Maybe. Depending on your specific circumstances, you might be able to trade your life’s work experiences in for credits toward your college degree. Some schools allow students to transfer up to 30 credits.
There are three main ways to do this: Prior Learning Credits, Credit through Examination, and Credit for Military Training.
Prior Learning Credits:
Have you trained under an expert in the field? Have you managed a political campaign? Did you join a humanitarian mission to Africa? Have you attended a writer’s workshop? Then you might be able to get credit for your life experiences.
But it’s not easy. You have to prove that you’ve actually learned something. This is why these are often referred to “prior learning credits.”
And it’s not free either. Most (if not all) colleges will charge an evaluation fee. For example, one school charges from $275–475. And some colleges will ask you to take a course to help you through the process. So, basically, you’ll be taking a course to prove you don’t need to take a course. (And you’ll be paying for a course that won’t actually help you learn anything new… how about that as work experience?)
To earn prior learning credits, most colleges will require you to prepare a portfolio that proves what you’ve learned. This may require significant writing on your part. Some colleges will also require you to interview.
College Credits through Examination:
College Board offers a College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), which allows students to take tests to prove that they already have the knowledge and skills a course will offer. There are general examinations, e.g., humanities, history, and subject examinations, e.g., biology, American history.
Not all colleges will accept CLEP credits. You can check here.
And some colleges will let you take specific exams for specific courses in-house. For example, instead of taking the US History course, you simply take the US history exam. The professor grades it and decides whether you need to take the course. The college will charge you for the exam, whether you pass it or not. And oftentimes, you will need to ace the exam in order to avoid the course (as opposed to just skating by on the exam after you take the course).
College Credits for Military Training:
If you’ve served in the military, you may be able to get college credits for that. The American Council on Education (ACE) and the US Department of Defense have joined forces to help veterans receive college credit for their military training.
Some More Food for Thought:
Be sure to ask yourself why you are exploring these options. Why are you seeking a college degree in the first place? If the goal is the degree itself, then these aforementioned options might be good for you. But if the goal is learning, then maybe you don’t want to avoid coursework?
The above processes will probably save you some money, but they are not free. If you’re going to be paying for your education, do you want to pay to learn something, or do you want to pay to prove what you already know?