Adult students often bring a great deal of knowledge with them when they decide to get a college degree. Through prior learning assessment, some college continuing education offices may award credit to students for their past life experiences as well as past formal education.

Colleges and universities use "prior learning assessments" to evaluate the knowledge a student has gained through life experience. Prior learning assessment enables college instructors to evaluate life experiences as potentially equivalent to courses taught at the college level. There are three common ways in which prior learning can be assessed: prior learning portfolios, standardized tests, and departmental credit. Colleges have high standards for these assessments, so students should check before investing their time to see which of these options, if any, their college or university will consider.

Prior Learning Portfolio
A prior learning portfolio is a written record presented by the student requesting college credit for learning outside the classroom. Credit is given only for college-level learning, and the portfolio must be well documented and organized. Portfolio requirements vary, but most of them include the following elements:

Standardized Tests
Standardized tests are nationally administered exams created to evaluate students and compare knowledge levels. Each college and university has its own standards for accepting tests, defining a passing grade and awarding hours of credit. Some schools may have a limit on the number of credits that can be awarded through exams. Others will not grant credit but will allow the student to bypass an introductory class or classes and begin at a higher level.
Departmental Credit
To earn departmental credit, students work with a specific department (rather than the college's admission office) at the college of their choice. Credit obtained through a department is generally for a specific course or field, such as foreign language or math. Each department will create its own exam to test the student, so it is particularly important for the student to talk with the instructor or department chair to find out how long the exam will be, what subjects will be covered, how much credit might be awarded and if there is a specific text or content area the student should study. Two common kinds of departmental credit options are the challenge exam and oral exam.

For more information, contact your ICN Campus Coordinator.