My friend claims he earned his college degree—a life experience degree—by “testing out of" courses and putting together a portfolio of his work and military training over the last two decades. Do real accredited universities ever offer life experience degrees? Aren't all universities that offer these types of degrees a scam?
—Todd in Modesto, Calif.
Input “life or work experience degrees from accredited universities” into any search engine and you’ll be swamped with hundreds of websites that promise to review your resume and convert your experience credentials and training into a college diploma.
Real Accredited Universities or Scams?
Most of these websites are indeed scams, and the diplomas they promise are, in fact, fake. Most of these universities are "accredited," BUT by fake agencies.
Four colleges in particular excel in helping adult online learners turn their professional knowledge into college life experience credentials. Nontraditional students should definitely explore these four colleges and what they have to offer.
University Credit Through "Competency Exams"
If you’re a well-read natural learner, both these schools will also let you take “competency exams” to earn college credit in areas such as American history, foreign languages, literature, business law and finance.
WGU is a competency-based university. You earn college credits by demonstrating your knowledge or “competency” in specific subject areas. WGU students work with “online mentors” to develop personal academic action plans.
Rather than being required to study a subject for a 16-week semester, you’re only required to study a subject for as long as it takes you to acquire the knowledge needed to pass a competency exam. The competency method allows those who enter with advanced knowledge to move more rapidly than they would be able to with traditional online education.
Competency-based degrees, especially at the bachelor's level, are becoming very popular. Following the lead of the above four schools, more state universities are designing competency-based degrees to help professionals with hands-on experience "test out" of formal courses and accelerate their degree progress.
Best Universities for Accredited Experience Degrees
The answer is yes—but rarely. Most regionally accredited universities limit the number of life experience credits they will accept to 30 credits maximum (one year of college). Typically, the last 30 semester credits (senior year) of any regionally accredited bachelor's must be taken as formal courses directly from your degree-granting college. Thus, if your college is offering you an entire life experience degree based solely off of a resume review, it is probably a scam.
However, two regionally accredited, online universities, Thomas Edison State College and Excelsior College, operate primarily as assessment colleges.
These two special colleges were founded in the 1970s to help nontraditional and online students earn undergraduate degrees through credit-for-experience options. It is possible at these two colleges to earn an entire college degree without taking a single formal course.
(However, most who attend these two universities do complete some formal college courses as a part of their education.)
Adults who’ve had years of specialized military training or corporate training should explore both these colleges carefully. Both are great schools to consider if you’ve had a lot of technical training—such as aviation mechanics, nursing or electronics technology—and need a solid way to have these non-collegiate training programs “translated” into college experience credit and applied toward an associate's or bachelor's.
Life Experience Master's Degree
You didn’t say what kind of degree your friend earned. Most credit-for-experience programs apply only to undergraduate degrees—associate's or bachelor's. It is extremely rare for accredited online master's degree programs in the U.S. to award ANY credits for experience.
If your friend claims to have earned a master's or doctorate degree online based solely on life experience, check his credentials carefully. He was probably the victim of a life experience degree scam, and his work experience degree has almost certainly been issued by a “diploma mill.”
Diploma mills are fake online colleges that “mill” or crank out worthless paper degrees to thousands of unsuspecting students each year. You can consult a list of diploma mill schools to determine if the university your friend attended is a real accredited university or a probable scam.
Life Experience Degree Mill News
Diploma Mill Police
Diploma Mill or Real Online Degree? 10 Ways to Spot the Fake
LinkedIn Resume Fraud: Thousands List Fake Life Experience Degrees
Vicky Phillips was cited in 2009 by US News & World Report as "for 20 years the leading consumer advocate for online college students." In 1989 she designed America's first online counseling center for distance learners on AOL. In 1998 she authored the first print guide to online graduate degrees, Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools put out by the Princeton Review. In 2001 she authored Never Too Late to Learn the Adult Student's Guide to College. She oversees the best online college rankings and reviews for GetEducated.com.