Wondering how to put your real-world knowledge and skills to work for the university? Consider getting college credit for the work experience.
Many colleges offer academic credit in exchange for completing a prior learning assessment, an assessment of your non-academic skills and knowledge. Completing a PLA can help you save money and time on your degree.
Read on for our guide on what to expect when converting past learning experiences into college credit. We cover how many credits you can earn, which colleges give credit for work experience, and more.
Why turn your work experience into college credit
Turning your work experience into college credit offers a variety of benefits, including:
- Finish your degree faster
- Save money on tuition, textbooks, etc.
- Work one or more jobs for students while earning credits
- Gain valuable hands-on experience
You can use the work experience credit to take an already fast-paced program such as an accelerated bachelor’s degree even faster and at a lower cost.
Eight ways to get college credit for work experience
You can demonstrate experience worthy of college credit with a portfolio of work experience, military experience, professional certifications, and more.
Here are some common options.
1. Earn credits for your military experience.
Members of the armed forces can earn college credit for their military experience based on recommendations from the American Council on Education (ACE). ACE validates its recommendations to schools using the Joint Services Transcript (JST) recognized by the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard.
To apply for military credit, most military personnel use the JST website. Air Force personnel, however, must apply through the Air Force Community College website.
Individual schools award credit for military experience on vastly different measures and sometimes disregard ACE recommendations.
Majors that generally award credit for military experience include:
Thanks to ACE, the credentials required for lucrative veteran jobs have become more accessible.
2. Take standardized exams.
Many students earn college credit for their prior learning by examination. Students register and pay a fee to take short exams on college-level subjects. If they receive a passing grade (around a “C”), they can take the exam to their school for credit for that subject.
The two most popular exams are the DSST and the CLEP.
The DANTES Subject Standardized Test, or DSST, is currently recognized by 1,900 schools. It has over 30 exam topics and costs $85 per exam, not including additional test center fees.
Each exam consists of 100 questions. Students have two hours to complete the test. Service members take their first DSST exam for free.
College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, credits are currently accepted by more than 2,900 schools nationwide. The test offers 33 different topic exams, with each exam costing an $89 non-refundable fee.
Testing centers or remote testing services sometimes add additional fees. Military service members can sometimes take the CLEP exams for free.
3. Collect and submit a portfolio of your work.
Some colleges and universities allow learners to claim prior learning credits with a portfolio of work experience. Remember to document:
Professional certifications (such as technical certifications or HR certifications)
- Work history
- Unique skills
You usually have to pay a $30 to $50 fee for the assessment, although sometimes you can cover the cost with financial aid.
- Prepare to submit your portfolio by following these practical steps:
- Study the course descriptions to see which courses match your experience
- Speak with academic advisors to understand your school’s policies
- Gather all documentation in one place
SEE: How to Build a Coding Portfolio
Schools observe different policies for obtaining credit through this method. Some only allow you to earn a few credits for a portfolio, while others may allow you to submit portfolios for multiple courses.
4. Earn professional certifications and licenses.
Professional certifications and licenses may also count for college credit if they are relevant to your degree. Some popular certifications and licenses that can earn you transfer credits include:
Bachelor’s degrees that require extensive professional development can be worth up to 60 credits toward an undergraduate degree.
Majors where professional licenses or certifications can count for substantial credit include nursing, engineering, and computer science. Even automotive service or firefighting certifications can count for credit in the right program.
You can earn academic credit by volunteering or doing an off-campus internship. Typically, colleges require a set number of volunteer hours per week to receive credit.
You can often get academic credit for volunteering abroad. Be sure to carefully check the reputation of any program you are interested in.
Popular sites for finding these opportunities abroad include:
Majors that fit well with this way of earning college credit include social work, environmental science, and urban planning.
You may benefit from academic supervision in your volunteer position. Please note: Some volunteer opportunities can cost thousands of dollars not covered by financial aid.
6. Conduct research.
You can also earn college credit as a high school student by doing research. Some organizations offering programs to gain college credit through research include:
Many credit-seeking programs are offered in an online format for the convenience of students who may not be able to relocate.
The requirements for these programs vary. Generally, applicants should be in good standing with a GPA well above 3.0. The cost generally ranges between $3,000 and $5,000 per research subject.
Some majors that mesh well with this method of obtaining credit may include:
7. Enroll in corporate training programs.
Company training courses can count for college credit. Corporate training providers may include:
- Training providers
- Government agencies
You can check if a training program can earn you college credit by asking your organization’s human resources department if your particular training course has been evaluated by CAOT.
Your employer typically pays for organizational training and onboarding. So not only do you save, but you earn a small amount of money to receive credit through this method. Topics that corporate training typically covers may include:
8. Explore ACE’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE) website.
If in doubt, check the ACE website. The CAOT website offers resources for students, including:
You can order an ACE transcript of your relevant past learning experiences, or your JST transcript, through the website.
If you are a returning or non-traditional student, consider joining the ACE community for guidance and support on how to translate your experiences into college credit.