Prior Learning Assessment for Academic Credit


At APUS, we recognize our students come to us with a vast array of experience and prior learning. We also realize not all learning has resulted from traditional classroom attendance. We value all learning! The Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) portfolio program provides students an opportunity to earn credit for learning outside the confines of a traditional classroom.

If you feel you have developed college level knowledge, skills, and abilities as a result of:

  • Work experience
  • Formal corporate or military training
  • Operating your own business
  • Working with a volunteer or community organization
  • Civic leadership
  • Pursuing a hobby
  • Independent study

You may be able to earn credit for what you already know!

Please Note: APUS awards credit for college-level learning which can be assessed and documented.

Benefits of Prior Learning Assessment

PLA provides many benefits to students

  • PLA helps control tuition expenses
  • PLA lessens time required to complete a degree
  • PLA allows students to focus on developing a new knowledge, skills, and abilities
  • PLA can help eliminate boredom associated with reviewing material students have already mastered
  • PLA is a good option for students interested in demonstrating learning for which there is no standardized exam or for students who perform better on written assignments than tests
  • A study by the Lumina Foundation revealed that students who participate in PLA programs are more likely to persist and graduate

Meet some students who received credit via the PLA program.

Don Schaefer is a student Ambassador at the university. Don submitted additional portfolios and earned the maximum 30 credits toward his degree!

Here is what Ellen Milani, another student at the university, has to say about the PLA program:

Rob Flowers, another student at the university had this to say:

"The PLA (Prior Learning Assessment) program enabled me to save time and money towards earning my degree at APUS. I have worked in IT field for several years and I decided to go back to school for a degree in Business Administration. The PLA program walked me through the process of building a portfolio documenting aspects of my work history and experience. A portfolio is designed to illustrate that the learning objectives for a selected course were been previously mastered. Working with the PLA team has been great and I am now 12 credits closer to that degree than I would be without taking advantage of the PLA program.

I am not done submitting PLA portfolios yet as my ultimate goal is to earn the full 30 credit maximum allowed by the school. I would strongly recommend PLA for anyone with several years’ experience in the workforce and especially to those individuals with management experience."

“At the time of my PLA class I was enrolled in two other APU classes. During the PLA class, I believe I spent about two hours every day on PLA assignments. It was difficult but anything worthwhile is a lot of work.  I advise other students all of the time to sign up for the PLA program if they have experience in something. It was well worth the effort I put into the program.”“My experience with the program was excellent. I have taken a few other classes at AMU, and I can tell you that PLA is a well-designed and executed program. I could plan ahead because all of the curriculum and assignments were laid out for my review at the start of the class. Learning the essential components of a good portfolio was a big confidence builder as well. I cannot imagine going through the process without assistance.”

Admission Requirements

Students who believe they have acquired college level knowledge, skills, and abilities that have not been evaluated or recognized by other means may document their experiential learning in a portfolio and submit it for evaluation by a faculty evaluator. To do so, participation in our PLA program is required. This program is open to undergraduate students who meet all of the following requirements:

  • Are active students with a grade point average of 2.0 or higher
  • Have completed or received a waiver for COLL100 - Foundations of Online Learning
  • Have completed or received credit for ENGL101 - Proficiency in Writing
  • Have a completed Transfer Credit Evaluation and Transfer Credit Evaluation Update
  • Have not applied for graduation
  • Have not registered for the senior seminar course

What is a prior learning portfolio?

A prior learning portfolio is a collection of materials compiled to demonstrate previous college-level learning relevant to a student’s degree plan.  A portfolio consists of multiple components.  Each component plays a role in demonstrating mastery of learning objectives. Students submit a separate portfolio for each course for which they seek to earn credit. However, certain components of an original portfolio may be used in multiple submissions.

The components that make up a portfolio are as follows.

  • The Educational Goal Statement – In developing the educational goal statement, students have the opportunity to examine their personal motivation in the context of learning and application of knowledge. This document provides prior learning evaluators with insight and helps them provide appropriate feedback to facilitate life-long learning.
  • The Autobiography – The autobiography focuses on the students professional and personal learning endeavors since high school. In writing the autobiography, students begin to analyze their past experiences in terms of critical incidents that led to learning. This part of the portfolio helps the evaluator understand when, how, and why the learning has occurred.
  • The Resume – A resume allows students to highlight more detail about responsibilities and accomplishments that have supported learning. The resume provides the evaluator with a time line and demonstrates the progression of learning.
  • The Narrative – When writing the narrative, students focus on the learning objectives for a specific course. This is one of the components that is different for every portfolio. The narrative may be lengthy depending on the course. Students must address each course objective on the syllabus. Students must be able to demonstrate they have mastered the course objectives to the same extent as students who have completed the course. Students receive considerable coaching from their PLA advisor during the writing process.  
  • Documentation – Students supply documentation to support the narrative. Documentation is as individual as the learner. It may include items such as, sample work products, training certificates, workplace evaluations, letters of recommendation, and/or photographs.

Prior Learning Assessment Course

Students who are accepted into the PLA program enroll in a mandatory eight-week course designed to help them think and write about their prior experience in terms of the learning that resulted and guide them through the portfolio development process. Upon completion of the course, students will have developed a completed portfolio for review by an appropriate faculty evaluator.

Students must demonstrate mastery of all the learning objectives of the specified course in order for credit to be awarded. The first portfolio, developed during the course, will be evaluated by a trained faculty evaluator at no additional cost beyond the tuition for the PLA course (COLL 200). Therefore, students have an opportunity to earn credit for two courses while only paying tuition for the PLA course, COLL200. There will be a $250 fee for the submission of each additional portfolio. This fee is non-refundable even if the official faculty review does not result in the award of academic credit.

** Please note that independent study courses and the senior seminar are not eligible for prior learning assessment.

Interested in PLA?

Download the PLA FAQ'sInterested students should take this quick PLA self-assessment quiz to assist in determining if the PLA program is right for them. This is the first step in a two-step application process. This PLA office will review the self-assessment and the student's academic plan. If it is determined the student is a qualified candidate, they will be asked to provide supplemental information and receive feedback.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)?

Prior learning assessment is a method by which students can gain recognition and college credit for what they have learned outside a traditional classroom. In order to grant credit for such learning, all of the following criteria must be met:

  • It must be college level
  • It must be applicable in more than one instance or environment
  • It must be in a content area that is normally taught at a college or university
  • It must be able to be validated
  • It must be current (not obsolete)
  • It must be relevant to the student's degree program
  • It must not duplicate credit that has already been earned

There are many different ways to assess learning. APUS has liberal transfer policies that recognize CLEP and DANTES exams, as well as credit recommendations for military training and experience and civilian training that has been evaluated by ACE.

Is the PLA program available to both undergraduate and graduate students?

The PLA program is available only to undergraduate students at this time. Due to the nature of graduate programs, opportunities for PLA are more limited. Plans to offer such a program in the future would be based on demonstrated demand. Graduate students seeking additional information should contact the PLA office  -

Are there program pre-requisites?

Students seeking credit via portfolio assessment must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Be a fully matriculated student (completed the APUS application and orientation process and have a student ID number)
  • Have completed or received transfer credit for basic English Composition (ENGL101)
  • Have completed or received a waiver for Foundations of Online Learning (COLL100)
  • Have received a completed Transfer Credit Evaluation (TCE) from the APUS Transfer Credit department, if the student has credit to transfer
  • Have a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 for APUS courses taken to date, and not be on academic probation
  • Have not applied for graduation (students are too far along in the academic career to receive academic credit via PLA in time for graduation)
What academic credit may I request?

A portfolio is course-specific. Whereas CLEP/ DANTES exams and ACE recommendations relate to a discipline at the lower or upper division level, (for example 3 SH in LL Composition) credit requested via a portfolio must be for a specific APUS course. Students are directed to the syllabus archive (see the schedule of courses to find sample syllabi) to review the learning objectives for a course they intend to petition. Please recall no more than 30 credit hours from non-traditional (experiential) learning can be applied towards your degree.

Can I request my senior seminar or an independent study through PLA?

No, senior seminar courses and/or independent study courses are not eligible for prior learning assessment.

Do I have to take a class to develop a portfolio?

Students must take an eight week course designed to help them analyze their prior experience in terms of the learning that resulted. Students must be admitted to the PLA program in order to enroll in the course. Please refer to the website for the student self-assessment quiz required to begin the admission process.

Why do I need to take a course to write about my past experience?

Students need to be able to focus the portfolio on the learning that was acquired, not simply the experience. Writing about ones prior learning is not as easy as it may sound. The PLA course provides a series of structured activities designed to provide the student with a systematic approach when petitioning for credit for non-traditional learning.  Students will receive extensive coaching as they develop their portfolio.

How much time should I set aside each week for the workshop and portfolio preparation?

The workload is similar to any other APUS course. There are required forums, writing assignments and quizzes.

What is covered in the course?

This course provides a structured series of activities designed to provide the student with a systematic approach to petition for credit for learning obtained outside a traditional classroom. Students will learn to differentiate between experience, experiential learning, and learning by experience. They will analyze their personal knowledge, skills, and abilities and leverage them to develop and achieve educational goals as they learn about learning styles and theories. Students will identify prior learning and will be introduced to methods by which they can demonstrate that learning. Students will develop and submit at least one portfolio for assessment. The portfolio developed during the course will be evaluated at no additional charge beyond the tuition for the course. Additional portfolios may be submitted after completion of the course. The evaluation fee for any additional portfolio is $250.

Workshop Objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Define prior learning assessment and discuss its importance to adult learners
  • Prepare an inventory of prior learning
  • Develop an educational plan
  • Differentiate between experiential learning and life experience and traditional classroom learning
  • Explain Kolb’s learning theory as it applies to personal learning experiences
  • Identify opportunities to petition for prior learning credit
  • Identify and prepare appropriate documentation to support a petition for prior learning credit
  • Write a cogent, grammatically and structurally corrective narrative discussing his/her experiential learning
  • Prepare a portfolio in accordance with APUS standards for submission

What is covered in the workshop? (Continued)

The PLA course provides specific exercises to assist students in the identification of individual prior learning that may be credit-worthy. As previously stated, credit is awarded for learning, not just experience. In order for credit to be awarded, learning must fulfill all of the following criteria:

  • Learning must relate to the students educational goals
  • Learning objectives must be current
  • Credit must not duplicate previously awarded credit
  • Learning must be verifiable
  • Learning must be college-level and be relevant to a specific course for which APUS grants academic credit
  • Learning must be transferable to situations other than that in which it was gained
  • Knowledge of appropriate theories must accompany application of learning
Is there a limit on credit from Prior Learning?

Accrediting guidelines limit the amount of non-traditional credit applied toward degree completion. Limitations by degree program are listed below:

  • Certificates - no more than 3 semester hours
  • Associate - no more than 15 semester hours
  • Bachelors - no more than 30 semester hours
  • Masters - the APUS PLA program is presently not available for graduate programs, if in the future a program is developed, students would be limited to 9 semester hours.
How long do I have to complete my portfolio?

Students complete the first portfolio during the eight week course. In some cases, additional edits may be required prior to submission for evaluation which may add to the time required to finalize the portfolio.  Additional portfolios may be created once the workshop has ended. Students continue to work with their PLA Advisor independently as they work on subsequent portfolios. To the extent possible, students are encouraged to follow the degree completion plan they develop in the course.

How soon will I find out if my portfolio meets the requirements for a recommendation of credit?

Faculty evaluators may take up to four weeks to complete their evaluations. In some cases, the evaluator may request additional information from the student. Requests for additional information may add up to four additional weeks to the review process. Once completed, the evaluator will provide feedback to the student and either a recommendation or denial for credit. The PLA office will notify students of the results as soon as the recommendation is received.  Documentation of the recommendation is forwarded to the transfer credit department for posting which may take some additional time before the credit appears on the student’s academic plan. The entire process from the time the portfolio leaves the students hands should take six weeks or less, unless additional information is required. Students wishing to apply for PLA credit for prior learning should consider this time line when planning for graduation. Students considering participation in the PLA program should begin planning as soon as their transfer credit evaluation is completed, to allow for the time required to submit an application for the program, enrollment and participation in the eight –week course – COLL 200, completion of the portfolio, and evaluation of the portfolio.

How are my PLA credits applied?

Credit for the Prior Learning course - COLL200 will be applied to elective credits with a letter grade. Credit received for prior learning will be posted to the academic transcript in fulfillment for the course petitioned as PLA credit and counted toward transfer credit limits. There is no letter grade assigned and it is not factored into the GPA.

How will I be notified?

You will be notified via email of the decision.

What are the costs associated with portfolio submissions and evaluation?

The first portfolio, which students develop in the course, will be evaluated at no additional cost. An evaluation fee of $250 is charged for additional portfolios completed beyond the course requirement. If the evaluation results in the award of academic credit, the credit will be posted to the students transcript at no charge.

If the evaluator does not recommend credit, the PLA advisor will inform the student of the reason(s) for the decision. If the student decides to revise the portfolio and resubmit it for consideration, there will be no charge for the first resubmission. Subsequent resubmissions will each incur a fee of $250. In some rare cases, the evaluator may determine that the credit being sought by the student is simply not appropriate, and will communicate to the student that a resubmission is not worthwhile.

The evaluation fee is non-refundable, regardless of the credit recommendation.

Am I able to pay for this program with my financial aid/tuition assistance?

It depends on the type of aid you are receiving. Generally, students can use financial aid/tuition assistance to cover the tuition for COLL200. Students receiving financial support from government-sponsored programs may need to use personal funds to pay portfolio evaluation fees. Some employer-sponsored programs may cover fees associated with earning a degree. Please check with the financial aid office to discuss your particular situation.

I would like to submit more than one portfolio. How do I do that?

Students may submit additional portfolios once they have completed the course and had the first required portfolio evaluated. Students will work with the PLA advisor on subsequent portfolios via email. While working on additional portfolios, students receive the same support and coaching as they did while enrolled in the course.

What happens if credit is not recommended based on my portfolio? May I appeal that decision? How?

Students who submit portfolios for which credit is not recommended who feel their portfolio was unfairly evaluated may appeal the decision. They may do so only after they have submitted their portfolio for reconsideration after making appropriate revisions. The PLA Advisor will work with students to help them revise their portfolios based on the comments of the evaluator. If, after a second evaluation, credit is not recommended and a student wishes to appeal the decision, he or she may submit a formal appeal through the PLA office. In such cases, the Dean (or the Dean’s designated representative) of the appropriate school will be engaged to review the decision of the evaluator and render a decision as to whether the evaluation will stand, or that credit is appropriate. The decision of the Dean is final, and once a portfolio has been appealed it may not be revised and resubmitted for further evaluation.

How do I contact the PLA office?

The staff of the Prior Learning Assessment office may be reached via


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