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colleges that give credit for life experience

You know that you have a lot to gain and 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? This is where work and life experience credits come in!

Originally published: September 2018
Last Updated: February 2024

Dozens of colleges and universities across America have the answer. Many institutions of higher learning have committed to giving credit where credit is due.

They will allow 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.

When did the idea of work and life experience credits begin?

Since 1974, the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE) 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.

How can I prove my work and life experience?

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:

  • Challenge Exams: You would take the equivalent 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 to 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.

After testing, are there other ways to demonstrate my work and life experience in my field of study?

Apart from sitting for an exam, you can potentially earn college credit for professional licenses or certificates, workforce training, and military training. This is done 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 show you how to get college credit for work experience. 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. Schools that offer credit for life experience can be a great choice for senior citizens who want to earn an affordable degree.

These programs can also help you earn a degree 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. Each of these schools awards credit for work and life experience. All 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 their 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 receive 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 U.S. News & World Report and the National Center for Education Statistics.

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.

Tuition Disclaimer: All stated tuition values are based on a student’s in-state residency only and are subject to change.

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    Linfield is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and currently only offers bachelor’s 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 examinations with either CLEP or course finals. ACE-approved work-related credits are also accepted, and the college also provides portfolio examinations 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:

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    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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