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The Prior Learning Assessment: Frequently Asked Questions

For many students, the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) can be a useful aid in earning a degree. It enables them to save money and shorten their time to graduation.

Related: Going to College for the First Time: What You Need to Know

What Is the Prior Learning Assessment?

PLA is a way for students to get academic credit for knowledge they have acquired outside of regular classes. For instance, students can receive credit for:

  • Gaining experience from work or military service
  • Owning a business
  • Volunteering/community service
  • Leading a civic organization
  • Pursuing hobbies
  • Studying independently
  • Learning a language

Naturally, students who pursue the PLA program have questions. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get from students.

Is the PLA Program Available to Both Undergraduate and Graduate Students?

The PLA is available to both undergraduate and graduate students. Adult learners seeking associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees are eligible for the Prior Learning Assessment.

How Do I Qualify for the Prior Learning Assessment?

To qualify for the PLA program, a student must be enrolled in one of the University’s degree programs at the associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree level. The student must also be actively taking a course and have a current GPA.

How Long Does the Prior Learning Assessment Take?

Students who are accepted into the PLA program must participate in a no-cost, eight-week workshop. The student submits a portfolio to a subject matter expert (SME), who has 30 days to evaluate it and recommend that the student receive academic credit. This SME is either a faculty member or an industry expert.

If the SME does not recommend that the student receive academic credit, the student has 30 days to revise the portfolio. After that, the SME has 15 days to reevaluate it.

What Work Do I Have to Do for the PLA?

Students accepted into the PLA program have 8 weeks to complete their weekly reading assignments and complete a portfolio. These assignments cover topics such as how to draft an educational goals statement, a resume, a professional biography with details of the student’s career and the petitioned course objective narratives that are found in the course syllabus.

All of these documents will be submitted in the portfolio. Students use the American Psychological Association (APA) 7 writing style.

Revisions are necessary to make a creditworthy portfolio. I guide the student every step of the way.

When students are in the PLA program, they can expect a lot of work, including the revision of drafts. I make sure the PLA documents are relevant to the course for which the student seeks academic credit and show the student’s knowledge of the course’s topics.

The PLA workshop is very time-consuming. I typically tell students to focus on the workshop as they create their portfolios or to pair creating the PLA portfolio with an easy class.

The good news is that after the PLA workshop, a lot of the work can be used again for the next set of portfolios. Most of the reading and understanding of the Prior Learning Assessment is done during the workshop.

Students can use the PLA program to obtain credit for as many courses as they want, based on their knowledge.

How Much Does the Prior Learning Assessment Cost?

There is no cost for the eight-week PLA workshop. However, the portfolio evaluation is $325 for a graduate-level course and $250 for an undergraduate-level course. These evaluation fees are not covered by tuition assistance.

What Happens After I Finish the Portfolio and Get Credit?

After the subject matter expert awards academic credit to a student, the PLA office will quickly notify the student. The PLA office will then handle the approved portfolio and update all academic departments so that student records can be updated accordingly.

A Perspective from a PLA Student

Aurora Paige Prior Learning Assessment
Graduate student Aurora Paige

Graduate student Aurora Paige found her path to success through the use of PLA. She is an expert in intelligence and cybersecurity, currently pursuing a master of science in cybersecurity studies at the University.

To make the most of her knowledge and experience, Aurora decided to use the PLA program to turn her real-world skills into academic credit. She served in the U.S. Army as an intelligence and cybersecurity professional for 12 years and believed her expertise would be useful in obtaining academic credit.

With our help and Aurora’s hard work, she created portfolios showcasing her skills in security risk management, computer forensics, and information assurance. Her effort paid off when the SME approved all three portfolios.

As a result, Aurora speeded up her path to a master’s degree and saved on her educational costs. She also gained valuable skills in writing about technical topics and making portfolios.

Aurora says, “I found out about the PLA program while looking into the University’s education options. As someone who works in intelligence and cybersecurity, I wanted to get an M.S. in cybersecurity to show my expertise.

“I thought PLA could help me save money and time, especially in security risk management, computer forensics, and information assurance, where I already had experience. So, I decided to create portfolios for all three and apply for academic credit. Luckily, all three were approved!

“Getting into the PLA program was easy, and all my questions were answered before I started the workshop. The workshop was intense, but it taught me how to make a portfolio for PLA credit and use those skills to reach my other goals. I also received great feedback to ensure my portfolios were correct.”

She adds, “During the PLA program, the biggest challenge was managing my job and family responsibilities and working on three portfolios simultaneously. Looking back, I did not realize how much work it would be at first. But with my family’s support, we figured out a plan so I could focus on my goals.

“A friend once told me, ‘It’s easy. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other.’ This simple idea stuck with me throughout PLA.

“Whenever I faced a challenge or felt unsure, I reminded myself to keep going, one step at a time, until I finished. This approach helped me complete the PLA program and submit all my portfolios on time. I might not have made it if I hadn’t learned to manage my time well.

“The PLA experience showed me how important it is to plan my time, have support from my family, and stay positive when things get tough.”

Aurora is currently in the final weeks of her M.S. in cybersecurity capstone course at the University. She plans to continue her education by pursuing a Ph.D.

For more information about the Prior Learning Assessment, please contact  

Marsha Metzer is a multifaceted professional with experience in education, psychology, business, ministry, and coaching. As a senior project coordinator and Prior Learning Assessment faculty member at the University, she helps adult learners achieve their academic goals. Marsha also serves as a life coach and chaplain, providing guidance and spiritual support to others. She holds a Regents Bachelor of Arts (RBA) degree with a concentration in elementary education from Shepherd University, a Master of Arts in psychology, and a graduate certificate in life coaching from American Military University. Her educational background also includes an MBA from American Public University and a certificate in chaplaincy. Known for her ministry leadership, volunteering, mission trips, and worship singing, Marsha is dedicated to service and bringing out the best in people. At her core, she is family-oriented and committed to empowering individuals to thrive.

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