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Adult Learners and Nontraditional Students

Going back to college can be one of the most important decisions you’ll make for personal and professional reasons. 

Concerns about tuition costs, program length, age, current skill sets, demands on personal time, and how to start the college admissions process can be overcome with guidance and advisement. You are considered to be an adult learner if you are 24 years of age or older and delayed enrolling in college after earning your high school credentials.

Typical non-traditional learners include:

  • Single parents
  • Individuals with dependents
  • Persons who are considered financially independent for purposes of determining financial aid eligibility
  • Part-time attenders
  • Individuals employed full-time or part-time while going in school
  • HiSET and GED diploma holders
  • Active military or veterans
  • Baby boomers

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)

Did you know that you can save time and money by earning credit for what you’ve done outside the classroom as long as it’s relevant to your degree program?  Through an evaluation process known as Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), you can earn college credit for things you already know.  PLA provides a pathway for you to earn credit and save time and money. This means you can progress more quickly and earn your degree faster!  Most TBR institutions will award college credit for what you already know! To help you understand your options, talk to an academic advisor at the institution you are interested in attending. 

Credit for prior learning can be awarded through test-based evaluations, recommendations made by a credit recommendation service/agency or portfolio assessments.  Check out some of the options available to you!

Credit by Examination (test-based PLA)

  • ACT (American College Testing) - Some institutions will award college-level credit for certain scores on the ACT.
  • Advanced Placement (AP) Exams - A series of tests developed by the College Board initially for AP high school courses, including 34 exams in 19 subject areas.
  • Challenge Exams - Local tests developed by a college to verify learning achievement.
  • College Level Examination Program (CLEP) Exams - Tests of college material offered by the College Board.
  • DSST Credit by Exam Program - Formerly known as the DANTES program, this exam program is now administered by Prometric. It tests knowledge of both lower-level and upper-level college material through 38 exams. At one time it was only available to military personnel, but now is available to the general public for a fee.
  • Excelsior College Examination Program - Formerly, Regents College Exams or ACT/PEP Exams, these exams are offered by Excelsior College in New York for a fee on a wide range of subjects including nursing subjects.
  • International Baccalaureate Programs Exams -The International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme is an internationally accepted qualification for entry into institutes of higher education.
  • SAT Reasoning Test - Some institutions will award college level credit for certain scores on the SAT.
  • Thomas Edison State College Examination Program (TECEP) - TECEP exams are a collection of 22 exams in 7 subject areas for both upper- and lower-division credit. The topics of TECEP exams, in many cases, are specific and advanced, although some introductory subjects are covered.
  • UExcel Credit by Exam Program - Offered by Excelsior College in New York, these computer-based tests measure knowledge of lower-level college material.

Credit Recommendation Services (past training assessed for credit)

  • American Council on Education (ACE) Guides - Published credit recommendations for formal instructional programs offered by non-collegiate agencies, including civilian employers and the military. Over 600 businesses, agencies and organizations have had their training evaluated by ACE resulting in thousands of evaluated courses. Samples of training programs include those offered through McDonald's and WalMart.
  • American Council on Education (ACE) Military Credit - This is a service offered through ACE to recognize learning that takes place in the military.
  • Assessment of Licensure/Certificate/Apprenticeship Programs - Some institutions and organizations have evaluated professional certifications and apprenticeships for college credit which can become part of a portfolio assessment.
  • National College Credit Recommendation Service - (formerly known as National PONSI), NCCRS has evaluated learning experiences and training offered by businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations primarily located in the northeast.
  • Evaluation of Local Training - Much like ACE's workforce training evaluations, many colleges and universities make special arrangements with local businesses and organizations to evaluate their training for college level credit. Please check with your organization or your local institution for details.

Portfolio Assessments

  • Portfolio-based Assessments—Faculty evaluate student portfolios and award credit based on their assessment. A portfolio typically contains a reflective essay, a detailed resume, supporting documentation of your experiences, narratives of critical learning events and other examples that demonstrate learning and achievement.

Tennessee Reverse Transfer

Reverse Transfer is a process that allows a student who completed a minimum of 15 hours at a participating Tennessee two-year institution and transferred to a participating Tennessee four-year institution to combine college credits from both institutions and apply them toward an associate’s degree. As a former community college student, you can get a report from the community college you attended to find out the number of credits you might need to earn your associate’s degree.  Share the credit report with your advisor at your four-year institution for academic planning purposes. Learn more about the Tennessee Reverse Transfer here.