Earning your degree as an adult isn’t easy. You already have your hands full with work, family, and other life responsibilities. Getting finished quickly, conveniently, and economically is a priority.
Many colleges recognize the unique needs of adult learners and have developed programs to save you both time and money by giving you college credit for work and other life experiences.
In this article, we’ll provide an overview of how these programs work, suggest some things to look for as you evaluate programs, and list some colleges you can explore to get started.
How do you get college credit for work experience?
The basic idea behind these kinds of programs is simple: There are lots of ways to learn things outside of a college classroom and it doesn’t make sense to have college students take a course on the material they already know. Recognizing prior learning lets students get a jump start on earning their degrees, saving them both time and money.
The programs colleges have developed to implement this idea go by different names. In addition to credit for work experience, you’ll see colleges talk about credit for prior learning or credit for work and life experiences.
What can count for credit?
The answer will differ depending upon the institution, but it is usually a bit broader than strictly work experience. Here are the most common kinds of prior learning that may earn you credits.
Non-college courses or training: You may have completed some kind of coursework, training, or seminar that took place outside of a college setting. One common example of this would be courses completed as part of military service.
Certifications: Many people earn certifications for their jobs that reflect specialized knowledge and training. The process of getting certified typically involves a period of study and preparation as well as passing an exam.
Examples would include professional licenses for fields like real estate and insurance and certifications like Lean Six Sigma, Professional in Human Resources (PHR), or the CompTIA A+.
Work experience: You can learn a lot on the job. If you have been working in marketing for several years, for instance, you’re likely to know just as much — if not more — than someone who has completed basic marketing courses.
Life experience: This is the broadest category and is intended to capture things that don’t fit into the other three. An example here could be extensive leadership experience as a volunteer in a local nonprofit.
How is credit assigned?
This also will be different for each school. In most cases, it is a fairly individualized process that requires a thorough consideration of your prior learning experiences. Here are some of the tools schools will use to determine how much credit you will receive.
Tests: This is a straightforward way to assess how much a student knows about a particular subject and the extent to which what they have learned matches what would be acquired in an academic setting.
Sometimes tests are developed and given by the college itself. Other times they rely upon nationally-recognized exams like those given by the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP).
Courses and certifications: For these kinds of prior learning, colleges may have standardized ways of assigning credit.
For instance, a CompTIA A+ certification may be considered equivalent to a student taking an entry-level course in computer science and thus count for the corresponding credits.
Portfolio: Especially when it comes to working experience, students are often required to create a portfolio that describes their experience, includes examples of their work, and explains what they have learned from that experience.
Portfolios are assessed by program staff to determine what credit might be appropriate.
What to look for in programs that offer credit for work experience
At this point, we hope you’re starting to see exciting possibilities for how what you already know can give you a head start on earning your degree. The next step is to find a program. Here are some things to keep in mind as you consider your options.
- What is the process for earning credits for prior learning? As we discussed in the section above, there are several different kinds of experiences that might earn you credit as well as different ways colleges assess them.
This part is crucial since the amount of credit you get from one school could be quite different from what you will be offered at another. This difference translates into both time and money.
It is a smart idea to talk with someone on the phone at each school you’re considering to get an accurate idea about what you can expect.
- Which degrees are offered? Maybe you just need to complete a bachelor’s degree and you are flexible about the area. On the other hand, you might want to study a specific major, like accounting. Make sure the schools you are looking at have the degree you want.
- How flexible is the program? As a working adult, this is another key consideration. Will your courses be online or on campus? Will they be offered at a specific time you need to attend or can you complete them at your own pace? Will you have one course at a time or several?
- What are the costs? This one is obvious. Remember, though, that what you are really interested in is the final cost to you. One program might have a cheaper tuition rate but end up costing you more because it has less aid available. Make sure you investigate the details.
Some colleges that offer credit for work experiences
There are many programs out there so we aren’t going to try to provide an exhaustive list. Rather, here are a few examples that can give you a place to start as you explore your options. For each school, we provide a link to the page that details the kinds of credit they offer for prior learning and how the program works.
Athens State University
Central Michigan University
Mount Pleasant, MI
Colorado State University Global
Fort Collins, CO
Southern New Hampshire University
University of Phoenix
Make the most of your experience with Athens State
Athens State University focuses on adult learners and other non-traditional students finishing their degrees.
We appreciate the challenges you face and strive to provide the flexibility, affordability, and quality education essential for your success. Part of what this means is working creatively to give you all the credit you deserve for your work and life experiences.
Want to see what’s possible? You can fill out a quick form today and see what credits you may qualify for at Athens State.
If you’re interested in finding out more, explore the program details.