Thomas Edison State University By Thomas Edison State University • September 15, 2017

How to Create a Degree Plan Strategy in 3 Steps

Have you ever played Tetris?

In this classic video game, geometric shapes comprised of four square blocks fall at random while each piece must fit into a corresponding open slot to eliminate a row.

Creating a degree plan works in a similar way. 

Instead of falling shapes, you will use transfer credits, exams and other prior learning assessment (PLA) methods to fill as many slots as possible to complete the requirements of your degree.

Then, you will take online courses to fill in the rest of the slots.

This is what’s known as a degree plan strategy. At traditional schools, students typically only identify the courses that they hope to register for in the next semester. As an adult learner with credits already earned and knowledge you can leverage for credit, you can plan more long range than the upcoming term and identify any number of methods, opportunities or courses to take in the future for earning those remaining credits.

Here’s how you can create a degree plan strategy and work your way through fulfilling each requirement in three steps.

1. Determine the best use for the credits you completed.

Every degree plan begins with an Academic Evaluation. This document processes your official transcripts and transfer credit, professional and/or military training, exam programs, licenses/certifications and other previously earned credit to show how it will apply toward your degree program and where in your program it will apply. This will give you a sense of which credits you still need to fulfill.

You may find that you need significantly more credits to complete one type of degree than another. Your academic advisor can help you analyze the courses/credits you have already earned by running them through other degree plan options that will be the most valuable to you. Sometimes, courses/credits can also shift within a degree because of their ability to apply in different places. 

For example, perhaps you are pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) degree program in marketing and transfer 45 credits toward that program. But after speaking with your advisor, you learn that you can transfer 21 more credits toward a degree if you switch to the BSBA in general management instead. That means you can be 21 credits closer to finishing your bachelor's degree, if you choose to pursue that path.

However, it’s important to know at this stage of your degree planning process if your degree is part of your past, your future or both. For example, perhaps you want a program that will allow you the most options to earn credit, like completing several portfolios for assessment. On the other hand, perhaps you are pursuing a degree to change careers or become more marketable in the future, in which case, a better professional choice may be a program where you don’t have much background but want to learn it. Either way, you will have to decide if the quickest route is really the best route for you.

2. Identify your opportunities to earn credit for prior learning.

At this point, several slots will be filled on your Academic Evaluation, and the remaining credits will then fall into two categories:

  1. What you do know - credits that can be satisfied through the assessment of prior learning, like taking an exam or writing a portfolio.
  2. What you don’t know - credits that will require new learning to fulfill, such as taking an online course.

Review your evaluation and isolate the degree requirements that are not yet completed, identified by a long blank line, followed by the number of credits needed (or watch our video on how to read your Academic Evaluation here). Each of these requirements will fall under a specific category, whether general education, area of study, electives, Capstone and other courses. Some courses can be used to satisfy requirements in more than one category, but each course may only be used once in a degree.

To see what credit-earning methods are offered by the University that fit the open slots on your Academic Evaluation, consult the PLA database for a course title and description that best matches your prior learning or look through the list of available TECEP® exams to find a subject in which you have some prior knowledge and experience. Some of your requirements may also be filled by using other exam programs such as CLEP® and DSST®, open course options, and American Council on Education (ACE) CREDIT and National College Credit Recommendation Service (National CCRS) credit recommendations.

If you’re unsure about what prior learning assessment options are a good fit for you, take our self-assessment to see if you can earn credit for what you already know. If you’re a current Thomas Edison State University student, you can send it to your advisor by including your student ID number. An advisor will be able to help you determine which exam programs to take or which portfolios you can write that will fulfill some of your degree requirements.

When you have identified the credits you need and the methods you want to pursue, submit this list to an academic advisor for approval. That way, you can ensure they will apply to your degree rather than duplicate something you already completed or don’t need. Once your courses are approved, these credits will appear as “PL,” indicating potentially planned credits, on your Academic Evaluation. 

3. Select new learning methods where there are still required credits to be filled.

By now, your degree plan will include the credits already accepted toward your degree plus the credits you can earn through prior learning assessment. The courses that will fulfill the remaining slots on your Academic Evaluation will be in areas that are personally interesting or professionally beneficial.

Once again, review your evaluation and take note of the long blank lines to identify which degree requirements are not yet completed or planned. You may find many of these requirements will fall under the area of study, Capstone or general education categories. These credits may be filled through online, Guided Study or e-Pack® courses from Thomas Edison State University, or distance and classroom courses from any regionally accredited college or university.

Before you register for these courses, submit this list to an academic advisor for approval, including any courses you plan to complete at other institutions. Your advisor will review the list and approve what will fit into your degree program and may include a few notes about your selections. Once you receive this initial course approval, you can register and begin those courses.

Once your courses are approved and potential “planned” (PL) credits identified, your degree plan will be created for you and viewable anytime under Online Student Services. If at some point, you see something on your degree plan that was approved at one time, but no longer have any interest in that subject, tell an advisor to remove it from your plan. Follow through on your plan, modify it or update it as needed.

Remember, you’re not alone when it comes to planning your degree. At any point on your college journey, you can schedule an appointment to speak with your academic advisor and discuss your Academic Evaluation, selecting courses and programs of study, interpreting University policies and preparing for graduation.

Thomas Edison State University

Written by Thomas Edison State University

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