While weighing the pros and cons of earning a college degree, many working adults are under the misconception that they have to start at the very beginning. What they may not know is that a variety of educational and professional training can actually be applied as credit toward a bachelor's degree.
 
This means new or returning students can potentially get a jump on their degree by taking advantage of relevant professional experience or training.
 
It's called PLA, or Prior Learning Assessment (also known as Credit for Prior Learning). While qualification requirements may vary from school to school, the main idea is the same. At the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS), for example, students are able to transfer and/or earn up to 90 PLA credits. 
 
It works by evaluating everything from direct work experience and professional training to standardized tests and more, opening the door to earning a degree that much faster. Transfer credits from another accredited academic institution may apply, as will relevant military or corporate training. 
 
The operative word here is relevant. In other words, these skills must equate to either a general education course or a course within your major area of study. For instance, if you're working toward a business degree, then corporate training you received at a prior job may transfer into college credit. At CUNY SPS, hundreds of corporate training programs, courses, and exams have been evaluated for college credit.
 
“Having to take every course for every credit made the attainment of the degree especially long and, in some cases, frustrating," says Kathleen Walker, BS in Business student at CUNY SPS. "Opting for the PLA option at CUNY SPS gave me the opportunity to gain credits for the PLA class itself and credits for a class called Writing at Work. This afforded me the time and energy to spend on another class, thus fulfilling the curriculum a little faster.”
 
In some cases, students can opt for a Credit by Portfolio Evaluation in which they prepare a collection of work that reflects expertise gained outside of the classroom. Nationally recognized subject-area exams also apply. Tests like the CLEP (College Level Examination Program) fall into this category.
 
The gist here is that your prior knowledge and experience just might buy you some free college credits. For those of us contemplating finishing a bachelor's degree, this could be a game changer.
 
"Because of PLA, I will graduate a semester early," says Shanntell Hamilton, a student earning a BA in Communication and Media. "PLA has also given me the confidence that no matter your age or circumstance, you can take your experience and go back to school to achieve your goals."
 
Not only is Hamilton saving time—she's also saving money by not having to take additional courses.
 
Curious if any of your experiences have PLA potential? CUNY SPS is holding a comprehensive information session on November 12 at 6:00 pm at their Midtown Manhattan campus (119 W 31st Street). Here, prospective students can explore bachelor's degree opportunities and learn all about how PLA can work for them.