Credit for Prior Learning: Save Time and Money in Online College

credit for prior learning

Many colleges, including online ones, allow you to transfer your relevant life experiences into credit hours. This is called credit for prior learning.

Higher education is only getting more expensive by the day, with tuition and living costs inflation. As a result, US colleges and universities are seeing significant declines in student applications. Undergraduate enrollment decreased from 18.1 million to 15.8 million over the last 13 years.

More and more people are questioning the return on investment of a college degree. This shift of perception has led to students seeking alternative pathways to higher education.

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Enter online colleges with credit for prior learning opportunities.

This approach offers many students a practical and economical way to pursue higher education. Not only does this combo reduce college costs, but it also allows you to graduate faster. Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) makes higher education more accessible. It allows a diverse range of students to pursue a degree at a much lower cost faster.

In this post, you’ll learn more about PLA credit, including its advantages and how to apply for it.

What is Credit for Prior Learning?

Assessment of prior learning is a process to recognize non-academic experiences and knowledge. This process determines if they can be translated into college credits to give way to reduced hours and costs.

These include:

  • Military experience
  • Industry certifications
  • Career experience
  • Life experience
  • Advanced Placement (AP) and College-Level Examination Program (CLEP)
  • Course challenges
  • Professional licenses
  • Volunteerism
  • DSST
  • National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI)

Prior learning credit aims to reduce a student’s collegiate credit. It balances the goals of experienced students to fast-track their college path with the necessity of a degree to validate true competence, regardless of where it’s acquired. It assesses students’ experience and skills, identifying gaps and guiding how colleges can fill them.

How Online Colleges Offer Credit for Prior Learning

We’ve already established what counts as credit for prior learning. Now, it’s time to know how it really works.

  1. Assessment methods

Colleges use various assessment methods to evaluate prior learning. These may include portfolio assessments, standardized exams (like CLEP or DSST), challenge exams, and evaluations by faculty experts in the relevant subject areas.

  1. Evaluation by Faculty

Faculty members or subject matter experts review the documentation and assess whether the learning meets the criteria for academic credit. They determine whether the knowledge and skills acquired are equivalent to those learned in a specific college course.

  1. Documentation

Students are usually required to provide documentation of their prior learning experiences. This could include:

  • transcripts from other colleges
  • certificates from workshops or training programs
  • work experience documentation
  • samples of their work for portfolio assessment
  1. Credit Award

The student is awarded academic credit if the prior learning is deemed equivalent to a college course. This credit is typically recorded on the student’s transcript and counts toward their degree requirements.

  1. Appeals Process

Most colleges have an appeals process in case a student disagrees with evaluating their prior learning. This allows students to provide additional evidence or reasoning to support their claim for credit.

Colleges may have limitations on the amount of credit earned through CPL. They may also have specific policies regarding the types of learning experiences that can be considered for credit. Moreover, there may be fees associated with the CPL process. You may need to pay for assessment or administrative fees to document and process the credit.

Here are a few examples of colleges that give credit for work experience, standardized test scores, life experiences, and more.

You can click on their website and explore the specific prior learning experiences each school accepts. Online colleges that accept work experience for credits may have different processes and requirements from those that accept other types of prior learning credits. 

Benefits of Earning College Credit for Prior Learning

The prior learning credit assessment is very valuable. It offers various opportunities, from cost savings to confidence boosts. Learning about their top benefits will encourage you to exert more effort to get your prior learning experiences credited. Here are the main advantages of credit for prior learning:

  1. Saving money on tuition

This is the most obvious benefit of credit for prior learning. Pursuing online college credit transfer programs helps you minimize the overall cost of your education. Earning credit for what you’ve already learned means you won’t have to take as many classes to finish your degree. Colleges often charge for each class or credit hour, so fewer classes mean you’ll spend less on tuition.

  1. Reducing the time to graduate

Since you’ll have reduced credit hours, you’ll have an accelerated pathway to graduation. It allows you to enter the job market more quickly.

Personal testimonials and success stories:


Dawn graduated from Wilmington University with a concentration in studio production and digital filmmaking. She earned credits from Portfolio Assessments.

Dawn said, “The portfolio assessment was perfect for someone in my circumstances because I have several years of experience in my field, and it allowed me to prove my knowledge with a written summary and supporting work.”


Lisa, a Charter Oak graduate, successfully navigated her college journey with a CPL Scholarship to earn credit through Exams.

CPL offered an affordable and faster pathway for her to finish a degree. She took multiple exams and received the CPL scholarship for each of them. Her statement includes, “I have found the application and scholarship awarding process self-explanatory and easy to follow.”

How to Apply for Credit for Prior Learning

Many students find online colleges’ credit transfer programs daunting. Here’s a brief breakdown of the step-by-step process for CPL assessment. 

  1. Understand CPL policies.

Each school has different policies on how to earn college credit faster. It’s important to check in with your current or prospective college regarding their CPL policies and limitations.

  1. Gather documentation.

You can only prove that you’re worthy of CPL if you have enough proof of your experiences. The required documents may vary depending on what type of CPL you are applying for and the institution’s specific requirements. Generally, documentation could include:

  • Recommendation letters
  • Certifications
  • Legal documentation
  • Samples of work
  • Transcripts
  • Portfolio or Narrative
  1. Submit your application.

Each institution will have a CPL form you need to complete. Make sure you include all the details and submit everything the school asks for. Be aware of application deadlines. Ideally, you must submit your application in advance to allow processing time.

  1. Await evaluation.

The CPL coordinator or relevant department will review your application and supporting documents. Keep in touch with the CPL coordinator for any updates or additional information they may require.

  1. Plan your academic path.

If approved, you should consider discussing how the awarded credits affect your academic plan and graduation timeline with an academic advisor. These professionals will help you register for courses accordingly, considering the credits you’ve been awarded through CPL.

Tips for Maximizing Your Credit for Prior Learning

In this section, we’ll explore some strategies for gaining the most credits possible.

Tip #1: Compare institutions.

You should start searching for institutions that accept CPL at least six months before your intended enrollment. Read and compare CPL policies. You must take into account your prior learning experiences. Identify which of these experiences align closely with the courses or competencies required in your intended degree program.

Tip #2: Consult with academic advisors.

Academic advisors will help you in your search and goal setting. They can also provide invaluable insights into the CPL assessment process, including compiling your portfolio and identifying potential courses or credits you may qualify for.

Tip #3: Know which CPLs are most likely to be credited.

All CPLs have great potential to be credited. It all boils down to your approach to the assessment process. Here are a few tips on how to ensure that evaluators value your prior learning experience:

  • Highlight experiences where you have gained substantial knowledge or skills relevant to your degree program.
  • Emphasize transferable skills. These include leadership, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills.
  • Demonstrate the applicability of your prior learning experiences.

But before you start applying for the CPL, make sure that the institution accepts the type. Some will only consider work experiences and professional certifications. Others, on the other hand, might also accept life experiences. Choose an institution that aligns well with your prior learning experiences and offers a robust CPL assessment process. 


Before pursuing an online college, assess your life experiences and career achievements. See how they align with CPL opportunities offered by colleges. Credit for prior learning experiences helps you save money in college. It will also help you reduce the time to complete a degree, allowing you to enter the job market quickly.