Non-Traditional College Degree Program Overviews

Non-traditional college degree programs allow students to earn a degree based upon life experiences, such as work experience, military training, volunteer activities and college-level examinations. Non-traditional degree programs are typically more suited for well-rounded students who have many years of life experience.

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There are a variety of educational options for non-traditional students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, tailored for individuals with previous life experience.

Overview of Non-Traditional Degree Programs

Non-traditional degrees are more commonly known as life experience degrees. They are usually designed for working adults. In a non-traditional degree program, students earn college credit from work experience, employer-sponsored training, military training, volunteer activities, industry training, examinations such as the CLEP and other life endeavors.

Earning a Non-Traditional College Degree

A student's first step towards obtaining a non-traditional degree is to demonstrate that his or her acquired life experience is equal to what would be learned in a typical college program. This is usually done by completing an evaluation application that will be reviewed by college faculty members. The evaluation process most often used is the prior learning assessment method. With this method, college faculty thoroughly examine a student's qualifications. If approved, the student's life experiences can be converted into credits that will be applied towards a college degree.

Another option for earning nontraditional college credit is to complete a College Level Examination Program (CLEP) Exam. Successfully passing a CLEP test can earn a student college credit that can be applied towards a traditional or non-traditional degree program. In the CLEP program, students can take up 33 exams. Students are tested on knowledge gained through:

  • Previous college coursework
  • Job training
  • Independent study
  • Internships
  • Professional development courses
  • Cultural activities

Program Options

Students can earn degrees at the associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctorate degree levels. Non-traditional college degree programs can be completed in areas such as:

  • Business administration
  • Social work
  • Theology
  • Accounting
  • Criminal justice
  • Information technology

It's advisable that students find a non-traditional degree program that is accredited. Schools will list their accreditation status on their websites, and prospective students can double-check a school or program's accreditation with the accrediting agency. The U.S. Department of Education website also maintains a database of accredited institutions.


Program requirements can vary by institution, but generally require students to have not attended a traditional degree program in recent years. Usually, non-traditional students must also possess a certain level of professional or life experience.

Non-traditional degree programs allow students to get college credit for life experience, as demonstrated by applications or CLEP exams. Degrees are available in subject ranging from theology to business, depending on the student's area of expertise.

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