How to Gain College Credit for Work and Other Life Experience

An interview with Ann Sukalac

Ann is Linfield  College Division of Continuing Education’s instructor of the online course where adults “challenge” courses in their degree program, called Writing the Portfolio. Students write up their life experience and knowledge gained on the job and through volunteer experience, and compare that knowledge with what is taught in Linfield courses to earn credits for courses that match with their knowledge.

female student in libraryWhat is the process students go through to receive college credit for work and life experience at Linfield DCE?

Any student who wants to investigate Prior Learning Assessment should first meet with an academic advisor.  It’s important to get some feedback on when to put this into their plan for graduation and the advisor can help with timing, as well as make sure the student understands the process.

The next step is to take the online Writing the Portfolio class, which we offer every fall semester.  The student will gain three elective credits for this class, as well as go through a process of developing a “mini-portfolio” to submit for credit.  As they refine their plan for course challenges, the student will be reviewing his or her whole adult life, to see how it matches up with academic offerings. Many students have told me they have found the process to be personally rewarding, as they realize just how much they have accomplished in life!

What “counts” as life experience?

We are really looking more for “learning experience” than life experience.  So just because you’ve held a particular job isn’t enough—you have to show how what you’ve learned on that job matches up with something that you would have learned in a classroom.  The student will take the syllabus for a particular class and show how they have accomplished the same learning objectives.  It definitely has to be equivalent learning, but it’s learning that was achieved a different way.

What are some examples of student’s life experience that has earned them college credit?

The first place most students look is their careers.  For example, last year one of my students was a Human Resource Manager, and who had worked her way up in that field over a number of years.  She was able to successfully challenge several classes from our Human Resource Management curriculum.  This year one student with years in the insurance industry did an outstanding portfolio to challenge the Insurance and Risk class.

That same student with all the professional insurance experience successfully challenged several P.E. classes, too.  She is quite accomplished in fitness, and had documented work in several areas with a personal trainer.

Career, hobbies, volunteer work, community involvement should all be explored for possible credit.

Are there any other ways students can gain college credit other than through taking courses?

Several business classes can be challenged by CLEP exams.  CLEP stands for College Level Exam Program, and is a national program of the College Board. Linfield also recognizes the DANTES exams that are comparable to the CLEP exams we use.  DANTES is for military personnel and stands for Defense Activity for Nontraditional Educational Support.

Many students have also participated in courses and workshops through their employer or through the military.  If those classes have been accredited by the American Council on Education (ACE), we may be able to use them as transfer credit—just as we would transfer credit from a regionally accredited college or university. You can view the National Guide to College Credit for Workforce Training to see the college credit recommendations.

For training completed in the military that has been evaluated for college credit, students may  obtain a copy of their SMART or AARTS transcript from the American Council on Education.

So called “life experience degrees” came under fire at one point because unaccredited schools were granting entire degrees based on life experience with no additional coursework needed. How does Linfield’s college credit for life experience program differ?

People do need to fully investigate any institution which says it offers credit for life experience.  New students often share with me their fears that prior learning assessment might imply that their knowledge was superficial or not up-to-date.  That will not happen at Linfield!  Our faculty is determined that if a diploma says “Linfield College” on it, the degree will have been earned through learning that meets rigorous academic standards.  Students who use Prior Learning Assessment can’t just say they learned something; they also have to document that learning. And, the portfolio is reviewed by the same faculty who teach those classes in the classroom.

What is the range of credits students usually fulfill through work and life experience? Is there a maximum number of credits a student can earn through past experience?

The majority of students who pursue this opportunity these days are earning 8 -12 credits.   The maximum possible is 31 semester credits, which is equivalent to one year of college credits.

Is there any advice you would give someone considering using their work experience for college credit?

I would encourage them to “mine” their whole life experience, both personal and professional.  If they have been living an active life, engaged in their work and community, they have no doubt got what it takes to pursue college credit for it. The other critical step is to talk with an academic advisor who can look at the whole picture—what the student still needs to study to complete their degree requirements.  The earlier in your academic career you make a plan for this, the better.


An interview with Ann Sukalac