College Credit for Life Experience?

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October 16th, 2013 by schoolbound

What if you have been a retail manager for six years and you are now interested in pursuing a business degree to propel your future. Maybe you have been a babysitter or even a stay at home Mom for 10 years and you decide you would like a degree in early childhood education. Learning is a lifelong experience and your knowledge will continue to grow and expand the more you actually do something. Is that experiential knowledge worth something more than just the paycheck or your photographs? Perhaps you are a successful insurance investor and want to finally add that diploma to your office wall, but you are long past the desire for a full college experience and you do not want to invest all the time. Or maybe you are just looking for a diploma upgrade your Associates to Bachelor’s or Master’s to Doctorate. Whatever your personal case may be, you may be able to earn college credit from essentially living your life.

I am sure you have seen the ads everywhere on the net: “Earn college credit for life experience!” And although it may seem suspect, many accredited institutions do in fact allow you to use some life experience as credit towards a degree. But don’t think you can just tell your story and BAM! you get 20 credits with the snap of a finger. It can be a long and drawn out process where you need to prove what you learned through intense interviews, portfolio, documentation and essays. Although the process varies from institution to institution, nearly all colleges adhere to standards for assessment published by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, which mandates that credit be “awarded only for learning, and not for experience.” That means, you need to prove your business, travel and volunteer work led to practical knowledge.  And you need to write it out clearly, illustrating what you learned and the meaning you took from the experience.

Is it worth it? Yes and no depending on where you are in your life and career. If you are quite experienced in the field you would like your degree in, the basic coursework could be too basic to keep your interest and feel like a waste of your time. You could also be at the point in your career where you would like to earn the degree quickly and are not able to invest years to get it. Bypassing that coursework could be worth it for you. However, that being said there is benefit in taking coursework and getting a full experience just in case there are foundational things you have not been exposed to. There is ALWAYS an opportunity to learn in any situation and classroom, so you could miss out on an opportunity to take away something useful or even to refresh your dormant memories.

Each institution has its own policy regarding how much credit can be granted, and some if not most charge an evaluation fee of a few hundred dollars. But if you gain 15-30 credits for a $300 fee and some essay and interviews, in the long run it will save you money and get you to your goal faster. There is even the possibility in some cases to pay the regular course fee for the credit, skipping the coursework and just taking the final exam for credit.

A great place to start researching if your life experience can help you get a jump start on your degree is Learning Counts.  They have a Credit Predictor and can offer you a plan of action to help you get started. They are affiliated with certain colleges so you may have to choose from their list, but it is pretty diverse and sorted by state. You can also contact the university you are interested in directly and see what they have to offer as well.

You never know, you could be closer to that degree than you think!