Student Guide to Credit For Prior Learning

About Credit for Prior Learning

​​​​​​Many colleges and universities evaluate the college-level knowledge and skills an individual has gained outside of the classroom for college credit. This evaluation is called credit for prior learning (CPL), but it may also be referred to as prior learning assessment or experiential learning. 

There are many programs and services available to help you earn credit for your workplace training, military service, and other experiential learning and apply it to a degree program. Examples of prior learning include:

  • Workplace training
  • Military training and service
  • Independent study
  • Professional certifications
  • Examinations (national exams, such as APIBCLEPDSSTExcelsior College, and UExcel exams)
  • Civic activities
  • Volunteer service

Earning college credit through CPL can help you:

  • Save time and money—​shorten your time to obtain your degree and lower the cost of tuition.
  • Accelerate your academic progress—take higher level courses sooner.
  • Develop your resume—demonstrate to employers that your prior learning adds valuable skills.
​How Colleges and Universities Evaluate CPL

Colleges and universities use different methods to evaluate prior learning, including:

 Credit by Exam

​National examinations, such as CLEP,​ or challenge exams offered by colleges can result in college credit. Be sure to find out which examinations are considered and the passing scores required to obtain credit. Also ask: What are the equivalent courses for each exam? What is the maximum number of credits that can be granted? Are there any conditions or prerequisites to earn credit through an exam?

 Military Training

​College credits may be granted for military training and occupational specialties for veterans and active service members. Find out what documentation is required for the institution to consider your military training and experience. Most colleges and universities will require a Joint Services Transcript. Please visit the Learner Transfe​r Guide for further details.​​

 Workplace Training

​Your workplace training may have been reviewed by the American Council on Education (ACE) for academic credit. Use the ACE National Guide to determine whether you have courses that have been evaluated by ACE's Learning Evaluations and have academic or compentency recommendations. ACE transcripts document and verify all of the courses with ACE credit recommendations that you have successfully completed. To learn more, please visit the Transcript page.


​Your institution may award credit for nationally recognized industry certifications in fields such as information technology, management, and health care. You also may use the ACE National Guide to find out if your certification has ACE recommendations.


​The portfolio is one form of individualized assessment that colleges and universities offer. In a written portfolio, you document and provide evidence of your college-level learning gained through work and other experiences. Faculty experts evaluate the portfolio and determine the amount of college credit you would earn. Ask whether there is a class offered to help you prepare the portfolio, and if not, who might assist you through the process. To learn more about portfolios, visit the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).​
​Student FAQ
Individual colleges and universities assess learning and award credit differently. Visit the FAQ page for additional information on credit for prior learning.
​Pitfalls to Avoid

When selecting a college or university, make sure it is accredited by an accrediting agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

There are some unscrupulous organizations that advertise college credit for life experience, but don't deliver on their promises. Stay clear of institutions that are not accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, lack transparency regarding their acceptance policies, or offer credit without an evaluation. Keep in mind the following:

 Check for information on accreditation

​When selecting a college or university, make sure it is accredited by an accrediting agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Watch out for online diploma mills, which are unaccredited institutions that offer degrees that are not recognized or accepted by employers and other colleges and universities.

Accreditation information will be listed on the institution's website, or can be found by visiting the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database. For more information on accreditation, view the following:

  • Accreditation: Its Value To You
  • Types of Accreditation: What's the Difference?

 Transparency is vital

Look on the website or course catalog for clearly stated policies regarding acceptance. Find a contact person, such as an academic advisor, admissions counselor, or prior learning coordinator, at the institution to talk to directly about your prior learning and how it might translate to college credit.

 Be skeptical of big promises

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Colleges and universities with recognized CPL programs do not award credit for experience alone. You must demonstrate that your experience translates into specific college courses or college-level learning and skills.

 The Military Guide

Explore military training and occupations carrying ACE recommendations.

The Military Guide

 The ACE National Guide

Discover corporate training, certifications, exams, and alternative educational programs with ACE recommendations and validated competencies.

The National Guide