We Know: Alternative Ways to Earn College Credit

What are alternative ways to earn college credit?

Many colleges and universities offer students credit for work and experience done outside of the traditional classroom including life and work experience, testing, and outside training. Though not all institutions will allow you to use learning experiences outside of a formal academic environment as credit, you should always ask to see if your chosen college does -- or use it as one of your criteria for choosing a college. In addition to experience, you may be able to test out of some classes, use distance learning for your convenience, or find other training outside of college. You need to work with the college you want your degree from to ensure that they will accept your alternate credits.

What tests and special courses can I take to earn college credit?

If you're a strong high school student and you think you should be able to take higher-level courses in college than the ones you are presented with, you have some testing options. CLEP tests are not accepted by all colleges as credit toward a degree, but they can at least let you skip forward over more elementary work so you can tackle the harder and more interesting subjects.

This is different from AP and certain other tests. Advanced Placement testing, usually offered only if you've taken AP or IB (International Baccalaureate) classes, generally offer a set amount of college credit at the institution you're planning to attend, at least in the US. If you think you might be eligible for some of these types of credit, speak with your academic advisor to see what your college offers.

Tell me about Training Outside College, Distance Learning, and Continuing Education Alternatives.

You don't have to be in a classroom at all to earn some college credit. If you received training outside of college -- for instance, on-the-job training for computer network administration -- you may be able to apply that experience toward college credit in certain degrees. Distance learning, with the advent of the Internet, is becoming a much more feasible option than it ever was. You can use online courses from accredited universities to earn college credit.

Many professional fields such as nursing, law, or computer programming require professionals to take continuing education classes to maintain their accreditation in their field. This is what CEUs are, and though some CEUs may be earned through taking college classes, it doesn't usually go both ways. CEUs generally will not earn you college credit.

What kind of life experience might be used to get college credit?

Nontraditional college credit includes primarily life experience. There are a number of online institutions that currently offer entire degrees for your life experience (see Caveat Emptor, below, for more information). In general, though, colleges will offer you a limited amount of credit for your life experiences. This includes regular work experience you might have; experience gained as a volunteer in the US or abroad; experience you may have gained as a stay-at-home mother; and military experience. This can be a viable way to go to put together educational credits, but don't stack too much of your life experience into your college degree unless you have impeccable credentials. For instance, if you're a stay-at-home mom, be wary of accepting beginning accounting credit to honor your many years work keeping a family budget; the two are not at all the same.

What are the problems or dangers is getting life experience credits or degrees?

Life experience as college credit has lately become a pretty hot field. There are, in fact, a number of online accredited universities that are offering entire degrees based on your life experience. Sound like a good idea?

If you said "yes," then think again. Accreditation simply means that a review board has recognized a university as offering the proper courses and documentation to meet its requirements. It does not mean the review board is qualified or recognized in any way. If you want to be certain your college degree is worth the paper it's printed on, follow these rules:

  1. Don't pay for a degree that offers a full associates, bachelors, or masters degree for your life experiences.
  2. Find out if you can get federal financial aid if you attend this school. The feds generally know which schools are for real and which ones aren't.
  3. Ask if the college is accredited by one of the associations on the higher education accreditation list -- and then check with the accreditor to make sure the college is telling you the truth. These are the major legitimate college accreditors in the US, and unlisted accreditors should definitely be questioned.
  4. If it sounds too good to be true -- it almost certainly is.

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