How to Earn PLA Credit

How Can You Earn Credit?


Transcripts document courses you have already completed.

Articulation between community colleges and four-year institutions and Community colleges are a great way to start your college program, but it’s wise to try to understand early on which credits will transfer to the four-year college you plan to attend.  Transfer of credits depends upon whether the accepting school offers a comparable course to the course that you are transferring.

Credit by Examination CLEP (College Level Examination Program)

This is the most widely accepted credit by examination program in the United States.  By taking CLEP exams, you can save time in the classroom, move into advanced classes more quickly, and achieve your education goals more quickly.  There are 34 CLEP exams that test basic knowledge in business, history and social sciences, science, math, foreign language, and composition and literature.  Exams consist of multiple-choice questions though some math exams have fill-in sections; English composition requires an essay.

There are several ways to prepare for CLEP exams although, obviously, the test(s) you choose to take should be in areas in which you have knowledge already.  You can read a description of the exam on the College Board Web site,  If you need to brush-up, you may want to obtain a textbook on the subject or find a CLEP preparation guide.

Advanced Placement Tests

You may not think of this as credit for prior learning but that’s just what Advanced Placement tests are.  You can enter more advanced courses and exempt the lower level courses by demonstrating your knowledge.

Graduate Record Exam

This enables you to place into graduate school much as the SAT can determine your entrance into undergraduate school.

Challenge Exams

These exams enable you to demonstrate your knowledge and earn credit as well as exempt you from other college courses.  These are actually developed by the college rather than by an external test developer.

Professional Certifying Exams

These enable you to demonstrate what you know in a specific profession so that you can attain a certain credential.

Credit for Completion of Evaluated Programs

These include company, union, government and military courses that have been evaluated as comparable to college-level learning.

DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-traditional Education Support)

The DANTES distance learning program provides a wide variety of non-traditional education programs critical for members of the Services who need alternatives to degree requirements when classroom courses are unavailable or when work schedules or duty locations do not allow one to attend class. 

DANTES provides undergraduate and graduate academic courses from nearly 150 institutions. Other courses are oriented to a non-degree seeking student or a technical student. These courses are available to personnel in all military services.

PONSI Courses

PONSI stands for the Program on Non-collegiate Sponsored Instruction.  PONSI evaluates courses offered by organizations that are not colleges. 

American Council on Education (ACE)

The American Council on Education also evaluates training programs, apprenticeships and examinations to determine their equivalence to traditional college courses.

Note:  You should check the directory of non-collegiate courses recommended for credit by PONSI or ACE or talk directly to an official at the college you are attending or plan to attend about PONSI or ACE credit.  You will need to provide documentation of your successful course completion.

Credit for Professional Licenses or Certifications

Sometimes, colleges will grant credit for professional licenses or certifications that you have earned.  Colleges recognize that to achieve a license or certification one has already demonstrated one's knowledge on an exam.  It’s clear to the college already that you have mastered the material. 

Examples are Licensed Practical Nurse and Real Estate Broker.  If you have earned a license or certification, check with the school you are attending or plan to attend as to whether you may be eligible for college credit.


Another method by which one can earn college credit is through the development of a portfolio.  The typical components of a portfolio, though these vary from school to school includes:

• A request for credit

• Extensive details of what you had to know or learn to do a job

• Essay or narrative description of your goals and reasons for seeking credit, demonstrating how the prior learning relates to these goals

• Documentation of knowledge and skills 

  • Direct” by providing evidence of work produced
  • “Indirect” by providing recommendations, awards and documentation of training completed.

NOTE:  Reputable schools are not “giving away” credit for portfolios.  Colleges have clear and rigorous requirements for portfolios, and a successful credit earning portfolio requires time, energy, and, usually, lots of preparation.