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Getting College Credit for Life Experience You Already Have

Wes Creel / Abound: Finish College

This might sound too good to be true, but we promise it isn’t a dream. You can receive college credit for things you’ve already done and the life experience you’ve built up while working. Receiving credit for previous life experience can help you to save time and money.

When applying to schools, be sure to ask if they offer any credit for previous life experience, how they award that credit, and for what types of experience they give credit. This article examines a few of the ways schools offer credit for life experience.

Ways to Receive Credit for Previous Experience

There are many methods schools use to award students credit for their previous life experience. Here are a few of them:


Some colleges allow students to take tests to prove knowledge and experience. This knowledge and experience is then rewarded with college credit. There are two prominent tests. Before you sign up to take them, be sure to check which tests have been approved by the institution you wish to attend. They are:

  • CLEP (College Level Examination Program): The College-Level Examination Program allows you take tests to potentially receive college credit. Your score on the test determines the amount of credit you can receive. CLEP is recognized by 2,900 colleges across the country.
  • DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests, aka: DANTES Test): DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support) is a program that helps military personnel earn college credits for the training and experience they accrue during their service. The DSST program is the standardized test for DANTES recognized by over 1,900 colleges around the country. It offers 30 different tests, each around $80 each (free for service members), that can lead to college credit. However, civilians can take the test as well. Unlike CLEP tests, DSST tests are available for lower-level and higher-level college courses. DSST is available for free for military personnel or for a fee for civilians.


A portfolio program helps an adult learner put together a catalog of their professional experience. Consider the portfolio a beefed-up version of your resume. Your portfolio should include examples of projects you’ve completed with detailed descriptions.

This type of program is beneficial for students who are strong writers or aren’t great test takers. Many colleges which offer portfolio programs will also require the student to meet with an advisor.

Competency-Based Education

A Competency Based Education or CBE program is great for adult learners who already have a lot of knowledge. Though you’re not getting credit solely or directly from your previous experience, you can complete classes as quickly as your knowledge allows. CBE programs let students take classes in the amount of time they need. When students are ready to take a test, they do. When the test is passed, the student can move on to the next subject. Read our article on CBE for more details.

Types of Experience

Many college programs are now offering credit for previous life experience. Here are a few areas that commonly receive credit:

Military Experience

Military personnel can get college credit for their military experience. The American Council on Education can help find the right colleges and programs to gain military members the most credit at an affordable price.


RN-to-BSN programs offer nurses the opportunity to work while earning their Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN). Earning a bachelor’s degree allows nurses to specialize and move up in pay without going back to school full time.

Corporate Training Programs

Some corporations offer training and educational programs for their employees. These experiences can sometimes receive credit through a portfolio program. Some corporate training programs are also accredited through a program called CREDIT. Once the programs are approved by college assessors, employees receive college credit for their corporate training.

Professional Licensing

Some professional licensing programs have been approved by the American Council on Education as worthy of college credit. Professional licenses such as aviation, realtor, and public accountant can count as college credit.

Receiving college credit for previous life experience can be a game changer for adult students. The time and money saved from getting those life experience credits can make the difference between earning your degree and not. Every school has different requirements, so be sure to check with your school to see what theirs are. Before you know it, you can be on your way to a degree!

More About Abound: We’re here to help. Abound: Finish College narrows down your options and gets you in touch with schools that we can confirm are Accessible, Affordable, Accelerated, and Advanced. Take a look at the schools we trust and find the program that works for you.

More Helpful Resources:

3 Reasons Why Earning a Degree Will Advance Your Career and Improve Your Life

6 Reasons to Pursue a Bachelor’s After Earning Your Associate’s Degree

Employer Assisted Tuition: 8 Strategies to Persuade Your Boss

Financial Aid: Funds for Adult Students

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