Your Guide to PLA Credit: Popular Exams & Online Schools that Accept Them

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PLA credits
Colleges know that students don’t just learn inside the classroom walls: students pursue independent study, learn through employment training or may have a genuine knack for a particular subject. Prior learning assessments (PLAs) enable students to prove their proficiency, and get college credit for courses in subjects they’ve already mastered through these independent learning experiences. But, there are several options that give students the potential to get credit through prior learning exams. Which is the best one for you?

We surveyed 20 online schools that offer at least one prior learning exam option. Most often, colleges offer credit by exam through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) and DSST. AP and IB credits are awarded to students who have taken challenging assessments in high school, while CLEP and DSST exams can be taken at any time, usually by students preparing to enroll in college as new students or transfers.

Of the online schools we surveyed, CLEP was by far the most popular option. For example, at Colorado State University-Global Campus, 45 percent of all exams accepted are CLEP exams. This is common among other online schools, which report that CLEP is the type of test for which they most often grant credit.

The online schools surveyed indicated that core (lower-level general education) courses are most often taken through CLEP or other prior learning examination programs. City University of Seattle identified their most commonly accepted exams as college writing, college math and college algebra, which satisfy core educational requirements for practically any degree. Similarly, University of the Incarnate Word‘s students can satisfy general education core requirements with exams in literature, history, psychology and Spanish.

Lower-level general education courses that satisfy core requirements are clearly the most valuable prior learning examinations available to online students. But, even though they’re only lower-level credits, university officials warn students that the exams may still be very difficult, genuinely challenging them to prove a full understanding of the subject. Fran Kehoe, director of testing and portfolio at Regis University, said that “Regis University encourages students to understand that the exams equate to college-level learning. “Just because you took four years of Spanish in high school doesn’t mean that equates to the college-level Spanish on the CLEP exam,” says Kehoe. “Study beforehand. These exams are not easy.”

But, for online students who are able to tackle these difficult exams, there’s serious money to be saved. The College Board, which administers CLEP exams, reports that students who earn 15 credits with prior learning exams will usually save between $1,600 and $6,000 on tuition and fees. Students who take additional exams may save even more.

While tuition for a single online college course might reach $1,000 or more, CLEP and DSST exams are often available for about $100 each, including testing and mailing or administration fees. That’s approximately $900 in savings for each class for which you’re able to get credit through prior learning exams. With most online colleges and universities accepting 30 or more prior learning credits, you can place out of 10 or more courses without having to pay tuition. Representing a savings of $9,000 or more on online college tuition, prior learning exams should be a part of your affordable online college strategy.

Universities recognize prior learning exams as a good opportunity for college savings. Kathy Yackey, associate registrar at City University of Seattle shares why her university offers credit by exam: “We have found that as everyone’s individual budgets are restricted, this is an excellent way to advance knowledge and education at a good cost value.”

But prior learning exams aren’t just a great way to save money on your online college degree. They can help you save time, too, says Marla Hagemeister, alternative learning coordinator at Bismarck State College. “PLA is a great way for a student to cut costs of a college education,” notes Hagemeister. “By using PLA credits, it also helps the students achieve their degree in less time than taking traditional courses.”

Saving time on your online degree program with prior learning credits makes sense. CLEP and DSST exams only take, at most, two hours, while online courses may take months to complete. And, students who already understand the material may require only a quick, one-week review of practice exams, allowing students to potentially complete several prior learning credits in the span of time it would normally take to earn credit for just one online college course.

Prior learning exams save online college students both time and money! How can you get on board with this program? Visit the CLEP directory of schools and the DSST institution search to find online colleges and universities that accept CLEP and DSST credits, along with which individual exams they will accept.

You can also find popular online schools that accept prior learning credits in the following list. Each of these schools will accept CLEP, DSST, AP or IB, with some accepting all four. Most will accept up to 30 prior learning credits.

Arizona State University

  • Tests accepted: CLEP, AP, DSST, IB, Arizona State University Comprehensive Exams, Arizona State University Proficiency Exams
  • Scores required: CLEP: 50 or higher; AP: 3-5 (varies by exam); DSST: 45-48; IB: 4-7 (varies by exam); Arizona State University Comprehensive Exams: C or higher
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $113 (includes CLEP fee and $33 Arizona State University registration fee); DSST: $113 (includes CLEP fee and $33 Arizona State University registration fee)
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted. Credit will not be awarded for exams in subjects in which a student has already earned credit from any educational institution, or in subjects in which credit has been received for a higher-level course in the same field. Only credit earned by comprehensive examination counts toward the resident credit requirement for graduation. General studies requirements in natural science, literacy and critical inquiry are not satisfied by CLEP.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to Arizona State University.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Limit on transfer credit: Students may earn up to 60 credits by exam.

Ball State University

  • Tests accepted: AP, IB, CLEP, DSST
  • Scores required: AP: 3-5 (varies by exam); IB: 3-7 (varies by exam); CLEP: 50; DSST: Determined by individual departments
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $125 (includes CLEP fee and $45 registration to Ball State University), $125 (includes CLEP fee and $45 registration to Ball State University)
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted. No credit will be awarded for subject exams if student has been or is currently enrolled in an accredited university course covering the same subject. Students may not repeat a subject exam within one year.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to Ball State University.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Most popular: Advanced standing options

Bismarck State College

  • Tests accepted: CLEP, DSST, AP, Bismarck State College Challenge Examinations
  • Scores required: CLEP: 50-63 (varies by exam), AP: 3-4 (varies by exam), DSST: 44-49 (varies by exam)
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $105 (includes CLEP fee and $25 registration fee to Bismarck State College), DSST: $105 (includes CLEP fee and $25 registration fee to Bismarck State College)
  • Exam restrictions: Credits only apply to enrolled Bismarck State College Students; new students must have transcriptable course work on record before being granted credit by exams; students may not duplicate current or previous coursework; credits do not meet residency requirements; exams may be repeated after six months, credits may not transfer to other institutions
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to Bismarck State College.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Most popular: CLEP and DSST
  • Limit on transfer credit: Students may earn a maximum of 45 semester hours of non-traditional college credit.
  • Credit by exam tips: Bismarck State College encourages students to meet with their academic advisers before pursuing credit by exam. Advisers can help students prepare a degree plan for their field of study that uses their knowledge and past work skills to fill in the gaps and help them achieve their goals in the easiest possible way.

California National University for Advanced Studies

  • Tests accepted: Lower-level CLEP exams, California National University for Advanced Studies Challenge Examinations
  • Scores required: As determined by the ACE range of acceptable scores
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $90 (includes CLEP fee and $10 fee for mailing to California National University for Advanced Studies)
  • Most popular: Communications (written/oral), Computation (quantitative reasoning/concepts), Social Science (history, sociology, economics and politics), Computer Technology & Practice, Humanities (literature, philosophy, language, culture, the arts), Life/Physical Sciences
  • Limit on transfer credit: Up to 30 units

City University of Seattle

  • Tests accepted: AP, CLEP, DSST
  • Scores required: International Baccalaureate Higher Level exams: 4 or better, CLEP: 50-66 (varies by exam), DSST: based on ACE credit recommendations
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $90 (includes CLEP fee and $10 fee to mail to City University of Seattle), DSST: $80
  • Exam restrictions: Official scores are required. Undergraduate only.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit.
  • Most popular: College Writing, College Mathematics (for social service-related programs) and College Algebra (for Bachelor of Science programs).
  • Limit on transfer credit: 45 total transfer credit hours.

Colorado State University-Global Campus

  • Tests accepted: AP, CLEP, AP, DSST, IB
  • Scores required: CLEP: As determined by ACE range of acceptable scores; DSST: based on ACE credit recommendations
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $90 (includes CLEP fee and $10 fee to mail to Colorado State University-Global Campus), DSST: $80
  • Exam restrictions: Exam-takers must be fully admitted degree-seeking students in a bachelor’s degree program at Colorado State University-Global Campus with at least three years of experience in a college course-related field. Graduate-level courses are not eligible. Credit does not apply to any courses already attempted.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to Colorado State University-Global Campus.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit. Does not impact cumulative GPA.
  • Limit on transfer credit: A total of 30 prior learning credits may be applied to a degree program, including those for up to five three-credit courses in major degree requirements (cannot be more than 50 percent of the required major courses), up to three three-credit courses in specialization degree requirements and up to 10 three-credit courses in elective degree requirements. Must not duplicate work accepted in transfer.

Concordia University Saint Paul

  • Tests accepted: AP, CLEP, IB
  • Scores required: CLEP: 50; AP: 3-5 (varies by exam); IB: 4-7 (varies by exam)
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $90 (includes CLEP fee and $10 fee to mail to Concordia University Saint Paul)
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted. Credit will not be granted if it duplicates previously earned credit.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to Concordia University Saint Paul.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Limit on transfer credit: Up to 96 transfer credits may be counted toward s degree.

Florida International University

  • Tests accepted: AP, Cambridge AICE Exams (AS and A-LEVEL), International Baccalaureate (IB), Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exams (CAPE), CLEP, DSST and Excelsior Exams.
  • Scores required: AP: 3-5; IB: 4-7; CLEP: 50-63 (varies by exam); DSST: 44-49; Cambridge AICE: AS-Level or A-Level (grades A-E); passing for all others
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $110 (includes CLEP fee and $10 fee to mail to Florida International University)
  • Exam restrictions: Credit by exam may not duplicate credit previously earned through postsecondary courses or through examination.
  • Deadline: Except for CLEP, students must complete exams prior to enrollment and submit official scores before the end of the first term of enrollment.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Most popular: Lower-division credits at the 1000 to 2000 level.
  • Limit on transfer credit: 45 combined credit hours
  • Credit-by-exam tips: Florida International University may accept exams not listed. Contact Florida International University’s Transfer and Transition Services Office for evaluation and potential credit.

National University

  • Tests accepted: CLEP, AP, IB, DSST, National University Credit and Challenge by Examination, Excelsior College Examinations
  • Scores required: CLEP: ACE range of acceptable scores; DSST: ACE credit recommendations; AP: 3-5 (varies by exam); IB: 4-7 (varies by exam)
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $90 (includes CLEP fee and $10 fee to mail to National University), DSST: $80; National University Credit by Examination: $100; National University Challenge by Examination: $50 (no credit awarded; waive only)
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to National University.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Most popular: CLEP
  • Limit on transfer credit: Maximum of 45 semester units from CLEP, AP or IB. Maximum of 15 semester units from DSST, Excelsior College Examinations, National University Credit and Challenge by Examination. Up to 39 semester units of credit by exam will be accepted toward associate degree programs; up to 45 semester units will be accepted toward bachelor’s degree programs.

Oregon State University

  • Tests accepted: AP, CLEP (except for English general exam), IB, Cambridge International Examinations
  • Scores required: AP: 3-4 (varies by exam); CLEP: 43-55 (varies by exam); IB: 5; Cambridge International Examinations: A Level
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $90 (includes CLEP fee and $10 fee to mail to Oregon State University)
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to Oregon State University.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit

Ottawa University

  • Tests accepted: AP, CLEP, DSST, IB
  • Scores required: CLEP: ACE range of acceptable scores; DSST: ACE credit recommendations; passing for all others
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $90 (includes CLEP fee and $10 fee to mail to Ottawa University), DSST: $80
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to Ottawa University.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Limit on transfer credit: Up to 32 credit hours may be awarded for credit by examination.
  • Credit by exam tips: Students with prior learning that does not fit into any of the above categories may work with the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) to earn potential credit. Students can take a class or a self-paced program to learn to create portfolios for review. These portfolios are assessed by CAEL content experts and credit recommendations are made and submitted through the ACE. A maximum of 40 credit hours may be awarded through this credit-by-assessment process.

Regis University

  • Tests accepted: AP, IB, CLEP, DSST, Regis Challenge Exams
  • Scores required: AP: 3-4 (varies by exam); IB: 4 (47 for biology); CLEP: determined by ACE range of acceptable scores; DSST: minimum passing scores based on ACE credit recommendations
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $115 (includes CLEP fee and $35 registration fee to Regis University), DSST: $115 (includes CLEP fee and $35 registration fee to Regis University), Challenge Exam: $115 per credit hour
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Most popular: CLEP and DSST
  • Limit on transfer credit: Up to 75 percent of coursework or up to 90 credit hours.
  • Credit by exam tips: Credit can be earned by exams, military credit, portfolios for life/work learning, certifications and on-the-job training.

Robert Morris University

  • Tests accepted: CLEP, except for general examinations, University Composition subject examinations and Principles of Accounting subject examination
  • Scores required: Acceptance is based on the ACE range of acceptable scores.
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $100 (includes CLEP fee and $20 registration fee, paid to Community College of Allegheny County)
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted. Students may not earn credit for courses previously completed at Robert Morris University with a grade other than W, WP or L.
  • Deadline: CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to Robert Morris University.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Limit on transfer credit: Up to 18 credits toward an associate degree and up to 30 credits toward a bachelor’s degree

Thomas Edison State College

  • Tests accepted: Thomas Edison College Examination Program, CLEP, DSST, New York University Foreign Language Proficiency Testing Program, Excelsior College Examinations (ECE), UExcel examinations (a Pearson/Excelsior College alliance), Foreign Service Institute Examinations, AP, The Defense Language Institute’s (DLI) Defense Language Proficiency Tests, Ohio University, OPI (Oral Proficiency International Foreign Language exams) reviewed by ACE, TAL (Torah Accreditation Liaison exams in Hebrew language) reviewed by ACE or NCCRS
  • Scores required: CLEP: 50-63 (varies by exam), DSST: 44-48 or 400 (varies by exam), passing score for all others
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $90 (includes CLEP fee and $10 mailing to Thomas Edison State College), DSST: $80
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to Thomas Edison State College.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Most popular: CLEP; students at Thomas Edison take more CELP exams than students at any other school.
  • Limit on transfer credit: Up to 90 credits for a bachelor’s degree, 45 credits for an associate degree.

Troy University

  • Tests accepted: CLEP, DSST, AP, IB, AICE
  • Scores required: CLEP: 50 or higher, DSST: ACE credit recommendations. AP: 3-4 (varies by exam), IB: 4-5 (varies by exam), AICE: A or AS Level
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $95 (includes CLEP fee and $15 Troy University registration fee), DSST: $95 (includes CLEP fee and $15 Troy University registration fee)
  • Exam restrictions: Credit cannot be awarded for any course for which credit has already been earned. Minimum exam scores correlate with the exam completion date. Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to Troy University.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit

University of Detroit Mercy

  • Tests accepted: CLEP, DSST, AP, IB
  • Scores required: CLEP: 50 or higher, DSST: follows ACE credit recommendations, AP: 3-5 (varies by exam), IB: 4-6 (varies by exam)
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $105 (includes CLEP fee and $25 registration to University of Detroit Mercy), DSST: $105 (includes CLEP fee and $25 registration to University of Detroit Mercy)
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted. Credits may not be applied to completed equivalent courses, or courses in a subject in which a student has already completed more advanced coursework. Students cannot earn credit by examination for a failed course.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to University of Detroit Mercy.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Limit on transfer credit: Students may earn up to 30 credits by exam toward a bachelor’s degree. Credits do not apply to 30-credit residency requirement for graduation. Individual academic programs may have further limits.

University of the Incarnate Word

  • Tests accepted: AP, University of the Incarnate Word Challenge Examinations, CLEP, DSST, IB
  • Scores required: AP: 3-4 (varies by exam), Challenge Examination: C equivalent or above, CLEP: 50-63 (varies by exam) DSST: 44-52 (varies by exam), IB: 4-6 (varies by exam)
  • Exam cost: Challenge exam: 40 percent of full course tuition; CLEP: $95 (includes CLEP fee and $15 University of the Incarnate Word administration fee), DSST: $95 (includes DSST fee and $15 University of the Incarnate Word administration fee)
  • Exam restrictions: Exams do not satisfy residency requirements; credits may not duplicate university credits or be award in subjects in which the student has already earned advanced-level credit; exams may be attempted no more than twice with a minimum six-month waiting period; exam credits may not be earned during the semester in which the student intends to graduate.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to University of the Incarnate Word.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Most popular: General education CLEP, including Spanish, literature, history or introduction to philosophy
  • Limit on transfer credit: A maximum of 30 semester credit hours may be earned through examination, professional certification or in combination with correspondence work (which is limited to 12 semester hours).

University of La Verne

  • Tests accepted: AP, IB, CLEP, DSST
  • Scores required: AP: 3-5 (varies by exam), CLEP: 50-60 (varies by exam), DSST: 44-52/400 (varies by exam), IB: 4 or higher
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $90 (includes CLEP fee and $10 University of La Verne test administration fee), DSST: $90 (includes DSST fee and $10 University of La Verne test administration fee)
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted. If you do not pass a CLEP exam, you must wait six months before retaking it. If you do not pass a DSST exam, you must wait three months to retake that exam. Credit by exam will not be granted for an exam that covers the same subject material as previously completed college level coursework or a subject in which a student has already completed more advanced coursework.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to University of La Verne.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Limit on transfer credit: Up to 44 units of credit by exam will be accepted.

University of Minnesota Crookston

  • Tests accepted: CLEP (except general exams), AP, IB, University of Minnesota Examinations for Credit and Proficiency
  • Scores required: CLEP: ACE range of acceptable scores; University of Minnesota Examinations for Credit and Proficiency: C- quality work; passing for all others
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $90 (includes CLEP fee and $10 fee to mail to the University of Minnesota Crookston); University of Minnesota Examinations for Credit and Proficiency: $50 per credit
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted. Exams may not be taken for credit if student has earned credit in a higher-level sequential course. CLEP subject exams may be repeated after six months. Subject exams may not be used for credit in a subject a student has previously failed. Credits earned by examination do not count as residence credits.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to University of Minnesota Crookston.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Limit on transfer credit: Students must complete at least 30 credits at University of Minnesota Crookston, including the last 20 credits.

University of Texas of the Permian Basin

  • Tests accepted: AP, 24 CLEP subject exams, IB, University of Texas of the Permian Basin-administered business course credit by exams. Does not accept DSST.
  • Scores required: International Baccalaureate Higher Level exams: 4 or better, CLEP: 50-66 (varies by exam), passing for all others
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $90 (includes CLEP fee and $10 mailing to University of Texas of the Permian Basin)
  • Exam restrictions: Scores must be mailed directly from the testing company. Student copies will not be accepted.
  • Deadline: AP: May, annually; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to University of Texas of the Permian Basin.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit. Does not impact cumulative GPA.
  • Limit on transfer credit: None, but students must complete 30 credit hours at University of Texas at the Permian Basin, with the last 24 hours taken in residence. In addition, 25 percent of required credits must be earned from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.

Utah State University

  • Tests accepted: AP, IB, CLEP, DSST, Utah State University Special Examination
  • Scores required: CLEP: 50-62 (varies by exam), DSST: 44-59 or 360 (varies by exam), AP: 3-5
  • Exam cost: CLEP: $105 (includes CLEP fee and $25 registration fee to Utah State University), DSST: $105 (includes CLEP fee and $25 registration fee to Utah State University)
  • Exam restrictions: Students may not receive duplicate credit for CLEP/DSST coursework, or receive credit for CLEP/DSST coursework after completing a more advanced course in the same subject matter.
  • Deadline: AP: annually in May; CLEP: Students must register for CLEP examinations four to six weeks before the scheduled test. The test should be scheduled early enough to allow sufficient time to report the score to Utah State University.
  • Grade points earned: None, only credit
  • Most popular: CLEP College Composition, which is the equivalent of Utah State University’s English 1010.
  • Limit on transfer credit: No more than 30 semester hours of credit by exam or prior learning assessment.