The method to get college credit for life experience varies by school. Colleges approach this in different ways, and in some cases a student must prove that life, work or other experience is equivalent with material covered in a college class. In other instances, colleges award numerous units to people under the “life experience” heading. Taking this "shortcut" is not always recommended — many "degree mills" that offer unaccredited degrees allow people to earn most of their units from life experience, and these degrees are not professionally useful. Some colleges that are accredited colleges strike a balance, allowing students to earn some units through experience, but requiring that most units are earned through traditional study.
Many people may already be proficient in the subject matter of a required college class. A number of schools allow students to prove knowledge and competency by taking exams, although they don’t refer to this as life experience credit. Passing an examination can allow the student to earn the units for a specific course.
With this type of college credit for life experience, schools usually limit the number of courses a person can pass by examination, and exams are comprehensive and difficult. Moreover, most universities charge for the units as though a person actually took the class. A student may need to pay for testing as well.
Passing by examination stands in contrast to getting college credit for life experience in other ways. Some unaccredited schools seek to draw students by offering a chance to quickly gain credits and a degree. They may have numerous class selections that most people can acquire the units for, simply by writing a paper. Many of these selections are on basic human topics to which most people can relate personally. A death and dying class to satisfy a psychology or sociology requirement might require students to write a paper on a related personal experience as the only assignment needed to earn units.
This type of college credit for life experience might be offered in a number of areas, especially in the humanities and the social sciences. Length of pages for a paper or other requirements depends on the school. As with units by exam, most students will pay for these credits.
Accredited schools may have a more modulated concept of offering students college credit for life experience. First, many programs offer students opportunities to do special studies, where students may focus on something they’ve learned about in life and produce a paper or other assignments that could result in one or more units earned. An instructor usually has to oversee and grade the work. Other schools let students challenge units with papers or projects that show learning in a specific class is not necessary.
Most universities tread carefully around this issue of college credit for life experience. A college wants to uphold the scholastic tradition, which is to attend lectures, discuss, take exams, write papers and gradually become more knowledgeable. Too many classes that aren’t taken in this setting may mean a student leaves college uneducated or with inadequate preparation for a profession.