PLA and Portfolio Help

This section is designed to help answer some of the questions you may have about Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) and Portfolio.

What is Prior Learning Assessment?

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), which includes Portfolio Assessment, is a method of earning college credit for college-level knowledge you have acquired outside the traditional college classroom. This is knowledge that is equivalent to what would be learned in a college course on the same subject. Thomas Edison State University recognizes that adults bring knowledge with them when they come to college, and that knowledge often can be applied to a degree. At Thomas Edison State University  you can utilize our PLA Course Description Database as well as course descriptions from the catalogs of other regionally accredited colleges to find the best way to earn credit for what you already know


What’s a PLA portfolio?

A portfolio in the PLA process is a written presentation that you assemble and submit to earn credit for knowledge you have that is equivalent to what would be taught in a specific course. Each portfolio addresses a course description and learning outcomes through a written narrative and a collection of evidence that support your knowledge and background. The Portfolio Assessment process is managed, submitted and reviewed completely online.


How many credits can I earn through portfolio assessment?

There is no limit to the amount of credit you can earn through prior learning assessment. The math and composition courses that are required for all degree programs are not available for portfolio assessment, but we do offer TECEP exams for these courses. At Thomas Edison State University we value experiential learning and will assist you with the development of a portfolio that addresses as many subjects and courses for which you are capable of demonstrating your knowledge.


How do I put together my portfolio?

The University offers a course sequence that provides structure and guidance for students interested in earning credit for prior learning. PLA-100 Introduction to Prior Learning and PLA-200 Introduction to Portfolio Development are the two courses that will provide you with a greater understanding of your options for earning college credit for your prior learning. PLA-100 will provide you with insight about the various credit-earning methods that the University uses. PLA-200 will teach you the skill of portfolio development both for earning college credit and for your future professional use. For more information on these courses, click here.

During the PLA-200 course you will develop and submit your portfolio for assessment. The assessment will be provided by a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who has expertise in the subject area being assessed.


Are there any prerequisites?

Before you enroll in PLA-100 or attempt a portfolio, you should first have completed the English Composition requirement of six semester hours. Portfolio development requires a great deal of writing, so college-level writing skills are a necessity.


I have a lot of “life experience.” Can I get credit for that?

Students will sometimes submit a collection of official college transcripts, professional credentials, certifications, licenses, a résumé and other documents for review and ask how many credits they will receive in return. This is not the process for earning credit through portfolio assessment.

Thomas Edison State University degree seeking students should send notarized certificates and licenses, and arrange to have official transcripts sent, to the Office of the Registrar along with your application and application fee. The University, through its Office for Assessment of Professional and Workplace Learning, has reviewed a number of licenses and certificates for college credit. Other organizations, such as ACE and NCCRS, have also evaluated some licenses and certificates for credit.

An academic evaluation will be provided to you based on how those credits apply to your degree. This report tells you how many and which credits you have completed, and in which areas you still need credit. Portfolio assessment should be done only after you receive your degree program evaluation from the University. After enrolling and communicating with academic advisement about your program, you can then develop and submit your portfolios for assessment.

For non-degree seeking students, it’s your responsibility to see that the credits you intend to earn through PLA, including portfolio assessment, at Thomas Edison State University will be within the guidelines of the program or school for which you earn these credits.


In what subject areas can I do portfolio assessment?

Students have earned credit in an amazingly wide variety of academic subjects from Accounting to Zoology (from A to Z). Remember that before submitting a portfolio for assessment, you should first ascertain that the credit you would earn would apply to your degree, the same way you would have any course approved prior to registering for it. At Thomas Edison State University you can utilize our PLA Course Description Database as well as course descriptions from the catalogs of other regionally accredited colleges to find the best way to earn credit for what you already know.


Are there subject areas where portfolio assessment cannot or should not be attempted?

Most course requirements can be satisfied via portfolio. However, Thomas Edison State University does not offer students the opportunity to earn credit for English Composition, Physical Education “activity” courses, or Math (with certain exceptions) through the portfolio process. If you believe you already possess college-level skills and knowledge in math or English composition, consider taking a TECEP exam. Additionally, there are some topics for which students have had greater difficulty developing a portfolio. The Office of Prior Learning Assessment/Portfolio ( can provide additional information about this.


Are there guidelines for putting together my portfolio?

Yes! Those guidelines are part of what you will learn by taking the 2-credit PLA-200 Introduction to Portfolio Development course that is offered.


How long does the process take?

PLA-100 lasts four weeks; PLA-200 lasts eight weeks. At the end of those 12 weeks, many students will need to spend additional time completing their portfolios, perhaps a month or two depending on how many courses are included in the portfolio. Since the number of credits one can earn through the portfolio process is limited only by your college-level knowledge, the amount of time you spend in the process can vary.


Does anyone assist me with the development of my PLA portfolio?

Your PLA-100 and PLA-200 course mentors will guide you through the process of developing your portfolio. In addition, you have access to the staff of the Office of Prior Learning Assessment/Portfolio, who can also assist you with the process.


I have a lot of experience and application-based knowledge but my course description deals with theory as well. What is theory, anyway? What strategies should I use to address theory when putting together a portfolio?

In the context of prior learning assessment, having a grasp of theory means understanding the concepts and ideas underlying the topic, being able to apply them to new and/or unfamiliar situations, and understanding the context of your experience. How do you document theoretical knowledge? Evidence of learning may come in several forms. Certificates of training or attendance from relevant seminars will be helpful. You can also use letters of support from third parties who can vouch for your knowledge and expertise. Perhaps the most effective item of evidence is an informal, annotated bibliography: you can supply a list of publications that cover theory, concepts, and context for your experience. This list should be provided alphabetically by last name, first name, title of the book or article, year of its publication, and a few sentences that summarize the relevant contents of the publication.


I have a great deal of knowledge but limited evidence. What strategies should I use when putting together a portfolio?

There are instances when adequate evidence is just not available, cannot be located or obtained. Perhaps you learned from someone in a particular field, and the person is not available now. The strategy at that point is to put together the best package you can, make sure to address the course learning outcomes, figure out what you can use to demonstrate your knowledge or skills, and allow the mentor to guide you through filling in the missing pieces. If you find yourself in such a position, be candid and honest in your approach. Explain what you know and explain how you can verify this.

The success of a portfolio is measured not only by what is said, but also by how it is said. Demonstrating your familiarity with some of the professional terminology you would have learned in the college course is essential in a successful narrative.

During PLA-200, should the mentor feel that something substantive is missing, he or she may recommend that you address certain issues; the Subject-Matter Experts (SMEs) may do so as well. Perhaps they will conduct an interview by phone. Perhaps you will be asked to complete a task, do some research and write a “compare and contrast” statement. The main goal is to demonstrate to the Subject-Matter Expert that you have the knowledge.


Does the PLA Office decide whether or not the portfolio earns credit?

No. The Office oversees the process. We can assist you with decisions about contents and style of presentation, and may provide information about the quality and substance of your work but we do not make a decision about whether or not credit is awarded. The decision to award credit is made by the Subject-Matter Expert, who has expertise in that subject. These SMEs are people who teach or have taught courses in that subject area and are familiar with course requirements.


What are my chances of earning credit?

The process is based on one pivotal concept. If you make a reasonable and accurate selection as to the course description you want to challenge for credit, AND you have the appropriate background and knowledge as well as the skills to articulate that background and knowledge, you should be able to earn credit. The overwhelming majority of our Portfolio students are successful in their attempts to earn college credits.

While no two PLA candidates are exactly alike, those who succeed usually have the following elements in common:

  • They have a realistic view of their knowledge
  • They follow the instructions carefully
  • They challenge a course that is appropriate to their knowledge and skills
  • They submit a well-organized portfolio that pays attention to details
  • They seek help from the PLA-200 course mentor and the Office of Prior Learning Assessment when needed


How much does PLA cost? Is PLA covered by Financial Aid?

PLA-100 (1 credit) and PLA-200 (2 credits) are OL courses, and the per-credit tuition for those is the same as for other OL courses. Once you successfully complete the PLA-100 and PLA-200 courses and have learned how to write and assemble your portfolio work, there is a Portfolio Assessment fee for the review of your material. The fee is $379 for the first 12 credits reviewed (it is not a per-credit fee—it covers up to 12 credits), and then $215 for each additional 6 credits reviewed.

If you select the Comprehensive Tuition Plan, your PLA-100 and PLA-200 credits are included, but the Portfolio Assessment fees are not covered. If your enrollment plan is the “enrolled options per service” plan, you pay for PLA-100 and PLA-200 per credit when you register for the courses, then you pay the Portfolio Assessment fees when you determine which courses you will challenge through your portfolio.

Financial aid is awarded for letter-graded courses only, so PLA-100 and PLA-200 are financial aid –eligible. Since Portfolio Assessment credit does not receive a letter grade (A, B, C, D), it is not usually eligible for financial aid.

If that’s not enough incentive to consider PLA, the “cost/benefit” is worth considering. Portfolio Assessment validates the learning you’ve already done in your lifetime. You can actually earn credit for your accomplishments and capabilities. The personal satisfaction and pride has no price tag!