Does Life Experience Count Towards An Online Degree?

It is possible to earn credit for life experience in an online degree program, and there are five ways to accomplish this, but it may not be as easy as you would wish. Each college and university sets it own policy and may not allow credit for anything other than successful course completion, and that is their right. If you are interested in receiving credit for life experience, call the admissions office and ask before enrolling. You must clearly demonstrate a high level of proficiency in the subject matter you wish to receive credit for and these are the five ways to do that:

Credit by Exam

Some schools will grant credit if the student takes and passes a standardized subject exam. These exams are developed and administered by national testing firms. Two well-known forms of these tests are CLEP and Dantes. CLEP stands for College-Level Examination Program and offers 33 subject exams. Dantes stands for Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, and offers 39 subject exams. There is a fee for these exams, and they must be taken in a proctored environment, such as a college testing center.

It is important to understand that the testing company does not issue college credits. The testing company provides the test, then scores the completed test and reports the score to the institution that the student has specified. The school determines the cut-off, or passing score, and grants the credits.

Study guides area available for each of these tests, but relying strictly on a study guide to learn the topic is not wise. You must have extensive knowledge of your subject. The testing guide should be used only for review and to see examples of the kinds of questions that will appear on the test.


This option is a little more challenging than taking an exam. You must create a collection of documents such as resumes, essays detailing your actual experience, letters from supervisors about your work accomplishments, certifications, licenses and professional recognition such as merit awards. You will need to show how your experience matches the goals and learning outcomes of a specific required class. You also may be required to take a class covering the portfolio creation process. Your portfolio will be evaluated by faculty members in the appropriate department.

Professional Licenses and Credentials

You may be awarded college credits if you hold a valid license or credential in a field that is directly related to the course for which you wish to receive credit. Some examples are real estate, nursing and health care technicians, accounting or mechanics licenses. Your license must be up-to-date and recognized nationally or by your state of residence.

Corporate or Military Training

Education and training that you received as either a corporate employee or a member of the military may qualify you for college credits. You will need to present documentation such as certificates or letters of completion and detailed descriptions of the course content and any grades or evaluations you received.

Honesty Is the Only Policy

It is imperative that you be completely honest in seeking college credit by one of these methods. Any attempt to falsify documents or misrepresent your actual experience will be found out and the consequences may be severe, even to the extent of denying you admission to the school you have chosen. However, if you truly have the experience, can document it sufficiently and follow the required procedures, you may be able to turn your hard work and job success into college credits that will culminate in an online degree that you can be proud of.