than having to take the entire course. For example, if you attend Strayer University, tuition is $1435 per course whereas the portfolio fee is only $250 per course.
For more information on PLA, check out our blog Earn College Credit for Job & Life Experiences with Prior Learning Assessments
Credits by Examination
Another option that might be available to earn college credit for work experience is to take an exam. A PLA portfolio requires comprehensive documentation and proof of learning to obtain credit, but if you think you could pass a specific subject exam, you might want to go that route instead.
The most common of these exams is the College Level Exam Program (CLEP). These exams, which only cost $80 each, cover a variety of subjects in composition and literature, world languages, history and social sciences, science and mathematics, and business. Almost 3,000 schools offer credit for CLEP exams but the policies on which exams are accepted, what qualifies as a passing score, and how many credits you can earn per exam vary from school to school. So make sure you know and understand the CLEP policy at your school before you take an exam.
Besides CLEP exams, there are also DSST exams that can give you credit for knowledge gained outside the classroom at nearly 2,000 colleges and universities. There are over 30 DSST exams, costing $80 per exam, in a wide range of subject areas such as business, humanities, math, physical and social sciences, and technology.
Professional Training and Certification
The American Council on Education (ACE) has a College Credit Recommendation Service (CREDIT) that helps those who have learned in the workplace obtain credit for formal trainings, courses, and exams. After receiving a request to be reviewed, CREDIT evaluates organizations to determine whether their educational programs qualify for college credit.
The National Guide to College Credit for Workforce Training provides credit recommendations for specific courses and exams given by an organization. For example, if you work for the American Bankers Association, the New York City Fire Department, or the Microsoft Corporation, among numerous other organizations, you might be able to receive comparable college credit for your formal training. Check out their website for a complete list of organizations that have been evaluated by CREDIT.
If you have military training, ACE also has you covered with their Military Guide. The Military Guide, which is updated daily, provides credit recommendations for training and courses within every military branch from 1954 to the present. So all your military training can be put toward getting a college degree!
Just because you've been in the workforce instead of a college classroom doesn't mean it's too late to go to college. Let your work experience help you earn college credits so you can save time and money to earn your college degree. Just remember that every school is different, so do your research to make sure you find the right program to give you the most value for hard work.