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The Process of Colleges Using Life Experience for College Credits

by Diana Pierce, studioD

College costs are rising every year and students are looking for ways to cut costs, especially older students going back to school. Older students can sometimes use previous life experience in place of college credit hours, giving students a head start toward finishing a college degree. But exactly how does a student go about applying for life experience credit? Several different pathways are available for students to demonstrate how life experiences have enriched their lives, thus earning college credit and saving tuition dollars.


As a first step, put together a portfolio that documents the knowledge you've gained through life experience. The portfolio could contain items such as a video showing work accomplished during various activities, such as fund raisers or volunteer work. Any documentation from open sourced software training or any sort of online course work also needs to be included. If possible, provide verification of your accomplishments from a third party. Those entering college from the military should include any training received in the military.

College Advisors

Once the portfolio is ready, the next step is to make an appointment with advisors at a college. These advisors can tell you which experiences translate into credit for classes. Schools have different rules for accepting life experience as credit, so it’s best to talk to the advisors before making any decisions about enrolling. The process can be lengthy and require more than one meeting with an advisor. Colleges also differ in the amount of credit hours that can be earned. But if a student can receive some college hours for experiences, the time might be well spent.


Another way to show the knowledge you've accumulated is to take a placement test. According to their website, the College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, “helps you earn college credit for knowledge you've acquired through independent study, prior course work, on-the-job training, professional development, cultural pursuits, or internships.” Thirty-three different tests covering areas as diverse as government, literature, business or foreign languages can be used for college credit if passed. Currently, the cost of each test is 80 dollars, which is a bargain compared to tuition costs. The CLEP website has information about practice tests and test locations.

Saving Money

Applying for credit doesn't guarantee you will receive it. Life experience credit works best for older students returning to school, military veterans or workers looking to increase their earning potential. But anyone can benefit from trying to receive credit hours. The savings translate in to thousands of dollars in costs for tuition and books and can make earning that college degree a more realistic goal.

About the Author

Retired after 33 years in education, Diana Pierce has worked as a language arts teacher as well as a teacher librarian. For more than 10 years, she has written book reviews for “School Library Journal.” Pierce received her Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Texas at Austin.

Photo Credits

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