Questions about Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)?  You've come to the right place.

Looking for more about Prior Learning Assessment?  Check out our Credit for Prior Learning Page and PLA Steps for Students, too.

Prior Learning Assessment and Experiential Learning

UW-Parkside provides the opportunity for students to demonstrate that learning they may have done based on experience at a job or in a career, through volunteer work or independent study, in the military, and elsewhere is equivalent to learning accomplished in the classroom when taking one of the school’s offered courses. Prior Learning Assessment, abbreviated PLA, is the process by which a student demonstrates that equivalency, typically by taking a test or compiling a portfolio to measure the quality and level of experiential learning. 

Prior Learning can take many forms, some external to Parkside, such as nationally recognized tests like AP, IB, CLEP, and DANTES, and some internal to Parkside, such as Challenge Exams and PLA Portfolios. To learn more about the various types of PLA Parkside accepts and offers, check out the Credit for Prior Learning page.

Yes, different schools and institutions use different vocabulary for the same thing; additional alternatives include Assessment of Prior Learning (APL) and Credit for Experiential Learning (CEL). UW-Parkside uses Prior Learning Assessment, or PLA, most frequently, but also employs the phrase Credit for Prior Learning (CPL).

Experiential learning is learning directly from hands-on experience, through community service, through work, and the like. It is taking the experience you have in these contexts and reflecting on it to understand what you learned—what internal changes in yourself and your understanding you notice—in the process of completing the project, the work, the service, and the like. 

As a point of comparison, in a classroom context, experiential learning is typically project-based learning, such as assembling an art portfolio, completing a business plan with a team, or compiling and giving a presentation.

Experience is the thing you do—the travel, the work project, the serving in the food pantry, etc.—while learning is what changes in your perspective and the application of information you made through the experience—understanding a new culture and being able to navigate in a novel situation, managing how to work in a team environment toward a collective goal while balancing the mix of personalities and technology, reframing your understanding of poverty and the social structures that contribute to it. Learning is the abstract component that you can take from the experience and then apply to other contexts—the next trip, the next, bigger work project, additional modes of volunteer service.

PLA Practicalities

UW-Parkside offers a broad range of PLA, from testing such as AP, IB, CLEP, and DANTES that are externally administered and nationally recognized to Challenge Exams and PLA Portfolios that are administered internally. Check out the Credit for Prior Learning page to learn more about the individual types of PLA at Parkside.

Consult our webpage about Credit for Prior Learning and contact the Center for Adult and Returning Students at or 262-595-3340 with your questions.

Check out the list of steps for PLA at UW-Parkside to learn about what the internal PLA process entails and the Credit for Prior Learning page for more information about externally administered PLA. If you are interested in exploring the option to pursue PLA, contact the Center for Adult and Returning Students at or 262-595-3340 to talk through the process in greater depth.

If you are a Veteran or are currently active duty military, you may be able to use PLA to petition for credit relating to your experiential learning in the military. If you want to talk through your experience in relation to PLA, contact the Center for Adult and Returning Students at or 262-595-3340. Be sure to contact Parkside’s Veterans Services, too, at or 262-595-2497.

PLA Schedule and Fees

You are eligible to earn PLA credits as soon as you are an enrolled student at UW-Parkside. If you have questions about PLA before enrolling, contact the Center for Adult and Returning Students at or 262-595-3340.

It is best practice to complete your PLA activities before you apply for graduation. 

You may work on PLA activities outside the semester schedule, if it is easier to study for a Challenge Exam or externally administered CLEP or DANTES test or write a PLA Portfolio during the summer or winter breaks when you are not otherwise involved in classwork.

Yes, there are fees to cover the cost of assessing PLA—Challenge Exams and PLA Portfolio cost a flat fee of $125.00 for each class you petition, no matter the potential number of credits you might earn. There is not charge for transcribing credits earned through PLA.

The externally administered CLEP and DANTES Exams have their own fee structure. Check out the links to their websites on our Credit for Prior Learning page for the most up-to-date information on cost.

Before taking a Challenge Exam or submitting a PLA Portfolio, fill out the PLA Fee Form which will notify the Cashier’s Office to add the PLA fees to your student account. You will then be able to pay the fees through SOLAR.

PLA Support and Evaluation

Contact the Center for Adult and Returning Students with questions and to talk through options: or 262-595-3340.

Yes, there is a class designed to help you through the writing process—UWP 200 PLA Portfolio Development. It is a one-credit, online class that guides you through the PLA process and provides support for the writing. It is graded credit-non-credit and will not impact your GPA. Registration is by instructor permission and requires a permission number; contact the Adult Student Program Manager, Dr. Virginia Emery (; 262-595-2402) for more information about the class.

Parkside’s Prior Learning Assessment policy, which you can find on the Credit for Prior Learning page and in the front of the Academic Catalog, says “Each portfolio is evaluated by a qualified faculty member or qualified content expert based on the published standards and learning outcomes of the course for which credit is being requested.” In most cases, this will be the professor who teaches the class you petition for PLA credit.

Your PLA assessor will evaluate your PLA to see if you have demonstrated a level of learning equivalent to having taken and passed the class. Typically, the professor who evaluates the PLA will be looking at the Learning Outcomes listed in the class syllabus as their starting point.

More questions about PLA?  Contact the Center for Adult and Returning Students at or 262-595-3340.

Dana Roders CARS

Dana Roders

Adult Student Program Manager


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