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College Credit for Prior Learning

Do you want to save time and money on your way to earning a college degree? You may be able to get college credits based on what you have already learned in high school, previous work or life experience, or non-credit coursework such as military or professional training.

Minnesota colleges vary in whether they grant credit for prior learning and how they do it. Some colleges and universities might allow you to earn both credit and advanced placement. If you're interested in a specific college, browse the College Search and request information about credit for prior learning.

There are several different ways to obtain credit for prior learning:

Earn College Credit in High School

There are a number of ways high school students can earn college credit while in high school. Some high school students enter their first year of college with enough credits to be college sophomores. Most of these programs are entirely free to the student. Not all programs are available at all schools. Some programs also require a certain academic standing to participate. Check with your school counselor.

These classes are a good deal because:

  • Students may earn both high school and college credit. This can save you time and money when you actually get to college.
  • The course work is college-level. You may do better in college classes later because you'll know what to expect.
  • You take college-level courses. This gives you a taste of college while still enrolled in high school.

Advanced Placement (AP)

AP coursework and exams offer high school students a chance to quality for college credits for classes and exams taken in high school.

Evidence shows that students with AP credit have more chances of being admitted to college and can save time and money when they enter. You may also do better in college classes later because you'll know what to expect.

  • Get answers about Advanced Placement for Minnesota students.
  • Visit subject pages to learn more about AP courses and exams.
  • Practice with prior test questions to improve your essay-writing and problem-solving skills.

College in the Schools (CIS)

CIS allows juniors and seniors to take free college-level courses at their high school through partnerships between high schools and local colleges and universities.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

IB is a two-year pre-college diploma program that helps prepare students age 16 to 19 for higher education in the United States and overseas. Students select one subject from six subject groups: the student's primary language, a second language, mathematics, experimental sciences, the arts and humanities.

Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO)

PSEO is a free Minnesota program that allows juniors and seniors to take courses at a college at no cost. Students attend class and complete the same assignments required of regular college students.

College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

CLEP provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate college-level achievement through a program of exams in undergraduate college courses. Credit may be also awarded for paid or volunteer work experience, military service, or self-directed learning.

Colleges vary in their participation and in the amount of college credit they give for passing a particular CLEP test. See Getting Credit for more details.

Veterans Education Transfer System

Minnesota Veterans can use VETS, the Veterans Education Transfer System. This online application helps past, present, and future servicemembers determine how their military experience can count for credit at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities institutions.

Portfolio-Based Prior Learning Assessments

Some types of learning can be demonstrated by taking a standardized test, like AP and CLEP described above. Other learning may require a different approach to demonstrate. Many Minnesota colleges and universities will consider giving college credit to students who can demonstrate that they have already learned the content of their coursework. Some colleges require that students take (and pay for) a course where the instructor provides guidance on how a student can prepare a portfolio to show what they already know. That portfolio is then assessed by college faculty or staff to determine whether the college will grant any credit. The assessment will detail how much credit you could earn, and how that credit will be applied toward your program requirements.

Again, policies and procedures vary widely. Ask the college or university you want to attend about their policies for Credit for Prior Learning.

Training-Based Prior Learning Assessments

If you have taken formal training through an employer, the military, or a professional association, or if you have taken certain national exams (AP, DANTES, CLEP, and many others), you may be able to use these to get college credit. The American Council on Education (ACE) is a national organization that keeps track of these types of trainings. ACE has evaluated each type of training and provides recommendations to colleges for granting college credit that recognizes the training's specific value. Most colleges follow ACE's recommendations. The VCN website offers a tool you can use to gather information on all the different tests, trainings, and certifications that may be accepted by your college for credit for prior learning.

Source: Adapted in part from Minnesota Office of Higher Education and MnTransfer.