Credit by Portfolio

Credit by Portfolio

What is Credit by Portfolio?

Credit by portfolio assessment is an opportunity for students who feel they have gained knowledge equivalent to a specific course through experiential learning. That learning can happen in a variety of settings: 

  • full- or part-time jobs 
  • independent reading or study 
  • training programs or in-service courses 
  • volunteer work 
  • cultural and artistic pursuits, hobbies, and recreational activities 
  • community service 
  • military service 
  • education abroad 
  • organizational memberships 

While this is indeed an opportunity for some students, it is also a significant responsibility; the onus of proof is squarely on the students’ shoulders. Therefore, students wishing to earn credit by portfolio assessment must be prepared to describe, reflect, and synthesize their learning experiences carefully. 

Before Applying

What to Know

  • Portfolios are course-specific. 
  • Each portfolio you submit can be for one or two courses at a time (3-6 credits). 
  • You’ll pay a $390 fee to cover the costs of the review, regardless of whether credit is awarded.  
  • You need to be a degree-seeking student who’s not in your first or last semester. 
  • Penn State offers an online course to help students prepare portfolios—LA 201W Experiential Learning Portfolio. This course may also fulfill a Writing Across the Curriculum requirement in your major. Please consult your academic adviser. 

How to Apply

After determining that you are eligible to apply, fill out the Prior Learning Assessment Application Form on the University’s Prior Learning Assessment website. 

After Applying

After you apply, keep an eye on your Penn State email for an update from a Liberal Arts faculty member. They will review your request and discuss next steps with you, including the format and expectations for successful completion of your portfolio. At this point, the Bursar’s office will bill your student account for $390. 

Build Your Portfolio

As you start to think about your portfolio, consider the following questions: 

  • In what ways did your experience promote or modify your understanding of the subject? 
  • What were the different parts or pieces of the experience and how did they contribute to your understanding? 
  • What kinds of choices did you make throughout the experience, and how did these choices affect what you learned or discovered about your subject? 
  • What do you know about the subject that someone without the experience might not know? 
  • What have you learned through your own initiative—reading, talking to people, doing? What do the experts say, and how does your experience support or contradict this information? 
  1. Table of Contents 
  2. Résumé and/or an educational goals statement 
    • The goals statement is generally 300–400 words in length. 
  3. Detailed description of experiences and learning 
    • This section is generally an eight to twenty page essay. Students are expected to review relevant course textbooks and refer to the course syllabus. Through observation and reflection, students are expected to demonstrate, when appropriate, conceptual and theoretical knowledge derived from their experiences. 
  4. Direct documentation 
    • This list is not complete, nor are you limited to these alone. Appropriate documentation may be used in more than one portfolio. 
      1. Letters from employers  
        1. The author must indicate knowledge of the student and the learning for which the student wishes to receive prior learning credit. 
        2. The letter should be written on the official letterhead of the company or organization with which the author is or was associated, if available. 
        3. The content of the letter should focus on the duties, responsibilities, tasks, and/or activities which were a part of the learning experience that is under consideration. The letter should say who, what, when, why, where, and for how long. 
        4. The author should state clearly the nature of the relationship between author and student. Family members, friends, and ministers are not good sources as they may be biased and may not have firsthand knowledge of the learning. 
      2. Licenses and certificates 
      3. Newspaper articles 
      4. Audio and video recordings 
      5. Photographs 
      6. Products of your work 
      7. Proposals 
      8. Job descriptions and/or classifications
      9. Official forms or records such as records of promotions or performance evaluations. 
  5. Indirect documentation that verifies and confirms your accomplishments 
    • Examples include:  
      1. Letters written on your behalf  
      2. Newspaper articles 
  6. Annotated bibliography 
    • An annotated bibliography of books and periodicals and a listing of people and other resources should be included in each portfolio. “Annotated” means that you have explained and identified your sources in enough detail so that someone who is unfamiliar with the material can find them in a library or online and that you have described what you have learned from the materials indicating how helpful or unhelpful the resources have been.


There are many resources available to help students gain a better understanding of the nature of experiential learning as well as the demonstration of its outcomes. While composing your portfolio, you may find the following resources, among many others, helpful. 

Submit Your Profile

After completing your portfolio, print a copy and deliver it to the Office of the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in 119 Sparks Building.  

You will be required to submit your completed portfolio within ten weeks after your application is approved. However, if you are in your second-to-last semester before graduation, you must submit your portfolio by the fifth week of the current semester.  


Remember, it is not the experience itself that justifies credit but rather the learning that occurs from the experience. How learning is documented and proven is the crux of portfolio assessment.  

You will hear from the faculty member within eight weeks of submitting your portfolio. They will give you one of three answers: 

  1. Approved 
  2. Additional information or revisions needed 
  3. Denied
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