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BellaOnline's Colleges Editor

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Credit for Prior Learning

Guest Author - Susan D. Bates

Many colleges award college credit for prior learning experiences, also referred to as credit for life experience. Credit for prior learning experience describes credit awarded for nontraditional forms of learning experiences. These learning experiences may include military service, work experience, or nontransferable education. Colleges usually have a maximum amount of credit that can be earned from prior learning. To complete a degree, the majority of credits earned are typically required to come from traditional academic coursework.*

Colleges use several methods to award credit for prior learning. Below is a list of the most common methods colleges use:


Common Prior Learning Assessments

ACE Transcripts

The American Council on Education (ACE) evaluates certain training courses and provides college credit recommendations for those courses. ACE evaluations take form of a transcript for each student. The transcript describes the material covered during the training and the credit recommended for each training course. Students who complete such training can have an ACE transcript sent to their college for evaluation. Colleges will then make a determination of credit based on the studentís transcript and on institutional policies.

Many military, government and corporate training courses are evaluated through ACE. Students can visit the ACE website (http://www.acenet.edu) determine if their training program has been evaluated.


Standardized Testing

Standardized testing is available for students who would like to receive credit in subjects where they have extensive knowledge learned outside of a traditional classroom. Students interested in these tests must pay a fee to register. There are two main credit-by-exam standardized examinations:

  • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) offered through the College Board testing service (http://www.collegeboard.org).

  • DSST examination** offered through Prometric testing service (http://www.getcollegecredit.com/).

Each testing service offers examinations in over 30 subject areas. While each testing service offers its own examination, there is some overlap in subjects offered between the two services. Students should research each service and their collegeís policies to determine which examination is best for them.

In-House Examinations

Some colleges offer their own examinations for students to earn college credits from prior learning. In these cases, credits are awarded to students who demonstrate a proficiency in a particular subject area by passing a test given by the college. These examinations are usually limited to specific courses. Students should check with their college to learn about available options for credit by examination.

Portfolio Demonstrations

Some colleges allow students to submit a portfolio to demonstrate their knowledge of a subject area. Colleges who accept portfolios will review the materials to determine if there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the learning objectives of the related course have been met.


Colleges vary greatly on the assessment methods accepted and the amount of credit awarded for prior learning experiences. Colleges sometimes charge an evaluation fee for prior learning assessment; this is especially true for portfolio and in-house examinations. However, the fees are typically less than tuition.

Students should review their course directory and discuss the potential for earning credit for prior learning with their academic advisor. Academic advisors can review the studentís degree plan ensure potential credit is likely to fit into their degree plan. Students who plan to transfer to a different college should also be aware that credit earned through prior learning might not be transferable.


* Be aware that while many legitimate colleges award credit for prior learning, institutions that award degrees based learning through life experience with little or no academic work are diploma mills. Diploma mills are businesses that award worthless degrees those willing to pay for them.

**Previously known as DANTES Subject Standardized tests

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Content copyright © 2014 by Susan D. Bates. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Susan D. Bates. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.

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