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Earning College Credit for Prior Learning


By: Liz Jackson
PLA Manager/Advisor at American Public University System

1.       Identify prior learning

One way to identify prior learning is to make a list of all the things you have learned since you graduated from high school. List the activity, what you did, and what you learned. Create the personal learning inventory using any method that is comfortable and convenient for you, such as an Excel spreadsheet or Word chart as shown below.

Experience Responsibilities What I learned
First job — Assistant Store Manager Inventory control, prepare payroll, HR Management Importance of stock rotation, avoiding shrink, basic record keeping, interviewing techniques
Served as Treasurer — HOA Board Develop budget, AR/AP, prepare P&L statements, reconcile bank statements Basic bookkeeping, budgeting, Preparation of basic accounting forms and use of formulas


List experiences in both your personal and professional life and what you learned as a result. Once you have completed your learning inventory, review the course catalog.  You may find courses in your degree program that align with your prior learning.  

2.       Decide if the portfolio method is right for you

There are several forms of prior learning assessment. Choose the one that is best suited to your academic needs and goals.  Forms of PLA include: American Council on Education (ACE) recommendations, institutional credit recommendations, challenge exams, national exam programs such as CLEP and DANTES, and portfolios.

3.       Find a program that offers the portfolio option

In 2011 APUS successfully launched a portfolio based prior learning assessment program.  For more information please go to http://www.apu.apus.edu/lp/prior-learning or http://www.amu.apus.edu/lp/prior-learning.

4.       Enroll in the required workshop or course to develop the portfolio

Many schools offer portfolio programs and most provide a workshop or counselor to assist students in preparing the portfolio. APUS offers no cost/no credit PLA workshops monthly that last four to six weeks. The workshop is beneficial in identifying prior learning that can successfully be demonstrated towards a specific course and provides support to students as they develop a portfolio.

5.       Compile the portfolio and submit to an evaluator

Portfolios contain a wealth of information that can demonstrate prior learning. A typical portfolio will include a resume, autobiography, educational goal statement, narrative, and supporting documentation.