Prior Learning Assessment delivers career advancement opportunities

Alison Kuznitz
November 14, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For nearly three decades, Sara Martin regretted dropping out of college just one year short of graduation. Though she steadily worked her way up at the United States Postal Service — beginning as a clerk and then ultimately landing in corporate communications — the dream of a bachelor’s degree stuck with her.

In 2015, as her youngest daughter completed her senior year of college, Martin decided to re-enter the secondary education arena, choosing Penn State World Campus for its flexibility and quality reputation.

With more than 140 credits under her belt, coupled with extensive professional experience, she took advantage of the LA 201W Experiential Learning Portfolio — a hallmark of the Prior Learning Assessment program.  

“I’ve often told my children that everything you do helps get you to where you are going, or where you are supposed to be. Building the portfolio showed me just how true those words were.”

—Sara Martin, Penn State Class of 2018

“It turned out to be one of the best courses I’ve taken in my college career, in part because it was so relevant to my career,” Martin said. “Building the PLA helped me see areas in my past that have come to surface in what I’m doing now, even though I didn’t realize I’d have reason to use that information at the time.”

Penn State students at any campus 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 the military, workplace, high school or self-study settings, is worthy of college credit.

Martin’s portfolio represented a patchwork of her recent years at USPS, incorporating examples of both internal and external communications. National articles published by the Associated Press and Wall Street Journal appear in her collection, as do original graphics and photography.

The final product, as Martin explained it, sheds light on her personal values at work and clarified long-term goals.

“I’ve often told my children that everything you do helps get you to where you are going, or where you are supposed to be,” she said. “Building the portfolio showed me just how true those words were.”

Last fall, after showing the portfolio to her boss, Martin was nominated and accepted into the USPS Managerial Leadership Program — joining a cohort of about 200 elite participants selected from a pool of 1,500.

The portfolio has delivered other successful results, namely helping Martin be promoted in the postal service from a writer/editor position based in Pittsburgh to a strategic communications specialist at the headquarters location in Washington, D.C.

“I feel like my career is really taking off now, and I intend to make the most of it,” Martin said. “For me, the PLA program was a wonderful means to help me compile my work in a way that was organized and easily followed by any potential new employers, either for internal promotion or external advancement.”

For more information about Prior Learning Assessment, 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

  • Portrait of Sara Martin

    Sara Martin

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated November 16, 2017