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Earning College Credit for Work and Life Experience

Instructor: Kristin Fromal

Kristin is a school counselor and has a Master's degree in Social Work.

Learning can occur both within and outside of a classroom. Some universities have a process through which students can obtain credit for prior work or volunteer experiences by submitting a portfolio, taking an examination, or providing a military transcript.

Credit by Portfolio Review

The provision of credit for work experience will require the documentation of what the student has achieved and a reflection upon the theoretical value of these skills. Often, in order to receive credit for work experience, a university will require students to compile a portfolio for review. Credit for work experience is typically awarded to adult student learners who have spent a significant time in the workforce.

Students may enroll in a course or have access to a mentor in order to develop the portfolio. The credit for prior work experience often replaces a specific course, therefore skills must be documented and work experience align with curricular expectations. Common standards for the portfolio may include:

  • Educational goal statement
  • Samples of relevant work
  • Job descriptions and resume
  • A minimum (3-5) number of years of work experience in the field
  • Evaluations of performance
  • Supervisor recommendation
  • Certificates or licenses
  • Essay

The written work submitted should meet college level expectations in terms of writing and critical thinking. A fee may be charged for a review of the portfolio. It is important to consult with the academic advisor, dean, or other designated university professional to understand any specific requirements for your university.

The credit received through a portfolio review may map directly to a specific course at the university. This chart details some examples of what course a portfolio might replace.

Type of WorkExample of a Course for Possible Credit
Volunteer FirefighterFire Investigation and Analysis
Juvenile Probation OfficerJuvenile Justice
Logistics SupervisorIntroduction to Human Resources
Child Care Center DirectorEarly Childhood Development
Information Security ConsultantIT Consulting
Family AdvocateApplied Skills in Human Services

Credit by Examination or Certification

Another way to earn credit for prior life experience is to sit for examinations that provide a standardized assessment of your previous learning. These types of exams may be available through different testing programs, such as the CLEP (College-Level Examination Program). They might be offered in a diverse set of fields, including accounting, foreign languages, and technology. Your university may provide a list of what types of credit you can earn through an examination process and where you can go to take these tests.

Some universities may also recognize specific credentials for credit in certain circumstances. These are likely to be rigorous, industry-approved programs such as PHR (Professional in Human Resources) , FAA Flight Attendant, and various Cisco certifications.

What if My Prior Experience was Military Service?

If your prior work experience was through the U.S. Military, you may have a different process to earn college credit for your service. The American Council on Education (ACE) has conducted reviews on a wide range of courses and occupations in which members of the U.S. Military engage. These reviews employ professors in those disciplines to validate whether the military activity has the appropriate scope and rigor to qualify for college credit. You may request and be provided with a Joint Services Transcript, which details the recommendations of ACE in terms of the provision of credit.

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

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