It’s a wonderful thing to attend a graduation, watching happy faces queue up to receive that hard-earned degree. Not everyone, however, takes that traditional path to the academic sheepskin.
Circumstances sometimes demand that one earns an immediate pay check rather than shipping off to ivy-covered buildings filled with classrooms and professors. Degree qualified individuals may seem to have more cachet in some circles, but going to work instead of going to school doesn’t mean you are any less capable intellectually. In fact, some valuable benefits may be in store for you if you delay formal study until you’ve spent a few years attending the school of hard knocks, learning responsibility, a trade, some technological procedures, even people skills. You may not have realised it yet, but all those life skills are inadvertently building a portfolio for RPL, Recognition for Prior Learning.
Learning by doing something, as opposed to reading about it and discussing it, gives you direct, hands-on experience. Certainly intending no disrespect to the traditional academic path, expertise gained from actual work is often a more rigorous, sink-or-swim kind of a deal. Training is trimmed to the bare minimum to get employees up to speed quickly, reducing any investment in time spent teaching. The learning curve, as it were, is often quite short, sometimes leaving you to figure things out on your own.
In that kind of survival mode, you often learn things that don’t make it into the textbooks. Valuable things. Things you can truly use, every day. Whether you’re sweeping floors, taking care of swimming pools, selling things in a shop, or flipping hamburgers in a restaurant, there is value in what you know.
Similarly, if you have a hobby you are passionate about, you’ve likely collected a good bit of knowledge. If you like to travel, it’s a good bet you understand how to plan a trip, convert money, or translate languages. If you’re into photography, you understand what F-stop and aperture mean, and know how to frame a good picture. If you like to sew, you probably understand how things fit together, and know how to do something in fewer steps. In whatever you do for a hobby, you’ve learned valuable basics, plus some creative ways of doing or using things that improve your results. It all builds expertise, and that expertise can translate to college credits, granted through RPL programs.
So what types of coursework might you expect to breeze through, armed with your prior knowledge? Here are some possible examples of how to translate what you know into college credits:
- Do you drive a truck? You probably have skills in navigation, time management, mechanical operations, efficiencies related to loads and deliveries, and even math skills figuring mileage, weights, tyre pressures, litres of petrol, and costs. Your skills could earn you credits in business courses related to logistics or planning, even math and management.
- Do you clean hotel rooms or office buildings? You probably know which kinds of cleaners work best, how long it should take to perform various tasks, and how to arrange your schedule to get everything ship shape during your shift. Hotel and hospitality management groups can use your expertise. Business courses focused on those industries, especially in hospitality management, would be good targets for RPL applications.
- Are you at home raising children? If you’ve run a household, you likely know a good deal about budgeting, managing supplies, cooking, nutrition, and cleaning. It would be logical to guess you also understand something about time management. If you can handle everything between a two-year-old and a teenager while keeping things in good order, scheduling appointments, remembering birthdays, staying within budget, and doing so with a sunny disposition, you’ve got skills worthy of an administrative assistant or a manager, appropriate for credits in related coursework. Oh, and if it’s more than one teenager? You definitely have counselling and negotiation skills.
- Do you do volunteer work? If you’ve raised money, organised an event, solicited donations, created advertising materials, or presided over meetings, your skills are valued by non-profit organisations. You could earn credit for business courses in scheduling, development, marketing, and public relations.
Getting credit for what you’ve learned on the job, in the military, through volunteer work, through hobbies, or in the business world, is now more popular than ever. Non-traditional students can earn credit in a number of ways. Examining the courses offered at an academic institution and matching them to your individual knowledge is a good way to start.
Are there course descriptions that sound like they could have been written as your job description? Perfect. You can schedule a test for as many courses as seems appropriate. With passing scores, you’ll be allowed to skip the classroom versions, pay a modest fee for the credits received, and save both time and money as you check those courses off your to do list. Most schools have a limit on the number of course hours permitted through RPL programs, but getting those credits can shave a year or more from your academic journey.
If testing is not your strong suit, you may prefer to create a “portfolio”, listing things you’ve learned in relation to specific courses. The portfolio would include tasks you’ve performed, volunteer duties you’ve fulfilled, or even those rabbit holes you’ve been gone down for years researching genealogy, computer programming, social media, or the complete history of polka dots. If you’ve got the goods, you can issue a “challenge” for the courses you feel confident in, submit your portfolio, and receive credit for whatever the school deems an adequate match of skills and coursework.
It’s time your hard work was recognised. After all, you’ve learned things the hard way. Now get ready for some smooth sailing on your way to the degree you’ve always dreamed of, turning your earning into learning and receiving credit where it’s due.