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Earning a college degree can lead to better paying job opportunities, but it takes time to achieve this educational goal. You might spend several years earning an undergraduate degree, and then tack on a few more years to earn a graduate degree, for example. That’s a lot of time.

Fortunately, depending on the program and the institution you attend, there may be a way to shorten the time to graduation by gaining college credit for work experiences that offer relevance to certain learning objectives—Prior Learning Assessment.

Prior Learning Assessment, or PLA, offers a way for you to potentially earn college credit for work experience or life experience, which could help you get your degree in less time overall.

PLA policies differ from one institution to the next, but you should still learn more about how they work in general. This can help you determine if you want to explore PLA options in order to earn school credit for work experience.

What Are Prior Learning Assessments?

PLAs refer to the specific assessments colleges and universities perform to evaluate your life or work experience for potential college credit. These types of assessments have been done since the 18th century to give those in remote areas or those who had to begin working right after high school a way to earn college credits based on work or life experience.

In modern times, PLAs aren’t just done under these circumstances. PLAs provide people from all kinds of backgrounds with a chance at earning school credits outside the traditional classroom learning experience. Many higher learning institutions make PLAs available to incoming students, although specific policies vary. In general, PLAs are mainly used toward earning undergraduate degrees, such as bachelor’s degrees or associate degrees.

What Are the Benefits of PLAs?

PLAs can provide students with several important benefits for earning a higher education credential, including:

  • Less time spent earning a degree, allowing students to start their career sooner
  • Lower costs associated with earning a degree due to shortening the time to graduation
  • Opportunities for students who couldn’t go to college right after high school
  • Distance learning opportunities for those in remote or rural areas
  • Access to more advanced courses earlier rather than having to start with basic courses
  • More engagement with course material in advanced courses for higher retention rates
  • Promotion or advancement opportunities from a recognized in-depth understanding of the chosen field
  • Resume-building—demonstrably recognized abilities to help with the post-graduation job hunt

Limitations of Prior Learning Assessments

While PLAs offer notable benefits, they do have a few limitations that you should be aware of. Knowing about these potential drawbacks is an important part of understanding how PLAs work and what you can expect if you make use of these assessments toward earning a degree. PLA limitations can include:

  • Credit caps: Many colleges and universities place a cap on the amount of credit you can be awarded through PLAS. Even if you have many years of work experience, for example, you might only be able to use a small portion toward college credit. Nevertheless, it will still help shorten the time to earn your degree.
  • Non-transferability: PLA credits aren’t always transferable from one school to the next. This might not be a concern if you plan to remain in the same program at one learning institution. However, if you’re thinking of switching to another school after getting PLA credits at your current one, you may not be able to transfer them. This could set you back in terms of earning your degree. For example, you might have to take courses that you didn’t need to take at your current school with PLA credits.
  • PLA credits vs. course requirement waivers: Having course requirements waived isn’t the same as earning PLA credits. It’s important to be aware of this so that you aren’t short on the credits needed for graduation. Your school might waive a course or two based on your knowledge and skill level, but you might not earn credit toward it.
  • Undergraduate vs. graduate PLA credits: Not all schools offer PLA credits toward graduate degrees. In fact, finding a school that does offer these credits can be difficult since schools typically offer PLA credits for undergraduate degree programs only. This might be an issue if you have your undergraduate degree and you’re planning to go back to school for a graduate degree.

How to Get College Credits for Work Experience

Getting school credit for work experience depends on the type of work you’ve done as well as other factors, such as a school’s particular PLA policies. Some examples of the kinds of learning experiences you might be awarded college credits for include the following:

  • Professional certification
  • Continuing education
  • Volunteer work
  • Military training or service
  • Civic activities
  • National exams
  • Workplace training
  • Independent study

The path you follow to get PLA credits may vary depending on the degree you plan to earn and the school you end up attending. Some of the ways in which you might be able to earn PLA credits for life or work experience include:

  • Taking an exam on a specific subject: The College Board and other programs offer exams to evaluate mastery in specific subjects. Keep in mind that these exams usually cost money.
  • Creating a portfolio: Instead of taking an exam, you might have the option to present a portfolio that illustrates your work experience. Your portfolio should contain experience that is relevant to the degree program you’re applying for. If you need help doing this, some schools have PLA courses that include assisting students with putting together a portfolio.
  • Taking International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement exams as a high school student: This option allows high school students to earn college credits and reduce the amount of time and money spent on earning a degree.

Since school PLA policies differ, it’s important to ask each educational institution you’re considering for detailed information. This can help you decide which college or university to go to if you’re planning to look into earning PLA credits.

Who Should Consider PLA Credits

Not everyone should expect to be awarded college credit through PLA. If you don’t have any prior work experience, for example, you might spend money on a national exam with a very low chance of earning those credits. You might be a good candidate for PLA credits if you meet any of the following conditions:

  • Had stable employment at the same job or with the same company for a few years
  • Served in the military
  • Completed volunteer work or have been a member of an organization
  • Gone through workplace training
  • Worked in entry-level positions in a certain field, such as law, accounting, business administration, or medicine
  • Currently hold a non-degree certification or licensure
  • Keep current on certification or a licensure through continuing education

If you don’t meet any of these conditions, you can still consider seeing if you can get PLA credits. Keep in mind that many jobs, even entry-level jobs in retail or customer service, help you learn valuable skills.

How to Get Started

What should you do if you want to earn PLA credits for college? First, you should look into the PLA policies for any schools you’re interested in attending. This can help you narrow down your school options since you can eliminate schools that don’t offer PLA policies or schools with PLA policies that won’t apply to your situation.

Once you decide on a school, you can explore their specific process for earning PLAs. For example, you can see if the school accepts portfolios for PLAs or if you will need to take an exam in order to earn these college credits.

At Post University, we offer college credit for life experience and work experience for those looking to earn an undergraduate degree. We offer up to 30 credits for bachelor’s degree programs and up to 15 credits for associate degree programs. We also offer up to 30 credits for RN to BSN students who have completed an RN program and passed the National Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Our school also offers a portfolio development course to help you create your PLA portfolio.

If you need more information on college credit for work experience, please contact Post University. We can provide you with detailed information on our PLA policies and our undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!