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colleges that give credit for life experienceYou know that you have a lot to gain and a lot to learn when you decide to pursue a college degree, that’s why you’ve decided to take this incredible step into your future. But, what about everything you already know in your chosen field? There is a multitude of colleges and universities across America that have the answer. Many institutions of higher learning have made the commitment to give credit where credit is due, allowing you to receive literal credits for your relevant experience whether that is from professional experience, life experience, prior training or credentials related to your field, or training you received in the military.

Since 1974, the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service has existed to help students earn credits for formal training that happened outside of a traditional degree program. They have partnered with a broad range of organizations and reviewed over 30,000 different programs in order to provide colleges and universities with course equivalency information. They evaluate standardized tests, work training programs, and more. Colleges and universities across the country trust the council to determine if credits should be bestowed upon students. There are plenty of helpful resources and more information about the service on the ACE website.

There are a variety of ways that you can earn credit for what you already know by demonstrating competency in specific areas. So, if you have all of the knowledge and skills that a course seeks to teach you, you may be able to receive credit by showing your proficiency instead of completing the course. One way that schools do this is by offering different standardized tests. These tests usually have an associated fee, but some students may be able to get those fees waived based on financial need. These exams include:

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  • Challenge Exams: You would take the equivalence of an end of course exam, and receive credit if you pass. You will have to contact individual schools to determine if this is an option for you.
  • CLEPs: The College-Level Examination Program allows students to take a set of exams in specific content areas to test out of some classes. You can search the CLEP website to see if your school accepts these exams.
  • DSSTs: DANTES Subject Standardized Tests are the option for students who have learned outside of an academic setting prove that they are proficient in a particular subject. There are more than 30 of these exams currently available, which are all recommended by ACE. Close to 2,000 schools accept these credits.

Apart from sitting for an exam, you can potentially earn college credit for professional licenses or certificates, workforce training, and military training. How this is done is through the creation of a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Portfolio. This portfolio should contain information regarding all of your workplace or military training; any licensure, certifications, or diplomas you may have received and; any civic activities, volunteer service, or similar ventures. You should include supporting documents, any competency-based exam results, as well as plenty of writing that details what you know, how you learned it, and how you can demonstrate that knowledge.

Earning credit for your life or work experience doesn’t have to be difficult. The resources published by the ACE and the academic advisors at the schools you’re considering can help you make sure you earn your credits. Additionally, many schools have a PLA Portfolio course that you are required to take, which will walk you through this process in great detail.

The benefits of going through this seemingly daunting process should not be overlooked. First of all, you deserve to have your skills recognized. Beyond that, this will help you to earn your degree more quickly. While there are a variety of fees that you may encounter by submitting a PLA or taking the aforementioned exams, they are saving you money in the long run. The average cost per credit hour in the United States is just a few dollars short of $600. Every course that you get credit for this way is a significant savings.

If this is something that you’re interested in doing, the ten schools on this list are a great place to start. We have ranked the top ten online colleges that award credit for work and life experience. All schools were ranked according to the following.


This article explores the top ten online colleges that give credit for work or life experience. In order to create this ranking, we began by curating a list of schools that met the following criteria:

  • features at least one distance education degree program;
  • allows students to earn credit for past experience;
  • is based in the United States;
  • is properly accredited;
  • is not a for-profit institution;

Once we had a complete list, we used our standard ranking factors of the Freshman Retention and Graduation Rate. These two percentages were added together to obtain a final score (out of a possible 200) for each school. The schools that received the highest score are presented here, with the highest-scoring school coming in first place. In the event that any two institutions received the same final score, they are presented in alphabetical order.

The data presented to you in this ranking came directly from the schools’ websites whenever it was available. Additional information was gathered from the following sources:

As a disclaimer, OnlineCollegePlan doesn’t grant any institutions more favorable treatment. All of the schools are held to the same rigorous standards, and we openly provide our methodology so that you can understand how we came to these conclusions. Due to incomplete information, there may be a number of schools that are not represented here that otherwise may have ranked.

If none of the schools in this ranking seem like a good fit for you, you may want to check out our article featuring the Top 100 Best Online Colleges.



  1. MERIT: 159
    View Profile Average Cost: $56,712

    Linfield College is a private college that is based in McMinnville, Oregon. Plans to create the school began as early as 1849 when the Oregon Baptist Educational Society was first formed; they organized with the goal of creating a Baptist school in the region. The Oregon City College opened that year; however, the school’s official founding is in 1858, when it first received its charter. While it isn’t formally affiliated with any religious institutions, it has ties with the American Baptist Churches. It is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and currently only offers bachelors degrees. Linfield offers a total of 72 different majors and minors to a student body of less than 2,000. The college offers students credit for life experience through examination with either CLEP or course finals. ACE-approved work-related credits are also accepted, and the college also provides portfolio examination for those whose experience cannot be categorized.

    Linfield College accepts up to 30 credits for past experience, listing standard sources as well as travel, personal interest, family, and life experience. This is a very welcoming policy, which is part of what makes this college the best online option for students seeking credit for experience. Coupled with the exceptional educational quality that comes from a highly-personalized environment, this is an impressive school. Majors offered online include accounting, business information systems, computer information systems, global studies, international business, management, marketing, project management, and an RN to BSN program. There are six minors and 18 certificates to customize your learning further. Linfield offers interesting certificates, such as Wine Management, and a Yoga Instructor program.

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  2. MERIT: 151
    View Profile Average Cost: $26,493

    Colorado State University-Fort Collins
    Colorado State University is a public land-grant research university in Fort Collins, Colorado. It is a university of incredible size. There are more than 33,000 students and more than 150 programs of study available. The university was founded in 1870 as the Colorado Agricultural College, and it cycled through a few different names before it settled on Colorado State University in the year 1957. CSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and holds an additional five programmatic accreditations. The university consists of the College of Agricultural Sciences; the College of Health and Human Sciences; the College of Business; the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering; the College of Liberal Arts; the Warner College of Natural Resources; the College of Natural Sciences and; the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Several of these schools have been ranked by a variety of publications, including U.S. News & World Report

    Online programs at Colorado State University are reasonably popular given the size of the university’s student body. More than a tenth of those students are studying entirely online through the Colorado State University Global campus which offers a variety of undergraduate degree completion programs, graduate degrees, certificates, and other continuing education opportunities. The university accepts up to 90 transfer credits for some of its programs which is an excellent option for those of you who have completed some of your degree already. In addition to that, the university also accepts credit from Advanced Placement testing at the high school level, college courses you completed during dual enrollment in high school, International Baccalaureate credits, CLEP testing, and more.

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  3. MERIT: 151
    View Profile Average Cost: $52,340

    DeSales University is a private Catholic university that is located in Center Valley, Pennsylvania. Up until the year 2000, the institution was known as the Allentown College of Saint Francis de Sales, or Allentown College for short. It was founded in 1964 after two years of planning by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. Throughout its history, it grew very steadily. It began granting bachelors degrees in its first year, opened a continuing education department in 1977, and had implemented masters degrees by the early 80’s. The university is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Degrees are now also offered at the doctorate level, and there are a total of 3,315 students that attend the university. U.S. News & World Report ranked the university among the top 50 best value schools for the year 2018 and has also placed them as the 55th best regional university in the Northern United States. There is a broad range of degree programs offered, but the most popular major is business. The university is home to one of the largest MBA programs in the state of Pennsylvania, which impressive considering how small it is in relation to some of the state’s other schools.

    There are 20 online programs offered at DeSales University, including a selection of accelerated bachelors degrees and professional certificates. Online classes at DeSales are presented asynchronously, and the courses are condensed into six- and eight-week sessions depending on which class it is. There are 11 start dates throughout the year. These programs are provided through what the university calls the ACCESS program which has garnered recognition several times throughout the past 40 years since it was established. You have the option to take classes in this accelerated format, or you can also take them on a more traditional schedule. If something happens and you need to take time off to take care of other obligations, you can pick right back up where you left off. 75 transfer credits are accepted, and you can earn credit for your experience in several ways. DSSTs, CLEPs, and more are all accepted. You also have ample access to financial aid and academic support services while enrolled.

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  4. MERIT: 146
    View Profile Average Cost: $41,996

    Wisconsin Lutheran College is a private liberal arts college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was founded in 1973 and has held the same name since that time, even though there have been a lot of other changes as the school has grown. In its first twenty years, it expanded to a larger campus, established an academic library, a science laboratory, and more. This expansion allowed the college to become a four-year institution as it had intended, receiving its charter in 1985. WLC now offers bachelors and masters degrees, and there are over 30 programs of study to choose from. Just over 1,000 students attend the school, which is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. WLC is formally affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

    Wisconsin Lutheran College offers one online degree program, and that leads to a Bachelor of Science in Business Management. As the college continues to grow, its offerings to distance-learning students will grow with it. This degree program is provided in an accelerated format, allowing it to be completed in as little as 20 months of full-time study. There is a generous transfer policy that you could benefit from if you have any prior college experience. If not, Wisconsin Lutheran College does accept up to 45 credits from other sources such as previous life and work experience. You can apply any CLEP test results to your degree, and you can also submit a portfolio. Demonstrating competency in specific areas through a variety of ways will allow you to earn credit, as will any other learning experience you received in a professional setting.

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  5. MERIT: 144
    View Profile Average Cost: $24,076

    Westfield State University is a public university in Westfield, Massachusetts. It was established as the Westfield Normal School by Horace Mann in 1838. Westfield has the distinction of being the first public, coeducational institution in the country that did not discriminate based on financial status, gender, or race. There are more than 40 programs of study offered at the university and degrees are conferred at the bachelors and masters levels; there are also various certificates offered as well. Westfield is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education, and it holds one additional specialized accreditation in the field of nursing. There are 6,237 students that attend the school. U.S. News & World Report has recognized the school several times. It has been ranked as one of the best colleges in Massachusetts, coming in second place; it was also ranked among the top 50 in the region.

    Westfield State University is made up of the College of Education, Health, and Human Services; the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; the College of Graduate and Continuing Education and; the College of Mathematics and Sciences. There are six online degrees offered at the bachelors level in business management, criminal justice, history, liberal studies, psychology, and sociology. The university has been recognized for the quality of its online programs in the past. Classes are offered all year, which may help you to complete your degree faster. Westfield accepts credit through the presentation of a Prior-Learning Portfolio. You have the opportunity to earn credit for CLEP testing, internships, and can also demonstrate your proficiency in other ways.

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  6. MERIT: 135
    View Profile Average Cost: $24,184

    Central Michigan University
    Central Michigan University is a public research university in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. It was initially established in 1892 and has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission since 1915. CMU is comprised of eight colleges, which are the College of Business Administration; the College of the Arts and Media; the College of Education and Human Services; the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions; the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences; the College of Medicine; the College of Science and Engineering and; the College of Graduate Studies. The university is among the largest in the state of Michigan and comes in among the top 100 largest in the nation. Degrees are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, with over 200 different academic pathways that you can choose from. The student body totals almost 23,000.

    Central Michigan University offers 53 total online degree programs. In addition to that, you can also explore your options with more than 20 certificate programs, professional development courses, and personal enrichment courses. There are options for accelerated format programs that allow you to complete part of your masters degree courses while you’re working on your bachelors degree. The majority of classes are asynchronous, and there are very few on-campus requirements across its entire repertoire. Students of the CMU Global Campus can earn credit for prior learning. Prior Learning credit is awarded for work, training, and life experience at CMU. What sets the university apart is that it relies on competencies. So, even if your knowledge doesn’t pertain to a specific course offered, you can still potentially have your knowledge recognized as a credit. In order to receive this credit, students would submit a PLA portfolio for review.

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  7. MERIT: 135
    View Profile Average Cost: $43,112

    4 Walsh-logo
    Walsh University is a private Roman Catholic-affiliated university in North Canton, Ohio. The university was founded in 1960 and has operated under its current name since 1993. Prior to that, before it had received its university status, it was Walsh College. Despite being founded in 1960, the institution that would evolve into Walsh University was established in 1951. It was called the LaMennais College. Today, Walsh is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and confers degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. There are 77 degree programs that students can choose from, including seven graduate-level programs and an impressive 70 different undergraduate concentrations. There are 2,759 students at the school.

    Online programs are offered at Walsh University; however, they are not very popular among the current student body. There are more than ten majors that can be completed in online and accelerated formats. Courses last just five- or eight-weeks and they are self-paced. Some programs can be finished in just over a year of full-time study. The undergraduate programs accept up to 92 transfer credits, including those from prior learning. Majors include business, communication, a BSN, and more. If none of the offered majors suit your needs, you can also create your own major; Walsh University is one of the very few schools with this option for online students. There are also four different graduate degrees you can earn online, with a further ten areas of interest to choose from. Walsh University welcomes credits from CLEP testing, work training or experience, and even life experience when students can adequately demonstrate their competency in their portfolios.

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  8. MERIT: 130
    View Profile Average Cost: $51,716

    12 Albertus-logo
    Albertus Magnus College is a private Roman Catholic college located in New Haven, Connecticut. It was founded as a four-year college for women in 1925. It was accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education shortly after opening. The college went on to become coeducational in the year 1985 but still serves a female majority. Only one-third of the roughly 1,500 students are male. Degrees are available at the associates, bachelors and masters levels. Graduate degree programs were first implemented in the early 90’s. The college began working to serve nontraditional students as far back as 1985, so it has a strong history with creating great programs for adult, online, and otherwise nontraditional students. These are offered through the Division of Professional and Graduate Studies.

    Albertus Magnus College has some of the most flexible online programs for students. There are online programs that are taken entirely via the web, and there are what AMC calls Flex programs. The Flex programs allow those students who are close enough to the school to take classes at the brick and mortar campus if they were interested in doing so. There are accelerated degree programs that feature eight-week courses. The setup of these programs allows you earn as much as 30 credits in just one year, and you can do that online or on-campus. The college is more than committed to enabling you to enroll in a program that is convenient, efficient, and meets all of your needs. Prior learning credits can be earned from CLEP, DANTES exams, challenge exams, and by submitting a portfolio. Students are eligible for financial aid whether they are full- or part-time, and the college provides access to internships, experiential learning, career services, and more.

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  9. MERIT: 116
    View Profile Average Cost: $20,481

    12 Memphis-logo
    The University of Memphis is a public research university in Memphis, Tennessee. It was founded in 1912. There was a loose iteration of the school that came together in 1909, comprised of several different higher education departments, called the University of Memphis. However, the West Tennessee Normal School opened in 1912 and incorporated all of these departments. The university would go by three other names before becoming the University of Memphis for good. There are 14 colleges and schools, and more than five research centers that are housed under the university, which is accredited as a whole by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges. Degrees are conferred at every level from the bachelors degree and up. U of M serves a student body of more than 21,000 people.

    The University of Memphis has operated a Division of Professional and Continuing Education since the 1970’s. Over time, in order to expand options for nontraditional students, the University of Memphis Global was created. This division offers more than 60 online programs that are fully-online, don’t require any visits to campus, and feature predominantly asynchronous courses. These programs are very flexible, making them an excellent opportunity to attend a highly-respected university and receive a quality education that meets all of your needs. U of M offers prior learning credit through a PLA Portfolio because as it boasts, it understands that learning can happen anywhere. Almost every course in the undergraduate curriculum allows for challenge exams. You can also earn CLEP, DSST, AP, and IB credit. Professional training and licensing are also considered.

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  10. MERIT: 117
    View Profile Average Cost: $22,014

    Eastern Kentucky University is a public university headquartered in Richmond, Kentucky. It is comprised of the College of Business and Technology; the College of Education; the College of Health Sciences; the College of Justice and Safety; the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences and; the College of Science. Through these colleges, it serves 16,612 students. EKU was founded as a normal school in 1906, and by 1966, it had expanded to become a university and adopted its present-day name. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges and confers degrees at all levels from the associates to the doctorate. There are several accolades that EKU has garnered over the years. U.S. News & World Report has ranked its online graduate programs in nursing and education, as well as online undergraduate programs overall. Military Times considered EKU among the top 20 schools for veterans last year, and Campus Pride has distinguished it as a 3-Star Premier University for LGBTQ+ student resources and services.

    There are more than 40 online degree programs to choose from through Eastern Kentucky University’s EKU Online division. Some of the fields offered include business, criminal justice, education, nursing, psychology, social work, and more. There are six start dates throughout the year, and all of the courses are taught by the same faculty as their on-campus counterparts. EKU Online takes great care to make sure that its programs fit into the lives of busy students no matter what they have going on, so many of the courses are asynchronous. In addition, there are generous financial aid opportunities available. Credit for life and work experience is formally recognized by the university as long as students are actively enrolled and seeking a degree. EKU currently accepts military training and CLEP examination credits as long as there is an equivalent course offered at the university.

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