Know Something? Save Time And Tuition


Are you experienced, workshop-educated, community-involved, and/or moderately-traveled and still working toward your bachelor’s degree? Write it down! You may be able to trade a nominal portfolio assessment fee for credit hours worth thousands at your brick-and-mortar college or university. I’ve helped people who have saved time (by completing degree requirements through credit for prior learning rather than taking semester-long classes) and tuition expenses in exchange for documentation of their past experiences, and I’ll show you how the process works.

To get started, find out if your school has a credit for prior learning (CPL) program and more specifically, a portfolio assessment process. Next, get a copy of the guidelines. Then, prepare the portfolio on your own, get some input from a faculty member, or take a class that steps you through the process.

Here is my approach:

  1. Follow CPL instructions.
  2. Ask for examples if none are given.
  3. Realize that content weighs more heavily than eloquence. Be clear, state what you have done and what you’ve learned, and why the learning is relevant. 
  4. Organize: create and follow a table of contents; use consistent headings; include back-up materials.
  5. Give yourself enough time to gather materials, write your outlines and narratives, review your portfolio, make edits, and meet your deadline (depending on your spare time, this process may extend over a few months though the writing should take 10-15 hours).

Guidelines vary but work, volunteer, and travel experiences; professional and technical training; and even hobbies may qualify as educational. The portfolio program tends to favor older adults with years of varied experience but even a year or two of working between high school and college, or time off for traveling can qualify as prior learning.

Suggestions for documenting your experiential learning:

Work Experience

  • Describe the company and your position(s), duties, and accomplishments (i.e., write a narrative resume).
  • Quantify: for example, list the sales for the company, business unit, territory, or assigned accounts; operating and capital budgets; and/or number of customers, manufacturing facilities, vendors, and distribution sites.
  • Present accomplishments (what goals did you meet or exceed and under what challenging circumstances? what new programs did you design or introduce? what have you improved in your department, business unit, or company?)
  • Tell what you learned (simple as “I learned how to increase sales by better assessing customer needs” or “I learned how to resolve conflict between coworkers”).


  • List every non-college course you have ever taken including professional development (leadership training) and technical training (CPR, Photoshop, Bloodborne Pathogens); these may include one-day seminars, series of courses leading to professional certification, and self-paced computer-based or independent study.
  • Explain what you learned and, if possible, how you have applied this knowledge to your career and personal life.

Volunteer Activities

  • List all extracurricular activities including company task forces and committees (if not mentioned under work experience), trade associations, civic groups, and interest groups.
  • Describe what you did (planned social events, arranged guest speakers) and what you learned (how to get multiple bids for catering, types of speakers who appeal to certain audiences).


  • List all travel experiences that are relevant: locally, nationally, and globally.
  • Describe your travel experiences (e.g., went camping in the mountains, took a mission trip to Guatemala) and what you learned (e.g., how to cook a meal over an open fire, improved your language skills).

If you need to develop a theme to which all of your experience relates, consider the common elements of your experiences (which may be easier upon reflection rather than before you start the process). A theme may be that you’ve enjoyed learning about the historical situation of a problem before proposing a solution or you’ve used visual tools to communicate with people. If you need help, ask a friend or advisor who may be able to provide perspective and suggest a theme.

You may need to prove that your learning corresponds directly to a specific course offered by the college or university; or, you demonstrate only that you have learned something of value and/or relevant to your academic goals.

If you want to see what kinds of portfolio assessment programs are available, here are some examples:


  • You will most likely need to pay an upfront portfolio assessment fee, which may be nominal or it may equal tuition expenses associated with the credit hours (in which case you will have saved time but not money).
  • Credit is not guaranteed.
  • Credits earned through CPL may not be eligible for transfer to other institutions.

Recording and reflecting on your experiences can be rewarding personally, and it can save time and tuition dollars.  

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Guest's picture

This is a great post for those needing college credit.

Those who just want to learn can get some really interesting classes in webcast or podcast form.

A number of colleges provide this service at no charge. UC Berkley is one example.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for the link -- I have read of such open courses and even saw a mention of MIT courses in my morning newspaper. Learning can happen anywhere including the workplace.

I have known too many people who earned college credits (sometimes totalling more than 120 hours though at different institutions) but just had too many hurdles to getting a degree (interruptions for work and family obligations). They may have managed multimillion dollar businesses and organized community programs helping hundreds of people but then have difficulty finding a job after a layoff because of no degree. Being able to translate learning into credits can really help them move forward.