Students use previous knowledge, experience to earn college credits

October 27, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State students at any of the University's campuses can enhance their success and academic experience through the prior learning assessment process. Faculty determine whether knowledge gained at another college or university, as well as in military, workplace, high school or self-study settings, is worthy of college credit. 

Students interested in prior learning assessment, or PLA, should consult with their academic adviser to identify how alternative credit acquisition can apply toward meeting degree goals.

There are multiple ways for students to earn credit for what they already know and many Penn State students have already taken advantage of the opportunities presented by Prior Learning Assessment to assess experience in order to graduate on time. For example:

— In 2014-2015, Penn State students transferred 102,765 courses.

— In 2014-2015, military and veteran students used prior learning assessment 2,889 times to earn credit.

— In 2015-2016, 21 percent of Penn State students were likely to qualify for credit and test out of courses based on previous experience or work-related training.

One of Penn State President Eric Barron’s University-wide initiatives focuses on the theme of access and affordability. PLA directly supports this initiative by allowing students to translate prior experiences and professional skills into credit, which can accelerate their time to graduation. It may also help students who have completed a high number of credits with a strong GPA but were not able to complete their degree due to unforeseen circumstances.

Three Penn State World Campus students — all adult learners in their 30s and 40s ready to turn their life experiences into University credit — took advantage of the LA 201W Experiential Learning Portfolio online. Portfolios are a course-specific collection of materials from non-university experiences that can be submitted for one or two courses at a time, totaling between three to six credits. 

The students learn how to assemble a unique portfolio that reflects their progress, knowledge, and insight into college-level study. Once completed, the project is submitted for credit assessment and possible writing credits. Along the way, students also gain the ability contextualize learning into a portfolio for future endeavors.

One of the World Campus' students maintained a 4.0 GPA on her way to applying to law school. A second student created a portfolio using documentation from the Air Force and submitted it as a writing sample for graduate school, where she’s currently pursuing a master’s degree in social work. The third student used the completed portfolio for a promotion, opening the doors to additional opportunities.

For more information about the Prior Learning Assessment program, contact Michele Rice, director of prior learning assessment at or 814-867-6097.

Current students are encouraged to learn more about prior learning opportunities by visiting and working with their adviser.

Prior Learning Assessment is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at

Last Updated November 02, 2017