The following are frequently cited as sources of credit for the Big 3 schools.

The following are frequently cited as sources of credit for the Big 3 schools. Because of the amount of credit options available and the frequency at which credit-recommendations change or are updated, it is impossible to make this an exhaustive list of every option available, but these are some very common options we frequently discuss on the forum.

Please also see: Several Sources Of Cheap Credit, Free Sources of Credit, and Beginners Guide To Getting Cheap/Fast College Credit

Note: Each school has its own academic transfer policies and you should confirm any choice of alternate credit with an advisor at your school.

Credit by Exam

  • AP Exams (ACE-approved ; available for high school juniors & seniors only; accepted by all of the Big 3 )
  • CLEP (College Level Examination Program; accepted by all of the Big 3 )
  • DSST (DANTES Standardized Subject Test; accepted by all of the Big 3)
  • NYU Foreign Language Proficiency Testing (up to 16 credits transfer to all of the Big 3)
  • TECEP (Thomas Edison Examination Program; accepted by all of the Big 3)
  • UExcel (Excelsior College's exam program; accepted by all of the Big 3)
  • CSU Global CBE (CSU Global's College by Exam program; accepted by all of the Big 3)

Online Courses

  • ACT (online courses normally for licensed teachers offered by a private company partnered with California State University, Monterey Bay Extension.  There are unconfirmed reports that anyone can register for these courses and they might transfer to the Big 3 for undergraduate credit.  Check with your school before enrolling)
  • Coopersmith Career Consulting (NCCRS-approved courses that test out with one exam, no textbooks needed)
  • Davar Academy (NCCRS-approved courses that test out with one exam, no textbooks needed)
  • ed4credit $195 per course
  • FEMA (Accepted by COSC directly, or by EC with great hassle. Not accepted by TESU)
  • National Fire Academy (free ACE-approved courses, normally are used for Free Electives at the Big 3; see Free Sources of Credit for more info)
  • Penn Foster College (a nationally accredited school with some transferable credits to the Big 3, as long as .they are ACE-approved; courses are usually under $300 which includes textbooks and materials. See this page for Penn Foster-TESC course equivalencies)
  • Propero (ACE-approved courses with format like that of Straighterline; cost is $299 each)
  • Rechtschaffen Institute of Judaic Studies (NCCRS-approved courses with a few counted as UL in history, religion, ethics and political science)
  • Saylor Foundation (ACE and NCCRS-approved courses that only cost $25 for proctored final exam 
  • Sophia Learning (ACE-approved courses that cost $110/credit)
  • Straighterline (ACE-approved courses with proctored final exams that transfer to many partner colleges, including all of the Big 3)
  • (ACE-approved, short videos with quizzes leading to a final exam, $200/month for 2 exams a month; $70 for additional exams. Also offer study videos for other exam options such as CLEP and DSST).
  • Texas A&M Engineering Extension (TEEX) (free ACE-approved online courses in cyber security, see Free Sources of Credit for more info)
  • Distance Learning: Community Colleges (take a class at your local or online CC, transfer it in to the Big 3, as long as the CC is regionally accredited and the course is applicable to your degree plan)
  • Distance Learning: 4-Year Colleges (any regionally accredited college course will transfer, as long as it is applicable to your degree plan)
  • Other courses that are reviewed and approved by ACE or NCCRS.

Military Service, Professional Licenses & Misc. Training

  • LearningCounts (Prior Learning Assessments allow you to obtain college credit for knowledge, experience or non-credit training courses you've taken. Learning Counts self-paced course costs $149 and then each portfolio costs $125 each. LearningCounts partners with many colleges, but also uses NCCRS for credit recommendations.  See this discussion for more (although some of the information from the external link is outdated).
  • Military service and training can be worth ACE-approved college credit at many schools, including the Big 3 .  Click each branch's name for the link to where you'll be able to obtain your service transcript to submit to your school:  Air Force & Air National Guard , Army & Army National Guard , Coast Guard , Navy & Marine Corps
  • Professional licences and certifications can be worth college credit at some schools.  Always check with your school's policies to see if they are accepted and how they will transfer in.  For Excelsior College download this PDF ; for Charter Oak State College click here ; for Thomas Edison State University see this page.

Examples of Colleges Offering Distance Learning Courses

The following are commonly used for coursework credit that is then transferred in to the Big 3 .

The following are less-frequently cited as sources:

Prior Learning Assessment - PLA credit for what you know

a.k.a: Portfolio Challenge, Credit by Evaluation

What it is:

  • PLA is accredited college credit for college level knowlege gained independently outside of the accredited academic environment that has not been specifically pre-evaluated by an acceptable credit review organization such as Ace, NCCRS, or your own institution.
  • Examples would include: On-the-job-training/experience(OJT), courses taken from non-accredited sources whether it be a non-accredited academic instituiton, open courseware (OCW or MOOC), continuing education, or indepent study from tutors, mentors, and/or textbooks.
  • PLA can be documented through a narration summary of what you know, how you know it, and back-up evidence that it was you who gained the knowledge.
  • PLA credits are generally tied directly to a similar, by title and/or syllabi, accredited college course outcomes.
  • You demonstrate your knowlege by crafting a portfolio of documentation that is assessed by a subject matter competent reviewer that determines whether you have met the minimum proficiencey level (grade C or better knowledge) of a specific college level course.

What it is not:

  • You cannot earn PLA credit based on any length of time experience. E.g: You were secretary to a lawyer for over 5 years and experienced many legal issues.  The time is not important.  What academic legal knowledge that fulfills the outcomes of college level courses can you demonstrate by documentation?
  • Because time experience alone has no theory/principles component of learning, you generally cannot earn PLA soley for general life experience or internships or practicums. (even though these might have an equivalent college course number,credit hours, and be required at some accredited institutions for certain majors).
  • PLAs are not graded credits and won't count in your overall GPA  So if you have GPA requirements over a certain number of hours credit, PLA won't fulfill your academic requirements.
  • PLA may not help you get into graduate school, earn a teacher's licencse or qualify for another professional license except under certain circumstances. E.g: A portfolio/deparmental test/autiion (such as for studio and performing arts majors) or standardized tests (such as GRE,LSAT,Praxis etc.) are the established practice for entry into your professional school or employment.
  • PLA is probably not the simplest nor easiest way to earn credit.  You can expect to spend as much as 35 hours with 10-30 pages for your portfolio narration,  You may spend weeks gaining evidence such as letters of reccomendation, old photos, performance videos, etc

Who should consider PLA?

  • You want to complete your degree offline and there are no other options for certain required courses, or
  • Your college degree is a terminating event. I.e. you are sure that the degree you are pursuing is the last in your career plans,or
  • Earning your PLA will be faster/cheaper than other methods; e.g: credit-by-exam, online courses, etc, E.g:You have a lot credits needed and you have a lot of potential PLA credit possibitlites.
  • And you know for certain that your instituion will accept specific PLAs into your degree plan - this is the root cause of most disappointing PLA experiences.  Verify with your enrolled advisor before spending any time and/or money on what you personally believe to be acceptable prior non-accredited learning


  • Does the college level knowledge for a PLA have to be only in the past?
No, there is no reason you could not build your portfolio for your "prior learning" in parallel with your actual asquisition of it. In fact, this is the way to get the credits you need when there are no other options for you. Just be sure you complete the learning in the same time span as you get for taking the PLA course, which varies by institution or start the learning before registering for the PLA course. Never, never, use this method for critical degree requirements without first clearing your plan with your enrolled advisor!

Courses That Are NOT Accepted

Any course that is not from a regionally accredited school, or in the case of either ACE or NCCRS reviewed, limitations on the amount and/or type of credit accepted will probably be imposed.  This includes any course that provides "Continuing Education Units" (CEUs) for completion. There are occasional exceptions, however, so it can't hurt to ask a school adviser if you have a specific courses that you feel strongly about because they will be greatly difficult or time consuming to replace. For example, credit may be granted for some certifications. Also, there limitations for the total number of credits accepted from Community Colleges; In the final analysis the acceptance for credit by a receiving accreditted instituion is completely at their policy discretion