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Get Credit for Prior Learning

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Some of your past experiences, like paid or volunteer work experience, high school courses, military service, or self-directed learning can be used for academic credit.

Want to save both time and money on your college degree? You may be able to get college credits based on what you have learned in the past. This can include high school, previous work or life experience, or non-credit courses you've taken in the military or for a job.

Common ways to get credit for prior learning are:

  • Advanced Placement (AP)
    You take AP courses and exams in high school to earn college credits. Students with AP credits often do better in college because they know what to expect. If you took AP classes, your high school transcript will be needed when you apply to college in order to request these credits. Learn more about advanced placement.
  • College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
    CLEP gives you an opportunity to demonstrate college-level achievement through a program of exams in undergraduate college courses. Credit may also be awarded for paid or volunteer work experience, military service, or self-directed learning. Learn more about CLEP.
  • Veterans Education Transfer System (VETS)
    VETS is an online application to help veterans determine how their military experience can count for credit at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities institutions. Minnesota veterans can use VETS, including past, present, and future servicemembers. Learn more about VETS.
  • Portfolio-Based Prior Learning Assessments
    Some types of learning can be shown by taking a standard test, like the AP or CLEP above. Other learning may require a different approach to demonstrate. Many Minnesota colleges and universities will consider giving college credit to students who can show that they have already learned the content of their coursework.

    Some colleges require that you take (and pay for) a course where the instructor will help you prepare a portfolio to show what you already know. That portfolio is then assessed by college faculty or staff to decide if the college will grant any credit. The assessment will detail how much credit you could earn, and how that credit will be applied toward your program requirements. Check with the schools you are interested in for their specific policies about portfolio-based assessments.
  • Training-Based Prior Learning Assessments
    If you have taken formal training through an employer, the military, or a professional association, or if you have taken certain national exams, you may be able to use these for college credit. The American Council on Education (ACE) is a national organization that keeps track of these types of trainings. ACE has evaluated each type of training and provides recommendations to colleges for granting college credit that recognizes the training's value. Most colleges follow ACE's recommendations. Learn more about the ACE.
  • Challenge Exams
    Some colleges will allow you to take an exam that they've developed to demonstrate that you already know the material covered in particular courses. These exams, sometimes referred to as challenge exams, are often the final exam from a previous semester.

Schools vary widely on whether they grant credit for prior learning, which types they accept, fees they charge for various types of assessments, and how they do it. Get specific information from schools you are interested in about credit for prior learning.

Where Can I Find More Information?

The national Virtual Career Network website has an online tool to walk you through the process of applying for credit for prior learning. This tool, called the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), collects and organizes information that may help with an assessment of prior learning. The website's focus is on the health care industry, but the PLA tool can be used by students of all subject areas. You can save your work as you go by setting up a free account on the site. At the end of the tool you can print a final report called "My Learning Inventory." It is important to learn more about the policies and practices at your school, so you know whether this tool will be helpful in your situation.

To get started: