Whether you've been working a paid job, serve in the military, or are active as a community volunteer, who wouldn't want to get "credit for life experience" as you figure out how you're going to finish your bachelor's degree as quicky as possible?
In some schools you can earn up to 30 credits for prior life experience (out of a total of 120 needed for a bachelor's). According to a 2010 study of 62,000+ adult learners by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, which sets the standards for Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), students with PLA credits go on to earn a bachelor's degree at nearly three times the rate of students who don't (43% vs. 15%).
But getting "credit for life experience" may not be as simple as it sounds.
Showing What You've Learned
You may have to put together a portfolio describing your work, verify your publications or performances, and/or provide certification for courses completed in a non-academic setting such as the military. If you completed coursework at a school that is not accredited, you may have to demonstrate how you applied what you learned. You may even have to take a short course on how to put together a portfolio.
One university that awards credit for life experience is CUNY, the City University of New York. But as they note in their Bachelor of Arts in Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies' "Life Experience" page, ". . . the most important thing to keep in mind . . . is that credit is not awarded for your experiences (no matter how sophisticated) but for your ability to demonstrate that these experiences constitute college-level learning."
Consider the Costs
Public colleges and universities such as The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) use CLEP, the College Level Examination Program, to assess students' previous learning to earn credit. CLEP is run by the College Board, which also oversees the SAT. CLEP exams are available in a wide variety of subjects, from Accounting and American Literature to Calculus, Foreign Languages, Psychology, and Sociology. They can be taken at centers nationwide. Each exam costs around $80, can earn you from 3 to 8 credits, and often allows you to "opt out" of a General Education requirement.
For example, at UNCG, a minimum score of 50 on the CLEP Biology exam gives you credit for BIO 111 and BIO 112, a total of 8 credits. A score of 52 or better on the CLEP Intro Psychology exam can earn you 3 credits for PSY 121. Check here for the list of CLEP exams for courses at UNCG.
How to Prepare for the CLEP
The good news is, there are a number of ways to prep for a CLEP exam: college-level work done outside college, from high school to the military, test prep materials from the College Board, test prep courses, and study on your own. The tough news is, colleges usually only award CLEP credit for enrolled students. So be sure to know what the college you are looking at requires. And the CLEP tests are difficult. You will have to check out test prep materials and be sure you study ahead of time.
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