Best Accredited Colleges For A Life Experience Degree

A life experience degree usually requires competency exams

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.

Yes! But be careful. 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.


Many 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.
However, a growing number of these schools are the real deal. A select few accredited universities in the U.S. do offer life experience degrees.

These colleges represent solid opportunities for seasoned professionals to jump-start a college degree by applying credits from work training and expertise gained through licensing and other external credentialing agencies.

Three colleges in particular excel in helping adult online learners turn their professional knowledge into college life experience credentials. Nontraditional students should definitely explore these three 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.

A new option is Western Governors University of Utah. Founded by the governors of 19 western states, WGU offers an outstanding online education program under the guidance of dedicated mentors.

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.

Click Here for Western Governors University Programs

Capella University was approved by The U.S. Department of Education to offer an innovative "FlexPath" direct-assessment program in August 2013 making Capella one of the first schools to offer competency-based bachelor’s and master’s degree programs that utilize an approved direct-assessment learning model.

Capella’s FlexPath programs offer the potential to significantly reduce the cost of a degree, accelerate the time required for degree completion, and better align learning to the needs of the student.

Traditionally, degree programs are constructed around credit hours that measure the time required to complete specific courses. Under Capella University's FlexPath model, degree programs are constructed around the direct assessment of demonstrated competencies.

Click Here for Capella University Programs

Connecticut-based Charter Oak State College is another online university that offers a wealth of opportunity for adult students who want to accelerate their education using challenge exams, military training and specialized business training programs.

More good news—all these “competency colleges” are ranked among the most affordable online universities in the U.S. by’s national research team. If you’re a seasoned professional who seeks higher education that’s both fast and affordable, these online universities are well worth exploring.


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.

However; Capella University's FlexPath program allows the student to quickly get through courses where they can prove knowledge. This isn’t giving credit for life experience, but it is using life experience, where applicable; to fast forward through material that you may have learned on the job. 

Capella offers 8 MBA, 2 IT Master's and 5 Psychology Master's programs. Depending on your experience in these areas, you may be able to apply experience gained through your job or life experiences to get through your MBA or Master's program more quickly. 

A full list of the programs offered by Capella University are below.  More information can be found on their website.

MBA – Accounting
MBA – Business Intelligence
MBA – Entrepreneurship
MBA – General Business Administration
MBA – Global Operations and Supply Chain Management
MBA – Health Care Management
MBA – Human Resource Management
MBA – Project Management

MEd – Teaching and Learning

Health Sciences
MHA – Health Administration

Information Technology
MS – Information Systems & Technology Management
MS – IT Project Management

MSN – Nursing Education
MSN – Nursing Leadership and Administration

MS – Child and Adolescent Development
MS – Educational Psychology
MS – General Psychology
MS – Industrial/Organizational Psychology
MS – Sport Psychology

In general, 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.

Best Universities for Accredited Experience Degrees

Is it possible to earn an entire degree based solely on credit for life or work experience?

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.

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 three 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 all three of these colleges carefully. They are great schools to consider if you’ve had a lot of technical training—such as accounting, finance, IT certifications, teacher certifications, project management, human resources, 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.

Vicky Phillips, Founder of Get Educated

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.

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