Thomas Edison State University By Thomas Edison State University • August 8, 2017

5 Alternative College Credit Options That Can Fast-Track Your Degree

Years ago, the only way you could earn college credit was by sitting in a classroom for a set number of hours each week, carting around a stack of heavy textbooks as you shuffled from room to room, building to building or, even worse, campus to campus. In the cold. In the rain. No excuses.

Since then, a lot has changed.

Instead, your textbooks can be carried on a sleek and slim tablet while the hours you spend “in class” are entirely at your discretion. And your learning can happen anywhere, whether your classroom today is your dining room or some exotic locale.

Knowledge you’ve gained as a result of your learning experiences outside the traditional classroom can be a valuable source of credit. Referred to as alternative college credit options, these methods can also be the key to accelerating your degree completion. Whether you excel at high-stakes testing, prefer to write or elect to scrap textbooks altogether, you can earn college credit through a variety of options that are cost effective and already fit into your life and learning style. Here are some opportunities to explore.

1. Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are free, self-study options to help you prepare for online course work in a given subject or for any prior learning assessment (PLA) method of earning credit. No textbooks or subscriptions required. Many resources can be found online, including well-known and broad-based methods like OER Commons.

These resources can be applied to most undergraduate degree programs at the University, most notably, the Open Course Option, which enables you to earn credits by taking free, open online courses from Saylor Academy that directly align with our prior learning assessment program. In fact, the entire associate degree in business administration can be earned using open educational resources! 

2. Credit-by-Exam

You can earn college credit by taking one comprehensive examination that assesses your knowledge to accelerate the completion of your degree. These testing methods reflect content commonly covered in courses taught in traditional college classrooms. Credit-by-exam options are available through a variety of programs, all evaluated and recommended for credit by the American Council on Education (ACE®). More popular exam programs include the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP®), DSST® and the University’s own Thomas Edison Credit-by-Examination Program (TECEP®). These, and many other ACE-recommended exams, provide hundreds of course equivalencies that transfer into any number of the University’s degree programs.

3. Portfolio Assessment

Portfolio assessment allows you to earn credit for the college-level knowledge you may have acquired outside of the classroom because of work, training or some other experiences and activities. Through this process, you develop a portfolio that documents your mastery of a given subject. To gain a sense of the information and knowledge you are expected to prove in a portfolio, consult the PLA database, which contains more than 4,000 course titles and descriptions in specified subject areas. 

4. Academic Program Reviews

The knowledge you gained through workplace training, educational programs, professional licenses, certifications and other credentials can also be worth college credit. Many organizations and industries have had their training programs and certifications evaluated for credit so their employees can leverage their knowledge and skills toward a college degree. The University’s Office of Professional Learning Review (OPLR) has conducted numerous Professional Learning Reviews (PLR) on a variety of workplace training and professional credentials, awarding these programs academic course credit toward a college degree.

5. Asynchronous, Online Courses

Though the most structured of the alternative credit options, online courses through alternative credit sources like, StraighterLine and, which have been evaluated and recommended for credit by ACE, offer a set number of lessons, unit quizzes and final exams for a modicum of flexibility. The asynchronous nature of these classes enables you to log into your course space on your own time and from any location to complete your course work, without requiring you to be logged in at set times or places. 

Thomas Edison State University

Written by Thomas Edison State University

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