Do you remember when you were in grade school? The first assignment was often an essay about how you spent summer vacation. Then when you got to high school, the first assignment was often a pre-test requiring you to reflect upon what you had learned the previous year(s).
When going back to, or starting college, you may not encounter such assignments; however, reflecting on your prior learning is a good place to start. Reflection helps students consider what they have learned in the past, where they may have gaps, what they expect to gain from attending college, AND may help them uncover some opportunities to earn credit for what they already know! The latter can save time and money.
As students reflect on their previous experience, many realize they have learned a lot on the job or when participating in civic or volunteer activities, hobbies, or other interests. Some of the knowledge, skills, and abilities acquired are equivalent to college level learning. Enrolling in a prior learning assessment (PLA) program can help students demonstrate prior learning and earn college credit.
Students have different options to demonstrate prior learning. Standardized or challenge exams are one method. Many students are familiar with CLEP and DANTES tests. Testing can be a good choice for students who are seeking credit for subjects in which exams are available and those who generally do well on standardized exams.
Creating a portfolio is an alternative method, which may be more attractive to students who have exam anxiety or simply do not perform as well on tests as they do on written assignments. Students can also consider portfolios for courses for which a standardized exam is not available. A portfolio is a combination of components. They generally include a goal statement, a resume and /or autobiography, a narrative essay and documentation supporting the essay. The essay addresses the knowledge, skills, and objectives the student has mastered. A faculty member evaluates the portfolio and makes a recommendation regarding credit. Costs associated with exams or portfolios are generally much less expensive than course tuition.
So, as you reflect upon your past experiences, do not limit your thinking to what you have done. Think about what you have learned from your experiences. You may be able to leverage your knowledge, skills, and abilities gained outside the classroom for college credit.
Students interested in learning more about how to save time and money with PLA can visit http://www.amu.apus.edu/admissions/general-information/pla.htm or http://www.apu.apus.edu/admissions/general-information/pla.htm.
By Tedi Thompson-Magrini
Associate VP/Prior Learning Assessment at American Public University System