Get Started, Part 6
PRIOR LEARNING ASSESSMENTS or PORTFOLIO ASSESSMENTS
Let me take a moment and speak to those skeptics again. A Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is NOT simply handing out credits for "life skills." In order to earn credit through a PLA, you have to work with a professor or mentor to build a portfolio that demonstrates your college-level knowledge in a certain subject. PLAs are work, but they are great for students who need credits in courses that aren't covered by testing or other online options. All right? These aren't some sort of "diploma mill" credits! I am no more interested in seeing you waste your money on a worthless, fake degree than you are.
A PLA will generally cost you almost as much as a full-tuition course through TESC. COSC handles their's a little differently. For your first portfolio assessment, you take an online course (for $966 for out-of-state tuition) through the school and build your portfolio. After that, you can submit as many additional portfolios as you want, paying $91-per-credit-hour for enrolled students or $118 per-credit-hour for non-enrolled students. Excelsior's assessments are conducted through LearningCounts.org.
The concept of a prior learning assessment may seem confusing at first. Read over the schools' websites carefully so that you can get a good picture of what they are and how they work.
TESC - PLA ( and PLA FAQ)
COSC - Portfolio Assessment
Excelsior - Portfolio Assessment
The beauty of PLAs is that they really open up the options for you, in terms of your major or area of study/concentration. While it's fairly easy to find ways to earn credits for certain degrees, like a Business Administration or Psychology degree, for others, like Art, you can utilize the PLA method to put together course portfolios for those specific, upper-level credits you need.
Whew! We FINALLY made it all the way through Step 2. Let's do a quick recap.
There are several ways for you to earn credits toward your degree, beyond sitting in a college classroom for a semester. These are:
- Online college courses
- FEMA Independent Study courses
- Saylor NCCRS approved courses
- ALEKS math courses
- StraighterLine courses
- College-level exams
- Prior Learning Assessments
Would you believe that's not even every option? There are more out there for you to discover, but you need to be cognizant of certain requirements. When speaking about the Big Three, you can take courses at any regionally accredited college or university and have them transfer in. (Homeschoolers, this makes dual enrollment worth your consideration.) Beyond that, any other credit source you are considering MUST HAVE ACE APPROVAL. Keep in mind, in some cases, like with Penn Foster, some of their courses have ACE approval and some don't, so be certain you only choose those that do.
How do you know if something is ACE approved? Usually there will be some kind of notice that tells you right up front, like how ALEKS does on their course products page, but you have to even know something like ALEKS exists in first place to find that information. ACE has a website where they list all the various courses they have approved. (There are a LOT of them.) I encourage you to poke around and see what's available. Many of them are location dependent, like The Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Maryland, but you never know what you might find.
Beyond the Big Three, it's entirely up to an individual college or university as far as what they will accept. If you are looking at schools other than TESC, COSC, or Excelsior, be sure you have confirmed with those schools what they will or will not allow you to transfer in before you take any courses.
So this is all well and good, but while you now have some ideas on how you can earn credits, I'm sure you're thinking, "Well... okay... but how do I know which of these options to actually take?" Good question! That's where Step 3 comes in. We're going to move on and talk about building your personal degree plan.