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Prior Learning

Photo of office workerIn some cases, adult learners can receive college credit for prior life experience. Typically, adult learners prepare a portfolio of their life experiences with the help of a subject specialist from Columbus State.

Prior Learning Assessment credit request form


What is Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)?

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is evaluation of learning acquired outside of the college. It is available to students whose documented life experiences provide evidence of knowledge equivalent to that required in a given course. In the past at Columbus State, this has been called "credit for life experience" or "N" (non-traditional) credit. It is now known as prior learning assessment (PLA) and continues to be documented as "N" credit.

How do I get credit for my prior learning?

You will need to prepare a portfolio documenting your prior learning for a particular course. In the portfolio, you will include evidence that you have knowledge and skills, which match the outcomes which are identified for a particular CSCC course. Applying for prior learning assessment and preparing a portfolio does not guarantee that credit will be awarded.

What is a portfolio?

"A portfolio is a formal written communication, presented by the student to the college, requesting credit or recognition for extra-collegiate learning. The portfolio must make its case by identifying learning clearly and succinctly, and it must provide sufficient supporting information and documentation so that faculty can use it, alone or in combination with other evidence, as the basis for their evaluation…Colleges award credit not for the experiences you have had but for the learning." Lamdin, L. (1997). Earn college credit for what you know (3rd ed). Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company: Dubuque, Iowa. p. 84.


How much credit can I earn using PLA? Can I get my degree entirely through PLA?

You and the chairperson of the department, which offers the course for which you are seeking credit, will discuss the number of courses and credit hours that you can realistically apply for using prior learning. Columbus State Community College has a residency requirement, which mandates that students must complete 20 credit hours at Columbus State, 14 of which must be in the technology or division.

Can I transfer "N" credit?

As with any course being transferred, it is up to the accepting school/program to determine what course(s) it will accept for credit and under what conditions. If you are planning on transferring, it is strongly advised that you check with the school you intend to transfer to before beginning the PLA process at Columbus State.

How much does it cost?

There is a $50 application fee payable to the College, which covers the cost of the evaluation of your prior learning. The fee covers the application for Prior Learning Assessment and evaluation of your portfolio. It does not guarantee that credit will be awarded. If credit is awarded, there is no additional fee.


How and when will credit appear on my transcript?

An "N" appears on the transcript indicating credit awarded for a course through prior learning assessment. Students must successfully complete at least one CSCC course before "N" credit for prior learning will appear on the transcript.

Will someone guide me in developing a portfolio?

A subject specialist will be assigned to work with you. This person will help you understand the process, but will not write or assemble the portfolio for you. It is the student's responsibility to gather all necessary documentation and put together a portfolio. The portfolio must document college-level learning, which equates to the outcomes of a given course at Columbus State.

Who evaluates my portfolio?

The subject specialist assigned to you will evaluate your finished portfolio and then make a recommendation, which will be forwarded, to the chairperson, along with the portfolio.

How long will it take?

Putting together a portfolio, which successfully earns credit, requires a significant amount of time and organization. Documenting your prior learning and matching it to course outcomes can take days, weeks or months.


How well do I have to write?

It is important to remember that the evaluator can only assess what is presented in the portfolio. The portfolio must be clear, concise, well organized, comprehensive and free of both grammar and spelling errors.

Who should attempt this? What are the characteristics of someone undertaking writing a portfolio?

The successful candidate will be self-directed, well organized and confident in their skills. They are competent writers, and have the time and energy to devote to the writing of a portfolio. Your particular situation is a good topic to explore with the subject specialist who will work with you.

Do I need a separate portfolio for each course?

Separate documentation must be provided for the outcomes of each course for which prior learning assessment is being requested. The subject specialist will work with you to decide how the portfolio will be organized and presented.

How can I get more information?

After reading the answers to these questions, obtain a copy of the Request for Prior Learning Assessment -- N Credit form. These are available in the academic departments, the Welcome Center, Admissions, the Counseling and Advising Center or on-line, see link below. The form will provide directions for your next steps if you decide to pursue prior learning assessment. One of the directions is to make an appointment with the chairperson.

What information do I need with me when I meet with the chairperson?

After you make an appointment with a chairperson, refer to the College Catalog or the link at the bottom of the page to read course descriptions. List your experiences AND how you will demonstrate LEARNING that you have acquired from these experiences that may be equivalent to a course. Bring this information with you when you meet with the chairperson.