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Get Credit for What You Know

More institutions let adults use life experience toward a college degree

  • Many colleges still don't advertise that they evaluate prior learning. If you're thinking about attending your local community college or four-year institution, be sure to ask an admissions officer if you could earn credit for outside learning. Find out what forms of prior-learning assessment the colleges you're interested in accept. Do they take all forms: subject matter tests, ACE credit and portfolio-based assessments?
  •  Before you talk to an admissions officer, you should jot down a list of everything you've learned — on the job, through hobbies, or while volunteering — that might be worth college credit, suggests Paul Marquardt, assistant dean of professional studies at Concordia University Irvine.

See also: AARP's Create the Good.

  • Make sure the credits you can get will be applicable to the program you're pursuing. Many colleges limit the degree programs in which they can be used. Business and teacher-certification programs most commonly accept prior learning credits.
  • Find out how the credit will be counted. It's rare for colleges to apply prior learning to requirements for a major. Commonly, it counts toward electives or general-education requirements, like English or math. If you need electives, that will still speed the time to a degree, but if you already have enough elective credit, say from another college, it won't help. Be sure to find out before you pay to have learning assessed!
  • Research the costs, because every program is a little different. Pamela Tate, of the Council of Adult and Experiential Learning, says that as a general rule of thumb, colleges shouldn't charge more than half the cost of tuition to assess a portfolio. And they should charge little to nothing to evaluate credits earned at other colleges or through tests.

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