There are many working adults who have considerable experience in their careers but do not have a college degree. But there is a way to convert this experience to US college credits.
To convert your work experience to US college credits:
1) Enroll into a college that awards college credits based on portfolio assessments
2) Signup to prerequisite courses
3) Prepare a portfolio of experience that matches the college curriculum
4) Pay the fee and submit the portfolio and other documents
Individual colleges have their own policies and guidelines to follow for converting work experience to credits via a portfolio assessment. In this article, we will go over the common steps that are part of most portfolio or prior learning assessments for earning college credits.
Get College Credit for Work Experience: A Step-by-Step Guide
If you have multiple years of work experience, you can obtain college credits for some of the experience that matches college degree requirements.
For a typical US bachelors degree, 120 credits are required, out of which 60 credits are needed in general ed, and the remaining would be part of the core specialization along with some electives. All of these requirements can be met with a portfolio assessment, but the evaluation will determine if your experience meets those requirements.
Colleges That Conduct Portfolio Evaluation for College Credits
External/ degree completion colleges usually provide this facility; the top colleges that provide a portfolio evaluation of work experience include:
1) Thomas Edison State University (TESU): Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)
2) Charter Oak State College (COSC): Credit For Prior Learning (CPL) and,
3) Granite State College (GSC): Experiential Learning Portfolio
Portfolio Assessment: Eligibility Criteria
Students are usually expected to have completed atleast a 3-credit course in English composition or an equivalent course to attest to their writing skills. Writing skills are critical and a prerequisite for the development of a portfolio for evaluation.
Students are also expected to have completed between 12 to 24 college credits before attempting a portfolio assessment.
Students are also expected to be enrolled in a degree program at the college that will be conducting the student’s portfolio assessment.
Portfolio Assessment: Initial Inquiry/ Approval
Upon initial inquiry with the college’s student counselor or the portfolio assessment office, there will be an initial determination made as to whether the student has the required level of experience to justify a portfolio evaluation.
A determination is also likely to be made as to whether the student has earned some credits through some other means such as via credit-eligible exams and online courses.
In some exceptional cases in which the enrolled student has multiple decades of experience in the same field as the degree of study, a portfolio evaluation may earn him or her a major portion of the 120 credits needed for graduation for the bachelors degree.
Portfolio Assessment: Mandatory Courses or Workshops
Thomas Edison (TESU) provides a PLA-100 and a PLA-200 of which the latter is required before a student can undertake this assessment. It is also beneficial to complete the PLA-100 since it provides a detailed overview of the portfolio evaluation process.
Charter Oak (COSC) provides a 8-week long 3 credit course IDS-102: Prior Learning Portfolio Development for this purpose. The evaluation of one course portfolio is included with the IDS-102 as long as it is submitted within 30 days before the end of this course.
Granite State (GSC) provides the 4-credit course CRIT: 603, Critical Inquiry in Prior Learning Assessment which goes over process of
Portfolio Assessment: Portfolio Creation
Portfolio assessment requires a lot of written work detailing all the work experiences and the practical skills and concepts that the work experience is associated with. The student will also have to indicate which subjects in the degree requirements each area of the work experience would satisfy.
The complete details regarding portfolio creation will be covered in the PLA-200 at Thomas Edison and the IDS-102 at Charter Oak. At Granite State College, you will go over the process of creating 1 course portfolio as part of the CRIT:603 course. Subsequently, you can submit additional course portfolios for evaluation.
Portfolio Assessment: Artifact and Document Submission
For work experience, in addition to the portfolio detailing your work and stating the college course equivalents, here are additional documents you can provide to the evaluator:
1) A letter from your manager on the company letterhead describing your work experience. This letter can include the following:
a. Identify the relationship to the student/ employee and the employee’s designation
b. State and describe the skills and competences that were used by the candidate to complete that work
c. Describe how the candidate excelled at the job and how the work benefited the company and its clients
d. State degree course requirements that this work could satisfy
2) Upon approval from your manager at work, you can submit letters from company clients who are extremely happy with your performance. They can state in the letter what work you did and how it helped their business and their projects.
3) Work notes, journal entries from work and the learning outcomes that these relate to.
4) Any samples of your work including photographs, video or audio recordings which your manager at work is ok with you sharing as part of your college portfolio documentation.
5) Any available licenses or awards earned as part of the work experience.
Colleges Awarding Credits for Work Experience
In addition to the 3 colleges of Thomas Edison, Charter Oak and Granite State, there are many other colleges in the US that award college credits for work and life experience.
Some such colleges include:
2) Ohio University, OH
4) Wilmington University, DE
6) University of Maine System, ME
8) and many more…
Each of the above colleges have their own unique process for creating a portfolio and for the portfolio evaluation process. Portfolio evaluations usually take between 2 to 4 months to complete, which is in addition to the actual time it takes to create a portfolio for submission for the assessment.
In most colleges, the student needs to get a special approval before s/he can be eligible for the portfolio assessment of their work and life learning.
Most students undertake a portfolio assessment only after they have exhausted all the other means of earning college credit. Portfolio evaluation are both time and cost consuming and require considerable documentation and letters of verification.
Big-3 Portfolio Assessment: Process/ Cost Comparison
Here are the respective costs of a portfolio assessment at Thomas Edison, Charter Oak and Granite State colleges, for students enrolled in a degree program at the college:
1) Thomas Edison State college
PLA (or Prior Learning Assessment) course: PLA 1010
Cost per course credit: $ 545
Portfolio evaluation (free) credits: 12
Cost of additional portfolio credits: $183 per credit
More information: PLA Tuition
2) Charter Oak State College
PLA (or Prior Learning Assessment) course: IDS 102
Cost per course credit: $ 329
Cost per single course portfolio: $350
More information: CPL Fees
3) Granite State college
PLA course: CRIT 603 (Critical Inquiry in Prior Leaning Assessment) & CRIT 602
Credits: 3 + 3
Cost per course credit: $ 370
Cost per single course portfolio for 1 Year: $350
Is Portfolio Assessment of Work Experience Worth It?
Student 1: “I’ve been looking at COSC. Does anyone have any experience with their Portfolio Assessment? I have been employed as VP of Information Technology, CIO for the last five years. I was wondering how my experience would relate to credit earned. “
Student 2: “I originally was interested in using Portfolio Assessment (aka PLA or Prior Learning Assessment) as a supplement to my examinations as well, but after doing the research and speaking to an advisor at COSC, I determined that it isn’t really worth the time and effort as a primary means of credit earning.
Between online classroom resources and credit by examination (which enables credits to pile up quickly for subjects you are already well versed in), you can earn credits at a much faster (and cheaper) rate than most PLA programs allow. The areas where there might be an advantage for PLA would be subject areas that are not available via other means or where you’re looking for upper level credits in a subject where testing doesn’t qualify.”
Based on the above and my earlier experiences with portfolio assessment, my views at CollegeOnomics are as follows:
Portfolio assessment or Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is beneficial as a secondary means of earning credit, after the other means of earning credits such as credits transfer, credit-by-exams and credits via online accredited college-level courses such as Saylor.org have been exhausted.
Portfolio assessment is usually more time consuming and the entire evaluation before the award of credits can sometimes take a few months. It is also much more expensive to undertake a portfolio assessment than it is to simply write exams such as CLEP or DSST to substantiate knowledge which you already have.
However, portfolio assessment can be a life saver for earning credits in subjects or topics for which there are no CLEP, DSST exams and for which online courses are either unavailable or in short supply. That is when portfolio assessment comes to the rescue to earn college credits when there is no other way to do so for a working adult.
Additionally, in some exceptional cases in which the student has over 10, 20 or 30 years of experience in areas that directly relate to the degree curriculum for that field of study, portfolio assessment can in such cases be used as a primary means of earning college credit.
My Personal Experience of Portfolio Evaluation
I completed my portfolio assessment from Excelsior college in 1999 when the college was called Regents college and was part of the USNY or University of the State of New York.
I was enrolled in a BS degree in Computer Information Systems and had already met all my 60 credits of general education requirements, along with about 30 lower level credits in my IT specialization.
I needed another 30+ upper level credits in Computer Science and had about 7 years of software development experience at the time. So I contacted my student counselor at Excelsior college and asked about a portfolio assessment.
Using my software experience and my scores in a few non-accredited computer science courses, I was able to obtain the remaining 30+ upper level credits via portfolio assessment.
I was awarded a Pass score in all those credits earned via the portfolio assessment, so it had no bearing on my overall GPA scores. The process took about 3 months at the time. My evaluator was a professor from a college in SUNY or The State University of New York.
Here are the documents I had submitted at the time:
1) A worksheet detailing my specific work experiences and the related degree curriculum requirements which the experiences would satisfy.
2) A letter from 2 of my past employers as proof of my work experience.
3) Official score reports for the non-accredited computer science courses.
I also had one phone interview/ conversation with the professor who evaluated my portfolio. The final award of my credits was initially communicated to me by my student counselor at Excelsior college and was subsequently reflected in my official college transcript at Excelsior.