Changing Careers? Get College Credit for Life Experience

With the rate of unemployment lingering at record highs, professionals across the United States have become obligated to re-assess their value in the marketplace should they become unemployed. In fact, many must consider changing industries altogether, which often requires some amount of additional education. Holding multiple degrees can definitely allow for more seamless movement in and out of different fields and greater expansion of career possibilities. However, pursuing any sort of education takes time, which is not always something job-seekers or employed professionals have available. In addition, going back to school can often seem like the equivalent of jumping back down to the bottom of the ladder only to climb back up once more. What many professionals don’t know, however, is that their life experience could allow them to pursue another degree without having to backtrack.

The New York Times published an article in 2008 about a trend toward colleges offering credit for life experience. Many types of colleges and universities, public, private, online and campus-based, are beginning to consider all past experience, rather than solely academic experience, as having the potential to count as time spent learning. According to the article, continuing education programs across the country grant prior learning credits for “knowledge acquired from activities like political work, retail management, corporate administration, writing, [and] even travel.” The skills learned must directly apply to a particular course in order to count as credit, but schools with these programs maintain that many intro-level courses can be fundamentally similar to experiences that teach the same basic knowledge. For example, starting your own business could equate to a business 101 credit, or working as an intern at a newspaper could provide the perspective and industry knowledge a student would attain in an intro journalism course.

What this means for professionals considering a career change is that they no longer have to worry about whether taking the time to pursue another degree will set them back or whether the strides they have already made professionally will be meaningless. Taking advantage of the opportunity to receive college credit for your experience can cancel out both these negatives.

First off, credit for life experience can save you a chunk of time. According to the Times, students in the adult degree program at James Madison University can receive up to a quarter of  the credits needed to graduate by applying for experiential learning credits. “More than a third of students receive prior learning credit of some kind,” the Times article reads, and “in the past three years, only one student’s portfolio was rejected without any points awarded.”

Additionally, applying for this type of credit is a great way to assess your past experience and recognize all that you’ve learned. Once you’re aware of your own skill set, you can make academic choices that will work to create a unique professional background. Kim J. Hartswick, academic director of the Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies at City University of New York (CUNY) helps students do exactly that. According to the Times article, Hartswich encourages students to “deconstruct their pasts to determine what course subjects they’ve already mastered…[one] student had founded a nonprofit organization to beautify schools and hospitals. The student was given 15 credits, for proficiency in ‘fund-raising and development,’ ‘creative art for the classroom’ and ‘Web page design.’”

There are many different types of schools that offer credit for life experience, but make sure that the program you choose does not simply give away credit easily, regardless of the type of institution you consider. American Intercontinental University is mainly online and requires students to complete a prior learning assessment to demonstrate their knowledge in any area for which they would like to gain experience credit. According to the New York Times article, if a school does not vet credit requests, take it as a major red flag and move on.

However, as long as the school is accredited, offers an academic program that fits your needs, and imposes rigorous standards for acceptance of life experience credits, it is likely to be a trustworthy program. For professionals who need to expand their career opportunities and secure their ability to handle the ups and downs of a sensitive economy, considering these types of continuing education programs could be a great way to get a head start on the competition.


This is a guest post by Kimberly Wilson. Kimberly is from accredited online colleges, she writes on topics including career, education, student life, college life, home improvement, time management etc.