Alternative Options for Earning Undergraduate College Credit

Copy of a higher education transcript

Gone are the days when academic credit can only be earned by sitting in a classroom. Today, learning experiences outside the traditional classroom can be a valuable source of credit. 

Referred to as alternative college credit, you have options for cost-effective, credit-earning potential that can accelerate degree completion, such as:

  1. Credit by Exam
  2. Portfolio Assessment
  3. Workplace Training and Professional Credentials
  4. Military Experience
  5. Online Self-Paced Courses 

1. Credit by Exam

College credit can be earned through examination programs like the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), DSST (formerly Dantes Standardized Subject Tests), and Excelsior College UExcel Exams. These primarily multiple-choice assessments test your knowledge in common subject areas like business, humanities, math, and the sciences. CLEP, DSST, and UExcel exams are generally accepted for some degree of credit at most colleges and universities, but you should check with your institution first. 

2. Portfolio Assessment

A portfolio demonstrates what you have learned through past experiences and can include professional work, volunteer service, and civic leadership. During the assessment, you need to demonstrate how the information and skills you gained equate to what is learned in a particular college class. Then, faculty experts evaluate and determine how many credits to award. Institutions offering this opportunity often administer a course to assist in the portfolio preparation to help ensure awarding of credit. 

3. Workplace Training and Professional Credentials

Courses, licenses, certifications, apprenticeships, and exams from corporations, government agencies, and professional associations can also mean credits earned for you. Some organizations determine if there are college-level learning equivalencies as a result of workplace training and certifications, while others require evaluation and recommendations by the American Council for Education (ACE). This method of alternative credit can also be helpful if you hold professional certifications in industries like IT, Insurance and Financial Services, Project Management, or if you have completed specialized training for your employer.  

4. Military Experience

The American Council on Education (ACE) collaborates with the Department of Defense (DoD) to review military experience and recommend appropriate college credit for members of the Armed Forces. Joint Services Transcripts (JST) are academically accepted documents that validate military experience and training along with the corresponding ACE credit recommendations. More than 2,300 colleges and universities recognize these transcripts as official documentation of military training and experiences. However, please note that it is up to each institution to determine which ACE credit recommendations can be awarded. Whether an academic institution accepts the credit recommendations depends on its transfer credit policies and your program of study. Many schools have transfer guides that detail how military training will apply to your program of study.   

5. Online Self-Paced Courses  

Online learning providers such as Sophia and StraighterLine (participants in the EdAssist Solutions Education Network) offer low-cost, general education courses that tend to be covered in the first two years of most baccalaureate college degree plans. Classes, inclusive of all learning materials such as eBooks, are self-paced and competency-based. By successfully demonstrating mastery, you can earn college credit with participating institutions of higher education.  

Sophia partners with over 40 colleges and universities, and StraighterLine with 100+, to ensure transferability of credits. All of the courses administered by both have been evaluated by the American Council on Education and recommended for credit. However, it is up to non-partner institutions if they will award credit for courses taken through these providers.

The number of ways that students can earn college credit has expanded over the years. If you are looking for a cheaper, oftentimes quicker path to an undergraduate degree, try one of these money-saving options.

Webinar: The Credit-Transfer Process and Alternative Forms of Credit

If you’re returning to school after taking a break or switching from one institution to another, you’re likely looking for ways to get your degree as quickly as possible. Previously earned credits and/or credits from professional experience can help, but how will you know which credits will transfer? Watch this webinar for an in-depth explanation of the credit-transfer process; plus, learn which options are right for you and how to apply them to your degree program.

Watch On Demand

Written by: Julie Skolds

April 6, 2021

About the Author

Julie Skolds

Julie joined Bright Horizons EdAssist Solutions in 2017. She has over 15 years of experience in higher education, specializing in transfer student advising and evaluation. She holds a Master’s in Educational Administration.