Going to college has long been considered a rite of passage for students fresh out of high school to take their next step towards building a future career. Today, the student body has changed! More than ever, working adults are going back to school to further their professional expertise or even make a complete career change!
If you are a working adult who wants to enroll at a college or university, there are a number of factors to consider – and you probably have a lot of questions!
Common questions that we receive from working adult students include:
- Are there colleges that cater to working adults?
- What about the credits I have from past degree programs?
- Does my life experience count towards school placement?
- Are online degree programs a realistic option?
Luckily, we are here to help! In the information below we will cover everything that you need to know as a working adult going back to school.
To get you started, we have put together a table of the top 25 universities that offer flexible options for working adults to get the most out of their educational experience. Here you will find information on the types of degrees offered, college accreditation, and ways that you can save time and money by earning credit for your past experience:
|University||Online Degrees Offered||Credit by Exam||Credit for Life Experience / Prior Learning)||Accreditation|
|Yes||Credit may be awarded for licenses, certifications, corporate or military training. Prior learning assessments are also available.||Regionally accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission|
|Azusa Pacific University||Associates|
|Offers prior learning assessment via experiential learning essays or documented professional/technical training.*Noteworthy: An unlimited number of college credits can be earned through CLEP exams at Azusa Pacific.|
*Noteworthy: An unlimited number of college credits can be earned through CLEP exams at Azusa Pacific.
|Regionally accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission|
|Yes||Credit for prior learning through portfolio assessment, as well as review of professional certifications and training||Regionally accredited by accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission|
|Yes||Offers multiple opportunities to earn credit from prior learning and knowledge, as well as professional certifications.||Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission|
|Charter Oak State College||Associates|
|Yes||Credit may be awarded for licenses, certifications, corporate or military training. Prior learning assessments are also available.||Regionally accredited by New England Association of Schools and Colleges|
|Colorado State University||Bachelors|
|Yes||Prior learning assessment, as well as a review of non-collegiate courses, corporate trainings, certifications, and professional licenses.||Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission|
|Yes||Credit for prior learning via portfolio assessment, as well as professional certifications, training, and licenses.||Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission|
|Yes||Portfolio assessment for prior learning, as well as credit evaluation for training programs and military experience.||Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission|
|Yes||Portfolio assessment for prior learning, as well as review of military or corporate training and professional certifications.||Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission|
|Yes||Prior learning assessment opportunity through an established partnership with Learning Counts.||Regionally accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools|
|Florida Technical University||Associates|
|Yes||None||Regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools|
|Full Sail University||Bachelors|
|Yes||Students receiving veterans benefits with extensive work experience may take the final exam in relevant courses to receive credit for previous training.||Nationally accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges|
|Grand Canyon University||Bachelors|
|Yes||Offers the Lifelong Learning Assessment to provide you with an opportunity to earn credits based on work and life experiences.||Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission|
|Yes||Offers prior learning assessment portfolio to earn credit toward an undergraduate degree from the knowledge gained in your personal and professional life.||Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission|
|Yes||Offers college credit for life experience and military experience provided the experience closely relates to the objectives of the course in question.||Regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools|
|Yes||Credit for prior learning for military training, professional training, and life experience, as well as a portfolio assessment option.||Regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools|
|Yes||Offers prior learning credit evaluation through a prior learning portfolio assessment process.||Regionally accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission|
|Ohio Christian University||Associates|
|Yes||Offers a prior learning assessment program to earn college credit based on your previous training and experience.||Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission|
|Yes||Demonstrate college-level proficiency in subjects where learning has occurred in non-traditional ways, such as on-the-job training or work experience.||Regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges|
|Yes||Experiential credit for prior learning is assessed for training programs, seminars, workshops, non-credit courses, military service,|
licenses, certificates, and community activities.
|Regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools|
|Saint Leo University||Associates|
|Yes||Credit for prior learning is available for those who have completed formal career training programs or courses (military or corporate).||Regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools|
|Thomas Edison State College||Associates|
|Yes||Prior learning assessment portfolio, as well as a review of military training and education, and professional training. Open course credit options are also available.||Regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education|
|University of Maryland University College||Bachelors|
|Yes||Offers both a prior learning portfolio assessment as well as the opportunity to challenge a course by passing the final exam.||Regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education|
|Yes||Offers prior learning assessment portfolio, as well as a review of professional experience and certifications for potential credit toward your degree.||Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission|
|Western Governors University||Bachelors|
|Yes||Competency-based (rather than credit hour based) degree programs, so if you can prove competency sooner rather than later because of prior experience, you will progress through the degree program at a faster pace.||Regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities|
As you can see, there are a number of different colleges that make going back to school as a working adult easier than ever! All of the accredited universities listed above offer unique ways for working adults to receive college credit for life experience, by examination, or through accelerating through the program at a faster pace – saving you valuable time and tuition fees!
When researching prospective schools, it is important that you have a solid understanding of what the different credit policies entail. In the sections below, we will give you an in-depth look at the various factors you need to consider before committing to enrollment in your new degree program.
Credit for Life Experience and Prior Learning
Any adult knows that education entails more than just textbooks, and some of the best learning experiences come from lifelong or professional accomplishments. Whether you learned another language through global traveling or have exceptional management skills from working your way up the corporate ladder, modern universities understand that adults returning to school have a lot to offer when it comes to their prior learning experiences.
Fortunately, several of the universities listed in the table above allow students to apply for nontraditional learning credits from life experience or prior learning. However, the burden is on you to prove to your school that you have the experience needed to earn credit for college courses without actually taking them.
Prior Learning Assessment Portfolio
The most common method of earning credit for life experience is by presenting a Prior Learning Assessment Portfolio (PLA). Typically, there are several requirements that must be met before submitting a PLA for consideration, including:
- Current enrollment in a university degree program
- Completion of certain general education courses
- Minimum requirement for years of professional experience in the areas you are seeking credit
Each college that has an option to submit a PLA will typically have detailed submission guidelines on its website. You will also be required to pay a fee to your college for each credit hour that you are requesting. For example, if the PLA fee is $50 per credit hour and you want to receive credit for a three credit hour course, you will have to pay a non-refundable fee of $150 with submission of your portfolio.
While it may seem like a high price to pay, remember that if your portfolio is accepted you will be saving many times that fee amount on course tuition and textbooks!
What if I have prior career training or professional licenses?
If you have received professional training through your employment or have acquired applicable licenses or certifications, these experiences all have the potential of being considered at schools that offer credit for life experience.
The first step to receiving credit for these past experiences is contacting the admissions office at your prospective school. The advisors there will be able to direct you to the specific documents or portfolio that you will need to provide in order to process your credits from prior learning.
Credit by Exam
For working adults that have a strong knowledge in core course topics, applying for credit by examination could be an excellent way to cut down on your tuition costs and accelerate your degree program. All colleges have their own specific requirements and restrictions on the number of credits that can be earned through examination, which typically varies from three to nine credits.
There are two main types of exams that working adults use to apply for credits by examination – the CLEP and DSST.
What is the CLEP Exam?
CLEP is a highly regarded examination that is available for students who wish to “test out” of certain general education college courses within their degree program. This test is accepted by more than 2,900 colleges and universities nationwide, and it offers examinations on 33 different course topics.
The areas of study covered by the CLEP include the following:
- History and Social Sciences
- Composition and Literature
- Science and Mathematics
- World Languages
Each CLEP exam costs $80, and there are additional costs if you wish to purchase a study guide to prepare before the test. When you consider the cost of a college course averaging around $700, it is easy to see how paying the CLEP fee to earn credits by examination can save you a great deal of money in the long-term!
There are numerous testing sites for the CLEP exam throughout the country, and it is easy to register for the date and location of your choice through their website. The CLEP website also offers valuable tools such as practice quizzes and additional information to help you prepare for taking the exam!
What is the DSST Exam?
Like the CLEP, the DSST examination offers students the opportunity to pass a test in lieu of taking certain general education courses at their university. This specific test is accepted by more than 1900 higher education institutions nationwide, and it offers over 30 different examination options.
Across the country, there are 1,200 different testing sites where you can register to take a DSST exam. Each test costs $80, like the CLEP, although it is important to verify any additional costs that you may incur based upon the policies of your testing site.
As an added bonus, DSST exams are fully funded for military personnel! Whether you are a veteran or on active duty, you have the opportunity to take a DSST exam for free in order to apply it to your degree program. However, it is worth noting that if you do not pass the DSST test you will be responsible for funding any additional re-testing.
Transferring Previous College Credits
If you attended college in the past but did not finish your degree program, you may still be able to earn credit for the courses you’ve previously taken! While transfer policies vary greatly based on school and degree program, there is a good chance that you will be able to receive some credit for courses that you completed with a C or higher at another accredited university.
Across the board, there is no set standard for the number of transfer credits a college will or will not accept. However, your first step is to sit down with your school’s academic advisor or admissions counselor. They will be able to look through your previous transcripts and help you determine which of your previous classes will be eligible for credit towards your new degree program.
Additionally, certain accredited colleges that offer distance learning options can have the most generous transfer policies! These online degree programs offer a range of benefits that can help you save time and tuition costs while pursuing your degree.
Online Degree Programs
If you are interested in pursuing your degree but are not sure how to balance your career and coursework obligations, an online degree program may be the perfect choice for you! Working adults are one of the many types of students that can greatly benefit from the flexibility and innovation of online degree programs. Whether your goal is to finish your degree in a shorter timeframe or you need to log-on to classes after office hours, there are many advantages to choosing to pursue an online degree offered by many of the nation’s top accredited universities.
Beyond the flexibility nature of online course scheduling, some of the advantages to working towards your degree online include:
- Options to work through the summer or take accelerated 8-week courses
- Generous transfer policies
- Ability to use federal and state financial aid, scholarships, and grants
- Innovative online learning platforms that connect you with instructors and students nationwide
- Potential for lower tuition costs
- Numerous degree program options
For working adults that want to further their careers without incurring massive amounts of debt or spending years on a college campus, online degree programs are a versatile way to get the most out of your education experience!
Whether you want to further your education to move up in your company or you are ready to pursue an entirely new career path, returning to school as a working adult is now easier than ever! With the many opportunities available for allowing your previous life experience to count towards your education and the flexibility of online learning, earning your degree as a working adult is an excellent opportunity to improve your future!