The independent, trusted guide to online education for over 23 years!

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.

Real Accredited Universities or Scams?
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.

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 program, degree programs are constructed around the direct assessment of demonstrated competencies.

View Capella Online Degree Programs

Strayer University

Strayer University Online knows not all learning is classroom-based; you deserve credit for what you’ve accomplished. Using procedures developed by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), they assess knowledge gained outside the college classroom on a course-by-course basis for possible credit toward a degree.

You’ll document and submit your college-level learning experiences in an online portfolio demonstrating your ability to fulfill course requirements. They’ll evaluate the portfolio under CAEL standards; meeting at least 70% of the course objectives awards you life experience college credits. Save up to 25% off your tuition with the Strayer Graduation Fund. Read more about Strayer University’s transfer credit policies.

View Strayer University Programs

Western Governors University

Another 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.

View Western Governors University Programs


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 degree or bachelor's degree.