Using Life and Work Experience To Jumpstart Your Distance Learning Degree

You may be able to earn college credit for military service (Photo by RDECOM)

You’re not a fresh-faced high school graduate, transferring immediately from your seat in the senior class to your seat at a university. You’ve been in the workplace or in the military, earning a living. Now you’re ready to go back to school. Is there any way to translate what you’ve learned out in the world into college credit? Consider each of the following options.

First, request that transcripts for any college classes you’ve taken, whether in pursuit of a degree or not, be transmitted to the university you’re considering. If the university was accredited, some or all of those credit hours may be transferable.

Have you taken any classes through or for work? Served in the military? Been certified in any profession? Get to know the American Council on Education (ACE). ACE evaluates all types of workplace learning and corporate training, military experience and training, and certifications. ACE then recommends how many credit hours each should be worth, and publishes its recommendations in The National Guide to College Credit for Workforce Training. According to its website, ACE has “reviewed and provided academic credit recommendations for more than 35,000 courses, examinations, and certifications offered by employers, federal agencies, professional associations, apprenticeship programs, online education providers, and other organizations.”

ACE states that it “represent[s] the presidents of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions, which include two- and four-year colleges, private and public universities, and nonprofit and for-profit entities,” totaling more than 1,800 institutions. So, while each university decides how many credit hours it will award for outside education, the ACE recommendations carry great weight. Thumb through the Guide to find the recommendation for a course that you’ve taken, or check a provider’s website before signing up for another course. If ACE has evaluated the course, the provider will be happy to tell you so.

Another way to accelerate your progress to your degree is the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). CLEP allows students to test out of some core classes.  Each passing grade on any of their 33 tests in five subjects areas can be the equivalent of one semester’s class, although individual schools determine how many credit hours they will award per test. Each test takes about 90 minutes, and costs about $80, plus there is usually an administrative fee of $15 – $20 charged for use of the test site. Military personnel can apply to Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES), to cover the costs of CLEP tests, and even some of the administrative fees.

There’s an option for obtaining college credit even if you haven’t been certified, served in the military, or don’t have confidence in your testing ability. You may be able to showcase what you’ve learned in a Portfolio Assessment. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) has set guidelines for academic portfolios, which most colleges follow in awarding credit. You can take their Self-Paced Portfolio Course, which is worth 3 credit hours. Then, you can earn up to an additional 12 credit hours when you submit the actual portfolio to an educational expert.

Given the right circumstances and training, you may be up to a year closer to that degree.

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