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Un­der­stand­ing College Credit for Work Experience

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As you consider your future college options – after spending some time exploring the job market, it is important to determine if the programs of interest are offered by accredited colleges that give credit for work experience.

Most colleges that accept work experience for credit do so by granting credits for a variety of previous experiences that may include military experience, certifications at the professional level, and workplace training. There are even exams designed to test aspiring degree candidates’ competency that lead to getting college credit for work experience.

These potential credits – known as Credits For Prior Learning, or CPLs, are policies set forth by institutions of higher education that offer students the opportunity to accelerate a specific degree program. Undergraduate students may have the ability to apply CPLs toward a college degree, sometimes shaving off a year, or more, of studying.

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The Benefits Offered by Colleges that Give Credit for Work Experience

When considering which campus or online college that gives credit for work experience will suit your situation best, be certain you can take advantage of all the benefits CPLs offer students vying for a degree.

  • When you get college credit for work experience, students have the potential to complete their degree program in less time. The amount of CPL credits permitted by any program or school will vary and can go as high as 90 earned credits for an academic program that requires 120 semester credits to meet program requirements.
  • Income degree candidates can save money because the cost of a CPL credit vs. a traditional academic credit differs significantly. Credit for Prior Learning, when comparing cost per credit hour, is dramatically less.
  • Students receive appropriate credit for knowledge and competencies they have already mastered. Adult students will avoid having to relearn information which can waste time and money. Instead, they can use the time to learn something new while accelerating their pathway to the degree.

Another benefit this process offers is a chance to personally assess their proficiencies as they move closer to choosing a program, school, and the next stage of their career. This is a great time to categorize and consolidate one’s knowledge and schools to refine how you want to apply your talents and skills to a career.

However, be honest with yourself because, for some, it may be wiser to take the course, especially if your knowledge and confidence could use academic reinforcements on topics not learned through formal education. Anchor

If you are confused as to the best path regarding certain CPLs, it is essential to consult with a college counselor to determine the appropriate path. The ultimate goal is to graduate not only with an academic degree, but the skills required to successfully navigate a path to your career objectives.

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How to Obtain Credit for Prior Learning & Life Experience

Proficiency exams are designed to test the current knowledge of adults regarding college-level subjects. Although modest, there is typically a fee for anyone who wishes to take an exam – which is offered at many testing sites. CPL exams are typically designed as multiple-choice tests that generally last about an hour.

College Credit for CLEP Exams

The College Level Exam Program – also referred to as CLEP, is recognized to be among the most widely accepted challenge exams; designed to demonstrate an adult student’s “life experience.” It can be taken at more than 2,000 testing sites nationwide.

The CLEP offers five general exams or nearly three dozen single-subject college subjects – accepted by more than 2,900 accredited campus-based and online colleges and universities. It is noted that more institutions of higher learning accept CLEP exam results than any of the other prior learning exams. Check the CLEP college credit policy database to confirm the schools of interest are included.

CLEP single-subject tests are available for classes typically taught at a basic or introductory level. Among the available tests are biology, U.S. History, English composition, Pre-calculus, languages of the world, financial accounting, and marketing, among others.

CLEP’s five general exams cover English composition, college mathematics, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences – all at the freshman level. If a student passes all five general, they may be granted 30 college credits which are equivalent to the credits earned in one year of full-time studies!

Each CLEP exam costs $89— which is a small fraction of tuition costs just for a single college-level class. Note military students and their spouses (and even some civilian employees working for the military) can have the fees for the exam waived.  

In addition, college credits can be earned by taking DSST exams. The DSST was originally designed to award academic credit for military experience but is now available to everyone.

DSST Standardized Subject Tests

DSST offers 37 specific subject exams that cover business, human resources, education, computer and information technology, personal finance, social science, humanities, math, the physical sciences, and technology, to name a few.

The DSST exam has a similar fee to the CLEP exam but is waived for military members for the first test in each subject. Mare than 1,500 colleges grant credit for those students applying with DSST score results. Prospective test takers can search the institutions that accept DSST for credit.

The CLEP and DSST tests both grant college credit for passing scores. However, each exam covers varying subjects, and some schools only accept one exam.

Military Experience Credit

Military-connected students are often granted academic credit for military service, learning, and experience. The American Council on Education (ACE) offers online advice. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs also provides information on how and where to request your transcript – the paperwork that details ACE’s recommended college credits.  

Corporate Training Experience Credit

Workplace training programs and professional certifications have the potential to translate into college experience credits. The ACE National Guide is a great resource for corporate training information. An example of this type of professional license/corporate training that would translate to academic credits would include credits for passing the NCLEX exam. Licenses and certifications in many industries are applicable.

The Take-Away

As noted above, the answer to the question is – Can you get college credit for work experience? Is a resounding Yes!

But note that proficiency exams, military service, and even professional licenses offer no guarantees, so students must do their due diligence and carefully research credit for each school’s prior learning credit policies.  

For those depending on these credits, it may pay to select a college with a more generous CPL policy. Don’t forget about potential corporate training programs to optimize credit for work experience.  


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Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?