Do Master’s Programs Provide Credit for Work Experience?

Are you a working professional thinking about returning to school and enrolling in a master’s degree program? Your years on the job should count for something, and it turns out that they do.
A number of different in-person, online, and hybrid master’s degree programs offer credit for work experience. The credit is determined during the admissions process. Colleges and universities use a variety of different terms to describe the process of providing students with credit for on-the-job learning, including recognition of prior learning, credit-for-work experience, and work and life experience credits.

Beware of ‘Diploma Mills’

Some media articles about higher education programs offering credit for life learning and work experience warn prospective students about “diploma mills,” which are “schools” that offer a printed diploma in exchange for cash, but provide no education. These businesses are still out there. The New York Times warns that this type of fraudulent institution doesn’t “vet credit requests.” Some universities provide credit for work and life experience on an individual basis, based on academic review. As one example, a student who had founded a non-profit organization received credit for proficiency in fundraising, creative art, and web page design.

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Council for Adult and Experiential Learning

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) is the non-profit organization that has developed standards for assessing life experience and learning in college, adult education, and work environments. The organization offers resources, training, education and standards for colleges and universities, employers, the military, and adult education providers. The organization offers the Adult Learner 360 survey instrument to help determine work experience and college credits. They also offer competency-based educational assessments and provide policy research for state education organizations. The Council’s policy mandates that college credit only be awarded for learning, not for practical experience.

Ranges of Credit Differ

Capella University was founded to offer a “Flex Path” to undergraduate and graduate degrees. The school offers 15 master’s level degrees in business, information technology, and psychology. There is no set amount of credit that you can obtain from Capella University for experience and learning you could have gotten on the job. Instead, you will be asked to take and pass competency tests. This is similar to Western Governor’s University, which offers courses that students can take at their own pace, including passing tests for credit. Other universities will offer credit for one to two semesters of coursework in different master’s degree programs.

Evaluation Fees and Exams

Some universities charge for assessment and review of student portfolios or tests. Kaplan University charges a one-time fee of $1,500 to review a student’s portfolio and verify on-the-job knowledge and skills. The fee will be applied to an equivalent amount of credits for Kaplan courses and degree programs. The CLEP exam is an affordable alternative to submitting a portfolio. For about $65, you can receive scores high enough to eliminate required courses in business, foreign languages, history, science, literature or math.

Capella University, Western Governor’s University, Kaplan University, Walden University and Colorado Technical University are five of the most well-known schools offering some type of credit for work experience in their undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The methods for giving credit can range from actual units credited to your degree, to “placing out” of required courses, shortening your degree path and reducing costs.