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Adult Learners: Graduate Sooner With Credits You Didn’t Know You Had

Looking for a reason to finish your undergraduate degree?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, if you’re between 25–34 years old with a bachelor’s degree, you earn 55 percent more than a peer with a high school diploma or equivalent. If you’re between 25–34, I’d call that a pretty compelling reason. If you’re in an (ahem) older age bracket—there’s not a moment to lose!

Unless you are available full-time during the day, non-traditional (or adult) undergraduate degree programs are your best bet since their programs are structured for the working adult. Equally important, many Schools will give credit for their students’ previous and existing knowledge and experience.

This means that if your background and experience is eligible for academic credit—may be able to complete your degree more quickly than you have anticipated. Requirements vary from School to School, so compare programs to ensure you pick the one that is right for you.

Be sure to ask about these four sources of academic credit when you speak with School admissions counselors.

Certifications, licenses, military training. Ask if the School gives academic credit for military or professional training such as real estate or insurance. Compile documentation for courses you have taken and provide copies to the School for evaluation.
Significant life experience and/or specialized knowledge. Ask if the School gives academic credit for prior learning experience, such as evaluation of in-depth portfolios. (Typically this is done after admittance.)

Ask if the School participates in the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). These are exams that test your subject knowledge; if you pass, you receive academic credit. Fees apply. Go to CollegeBoard for more on CLEP and to search for Schools that accept CLEP.

Your previous college transcripts.

Did you attend multiple colleges or universities or take many classes but never enough for a major? Ask how many of your credits will transfer based on the program you enter. Speak with several different Schools to see what will work best for your learning needs, requirements vary from School to School. You will need to provide a copy of each college transcript. Typically you don’t need to apply to get this information.

If you don’t have your transcripts, contact the registrar’s office at your former Schools. Most allow you to request transcripts online.

Your alma mater. If you only need a few classes to graduate, ask your original School about finishing through online or transfer courses. It could be your fastest and least expensive route. Most accredited non-traditional undergraduate degree programs will require you to take 40–60 credits through their School. If you don’t need the credits to finish your degree, why spend the time and money?

Protect your educational investment.You deserve the best education possible, so attend a School that is regionally accredited. It means the School has met the highest U.S. academic standards and your hard-earned credits are transferable to other Schools. Also, they are eligible to participate in federal and state financial aid. Go to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to verify a School’s accreditation. If the School is online, locate it by its office geographic location.

How to find Schools.There over 4,000 accredited private and public colleges and universities in the U.S. Use Univsource to find private and public colleges and universities by state and city, program or name.

By career expert Emily Bardeen for WorkHerWay