Four Ways transfer students can get college credits for prior experience

By University of Massachusetts Global on August 8, 2022

Learning doesn't always happen within the confines of a classroom. Children develop numerous skills by listening, observing and practicing in their day-to-day lives. It's true for learning how to use new technologies, how to show respect for other people and even how to ride a bike. But children aren't the only ones who learn valuable information outside of school.

Real world education continues well into your adult life - most employees acquire new competencies while on the job. Just think about your own experiences. In all likelihood, you're a far more capable professional than you were a few years ago simply by spending more time in the working world.

Of course, formal classroom instruction has its place. Obtaining a degree is one of the best ways to help advance your career, and you don't even have to start from scratch. There are actually a number of ways students like you can get college credits that could be applied toward finishing your degree or obtaining a new one. Start exploring your options.

Four Ways you can get college credits for your previous experiences

There are a number of ways to earn alternative college credits, but it won't likely be the same across every institution. It's also a good idea to formally submit applications at a few schools you're interested in attending. This way, you can find out what's actually feasible for you at each institution.

"I always recommend students go through the application process with each school they are interested in attending," advises Danielle Mitchell, enrollment coach at University of Massachusetts Global. "Rather than speaking generally of what might transfer in, we want to make sure you know which credits will indeed transfer before you sign the dotted line and start classes."

There are four transfer primary options available to students considering completing their education at University of Massachusetts Global. Reviewing each one can help you get a sense of which route may work best for you.

1. Transfer credits from another institution

You're not alone if you began working toward a degree, but then took a break from school. It's incredibly common for students to pause their studies, and many of them choose to finish their degree at an entirely different institution. Unfortunately, those learners often let much of their hard work go to waste. A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office reveals that while more than one-third of college students switch schools at some point, they lose an average of 43 percent of the credits they've earned.

It's completely possible - and advisable - to transfer eligible credits to your new school, particularly if the last college you attended was regionally accredited. That said, every institution has a slightly different transfer policy. Make sure to investigate how much of your previous coursework will count toward a degree before enrolling in a program. And know that just because two institutions have similar names for courses doesn't mean the material covered in them is equivalent.

"If there's ever a question about whether previously taken courses covered similar material, we'll ask the student to obtain a syllabus from their class, which allows us to dig in and see what was covered," Mitchell explains. "Our goal is to ensure students are provided with the opportunity to apply as much of their previous coursework as possible toward their degree here at UMass Global."

If you're interested in a graduate program, it's also worth considering whether any of your undergraduate education could be applied toward an advanced credential. This is a common practice at University of Massachusetts Global.

"I've seen a number of students who took classes at the 500 or 600 level when they were undergraduates who didn't even think to have those credits transfer," Mitchell says.

2. Apply military training or service

While it's generally accepted that military experience can be applied toward a degree, some schools are more generous with their policies than others. It's worth reviewing whether any institution you're considering is ranked by the Military Friendly Advisory Council, because military-friendly colleges, like University of Massachusetts Global, typically make it as easy as possible for you to earn credit.

"Our application includes a place for students to indicate if they would like for us to automatically request their Joint Services Transcript (JST)," Mitchell notes. "We'll set up a pre-admission advising appointment to see what's transferrable and what might be the best program for them to utilize all the credits they've already obtained."

Based on the Military Guide from the American Council on Education (ACE), the JST breaks down credit recommendations in a few ways. One method is to consider coursework you've completed as part of your training. These are structured classes that are taught by qualified instructors, drive toward specific learning objectives and measure students' mastery of the material through assessments. ACE also makes credit recommendations for the on-the-job learning that occurs during service, which can vary depending on the specific role. Generally speaking, the higher the ranking a service member achieves, the more credits they can expect to receive. Just note that the ACE recommendations are suggestions rather than requirements.

3. Leverage your professional experience

Believe it or not, you can get college credits for your work experience. Depending on which schools you're considering, you may have a few options for how to go about this. One of the most common options is a prior learning assessment, which typically involves compiling a portfolio that demonstrates you've accumulated college-level knowledge in a particular subject outside the traditional classroom setting. It might include writing samples, reference letters, certificates earned and any other number of materials, which will vary depending on the course. Note that you will need to go through a separate portfolio process for each individual course you'd like to forgo.

Some institutions also design their programs so that certain professional certificates ladder directly into them. This is a particularly good option for professionals who are in fields such as human resources or information technology. University of Massachusetts Global even allows students who've obtained the Retail Management Certificate to apply all 24 credits toward a Bachelor of Business Administration in General Business.

4. Test out of certain courses

Advanced placement (AP) exams are a well-known option for getting ahead on program requirements, but they aren't the only options for testing out of courses. College Board administers the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), which includes 34 different tests in a range of subjects. The DSST, previously known as the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests, offered by Prometric are also options. Both of these exam pathways are open to anyone looking to earn college credit for what they already know.

Bear in mind that simply taking the test isn't sufficient for earning credit. You need to perform well enough to demonstrate that you've mastered the material covered on whichever exams you sit for.

"There are set guidelines for exactly what the scores would need to be," Mitchell says. If you have any questions about what a particular school accepts as sufficient, just ask.

Take advantage of your experience

Most institutions allow students to get college credits for some of their prior education or experience, but you should know that schools can vary considerably in what they will and won't accept. Some have far more generous policies than others.

While it can feel like a huge undertaking to figure out how you can apply what you already know toward a degree, the right college or university can help simplify the process. Make sure you know how to choose the best school for you by reviewing "The transfer student's guide to choosing the right college."