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About Prior Learning Assessment

Note: This option is not approved for Financial Aid or Veterans’ Benefits.


Prior learning assessment (PLA) is a flexible, efficient way of earning college credits for college-level knowledge you have acquired through expertise developed outside the classroom. Thomas Edison State University has already helped thousands of adults save countless in-class hours by earning credits based on their college-level knowledge acquired beyond the classroom. Moreover, these credit awards are honored in transfer by many other colleges and universities throughout the country.

PLA operates on the philosophy that college-level learning, no matter how it is gained, may warrant consideration for credit. Therefore, nearly any area of learning can be converted into college credit as long as it is corresponds to what is taught in a course at a regionally accredited college or university, and you can demonstrate your expertise in it through the portfolio process.

With portfolio courses, you work with a mentor to determine what materials are appropriate for you to demonstrate college-level knowledge of the course content and outcomes. These courses require that the mentor approve credit based on prearranged criteria. No letter grade is assigned when credit is earned for PLA. To earn credit through PLA, select a course in the subject in which you plan to demonstrate college-level knowledge. As a PLA student, you will demonstrate college-level knowledge of this subject by creating a PLA electronic portfolio, or e-portfolio. You have one 12-week semester in which to complete your PLA e-portfolio, which is developed under the guidance of a mentor. The narrative and supporting documentation compiled during the PLA will serve as proof of your college-level expertise and the value it has in the academic world. Such documentation can include evidence of learning gained from a wide variety of sources, but these are some of the most common sources used for Prior Learning Assessment:

  • full- or part-time jobs
  • prior independent research
  • training programs or in-service courses
  • volunteer work
  • cultural and artistic pursuits
  • hobbies and recreational pastimes
  • community or religious activities
  • study abroad

Preparing for PLAs:  A Step-by-Step Process

To learn more about PLA and to complete the PLA Self-Assessment Guide go to To prepare for development of an electronic portfolio you will: 

  1. Inventory Your Knowledge and Skills.

    Review your job history, hobbies, areas of study or special training, volunteer work and other activities. Then make a list of all the areas of college-level knowledge and skill you have acquired as a result of these experiences. Further information is available at
  2. Choose the Areas for Which You Want to Earn College Credit.

    Evaluate each area of your prior college-level learning to determine which ones to select for PLA. Your decision about each subject area should be based on two factors: whether you can prove that your knowledge is equivalent to a college-level course and whether you need college credits in that subject area. With the exception of physical education courses, field experience, student teaching, cooperative study, practicum courses, English Composition I and II, internships, seminars, “Selected Topics” courses, current independent study or stand-alone lab courses, any college-level subject is eligible for PLA, although there are some subjects that are not well-suited for portfolio assessment. It is strongly recommended that your selected PLAs be reviewed and deemed appropriate by the Office of Academic Advising for your degree program or certificate program.
  3. Find a Standard or Individualized PLA Course Description to Match Your Learning.

    For each subject you have chosen, select an appropriate course description from either the Standard PLAs or the Thomas Edison State University PLA Course Description Database, which can accessed at For Individualized course descriptions you may also search through catalogs from regionally accredited colleges to locate a description that best reflects your knowledge, if Thomas Edison State University does not already have a course to match your learning in its course description database. Course descriptions must come from catalogs that are no more than two years old. The catalog entries you select must represent courses taught in semester hours (not quarter hours) at regionally accredited colleges or universities. Please note that if you select a course description from another institution’s catalog, there is no guarantee that it will be assigned the same course code by Thomas Edison State University. If you plan to enroll in an Individualized PLA, fill out and submit the Undergraduate Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Portfolio Proposal Form and be sure to identify the semester in which you hope to take the PLA. This form can be found at

    It will be reviewed by the University. If the application is accepted, a PLA course section will be set up and you will be informed that you may register for it. You must submit your proposal form at least two weeks prior to the end of the registration period for the desired semester so that a mentor may be identified before the registration period ends.
  4. Register for the PLA Course.

    You may register for standard PLAs directly with the Office of the Registrar just as you would for any course, except that Individualized PLAs do not have the online registration option because they are specially activated for you. See the section in this Catalog on Course Registration. Once the semester begins, you may contact your mentor and begin to follow the timeline provided in the Assignments section of the course.
  5. Describe What You Know and How You Learned It.

    After reviewing the course description and learning outcomes set out in your myEdison® PLA section, you will create a portfolio by writing a narrative that describes your college-level learning and addresses the subject area content as defined by the learning outcomes. You will also explain how your knowledge was acquired and introduce the materials you are providing as evidence. This narrative, which may vary in length and format depending on the subject area, is developed under the guidance of your mentor and is your forum for demonstrating to the mentor that you possess sufficient college-level knowledge to warrant credit for the subject.
  6. Provide Evidence of Your Knowledge.

    In your portfolio, you will assemble a compilation of material that documents your knowledge of the course content and outcomes. Evidence submitted is not limited to written documents such as a resume or an annotated bibliography, but can also include video and audio clips as well as scanned documents. Examples may include a performance evaluation, certificates, samples of your work, letters of verification from employers or others who have firsthand knowledge of your abilities, or any other material that offers proof.
  7. Put it All Together.

    After you have registered for a PLA, interacted with your mentor to write an appropriate narrative and collected sufficient evidence to prove your knowledge of the course, your PLA portfolio is complete and ready for final assessment. If a piece of evidence is not conducive to electronic transmission, you may mail it to the mentor, but only copies should be sent as evidence cannot be returned. There are two types of Prior Learning Assessments, Standard and Individualized, and these differ only in the initial registration process.

Prior Learning Assessment Courses

Before registering, the student will submit the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Portfolio Proposal Form. If there is no appropriate Standard PLA, the student may propose an Individualized PLA by selecting a course description from the PLA Description Course Database or by submitting a course description from a catalog from another regionally accredited institution of higher education within the United States. A PLA proposal that uses a description from either of these sources must be reviewed and approved before the student can be allowed to register for the assessment.

If the description on which the PLA is based is from outside the University, the student must include a photocopy of or an active link to both the course description and the cover of the catalog from which the description was taken. On the proposal, the student must also include a brief account of how and where the knowledge was gained. Proposal forms must be submitted at least two weeks prior to the end of the registration period for the desired semester. Once the proposal is reviewed, the student will receive clearance to register for the PLA for the next available semester.

Note: Upper-division or graduate nursing PLA Portfolio Proposal Forms will be reviewed by the W. Cary Edwards School of Nursing prior to approval.

The Assessment of Your PLA

Each PLA portfolio is assessed by a mentor to determine whether your knowledge of the subject and corresponding outcomes is comparable to a college-level grade of C or better. If it is, the mentor will award a grade of “credit (CR).” You will not receive a letter grade.

If the mentor decides that more information is needed to make a grade determination, you may be asked to submit additional evidence, take an examination or be interviewed. The latter practices are often used in cases where students have acquired knowledge of a subject that cannot readily be documented. If your knowledge is judged to be insufficient, the mentor will award a grade of “no credit (NC).”

The only limit to the number of credits you may earn through PLA is that English Composition I and II cannot be taken as PLA courses. In a few cases, students have earned enough PLA credits to fulfill most of their degree requirements. Students may not exceed the University’s maximum number of credits carried per semester without permission of their academic advisor and/or dean.

At the end of the 12-week semester, you will receive a grade report, within the same time frame as for any other course at Thomas Edison State University. If you are a student at another school, you should request in writing from the Office of the Registrar that a Thomas Edison State University transcript be sent to your home institution.

PLA Policies and Procedures

  1. It is recommended that students enrolled in Thomas Edison State University check with the Office of Academic Advising to be certain that all selected PLA course descriptions are applicable to their degree program before registering for a PLA. Students enrolled in other institutions should make sure that credits earned through PLA will apply toward their degree programs before registering for PLA at Thomas Edison State University. Course descriptions from colleges other than Thomas Edison State University may not be used as a basis for PLA if Thomas Edison State University has an equivalent course in its PLA Course Description Database.
  2. Because the portfolio narrative requires substantial writing, it is strongly advised that students attempt PLA only after they have fulfilled the requirements for English Composition I and II with a grade of C or better.
  3. The topics of human knowledge are virtually limitless. It is important for students to remember, however, that the University can only assess knowledge based on courses taught at regionally accredited colleges and in subject areas for which mentors can be located. Every effort is made to find mentors in the student’s area of expertise, but occasionally, no such mentor can be located, so PLA may not be pursued.
  4. The University reserves the right to refuse to grant credit for any PLA portfolio that does not meet the standards set by the University. Students should work closely with their mentor to ensure the best possible chance of earning credit through the PLA process.
  5. The University cannot award duplicate credit for both a PLA and a course that cover essentially the same content. PLA students need to work closely with their academic advisors early in the process to avoid duplication of content when selecting their course descriptions. It is not unusual for courses with different titles to cover the same content.
  6. Physical education courses, field experience, student teaching, cooperative study, practicum courses, English Composition I and II, internships, seminars, “Selected Topics” courses, current independent study, stand-alone lab courses or other courses whose subject matter may be inconsistent with demonstrating prior learning through a narrative- centered e-portfolio process are not eligible for PLA.
  7. A mentor may determine that a student has adequately demonstrated competency of a course in fewer than 12 weeks but the assessment may not be completed in less than 30 days from the start of the PLA. Even when a PLA is completed early, the grade will not be issued until the end of the semester except for compelling reasons such as a graduation audit or to meet requirements for retaining employment.

Graduate PLA

  1. In keeping with the University’s commitment to recognition of learning that occurs outside of a traditional classroom, students may earn graduate credits toward a graduate degree or certificate through Thomas Edison State University’s Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) programs or through training programs, licenses, or certifications recommended for graduate-level credit by national organizations such as the American Council on Education (ACE) or through the University’s Office for Assessment of Professional and Workplace Learning. The total number of credits students may earn through PLA, ACE-recommended programs, and transfer credits from other regionally-accredited institutions combined shall not exceed half of the credits required for completion of their graduate degree or certificate without the approval of the Dean of the School in which the student is enrolled.
  2. Certain degree programs may have additional restrictions on the use of PLA because of accreditation requirements. These restrictions will be listed on the University’s website. Students should check with their School to confirm that PLA credits they intend to earn will apply to their degree or certificate program.
  3. Students may not earn graduate PLA credit for Capstone courses.

Toni M. Terry, BA

"I am 67 years old, soon to be 68, and to be able to say I did this at this day in my life is just gratification for my own self."

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