Prior Learning Assessment

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is a process of identifying and measuring your previous learning that has the potential to receive academic credit and could reduce the amount of courses you have to take to complete your degree or certificate program.  Prior Learning Assessment can save you time and money.  Not all methods apply equally to all programs, so be sure to ask an academic advisor about PLA as you enter a new program.

There are five methods to document and evaluate the prior learning (PLA) of an adult student:

Transfer Credit

This is documented from your previous transcripts that are sent to a University.

Challenge Exams (Credit by Examination)

Colleges and Universities develop internal examinations for many of their courses that you can take to demonstrate that you've mastered the content of a particular course.

Standardized National Exams

The College Board has developed exams that are part of the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES (for military training). These tests are administered at a formal testing center, and credits will be accepted into degree programs at many Universities. For more information see:

American Council on Education (ACE)

ACE has evaluated many military and corporate training programs and has published guidelines of credit recommendations for adults who have completed these programs. Academic advisors at colleges and Universities use ACE recommendations for credit in advising new students.


Through an instructor-led course (either face to face or online) an adult student can develop a portfolio that demonstrates past learning experiences and outcomes.  The Student Portfolio is then evaluated by faculty members and recommendations are made about the amount and content area of credit to be awarded.  Many colleges offer Portfolio Development courses.

For additional questions about Prior Learning Assessment, contact a NACTEL Education Consultant.

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