Anyone who has ever studied for a Microsoft certification exam knows that a lot of work goes into preparing for the exam and that it is impossible to pass an exam (legitimately) without learning a lot in the process. What many IT professionals do not realize, however, is that their efforts can earn them more than just a Microsoft certification. In some instances it is actually possible to earn college credit for taking Microsoft exams.
There are actually two different ways to earn college credit for your knowledge. I want to start out by telling you how I did it. In the mid-1990s, I was working full-time as a network administrator for a large insurance company. Although I was putting in a lot of hours at my job, I was also a full-time college student at the University of Kentucky.
One particular semester, I sat next to a girl in my history class who was working full-time as a veterinary assistant. One day she told me that the school had given her free college credit based on her job experience because her job was related to her major. I was majoring in computer science (go figure), so I just had to see if I could get in on that deal.
That afternoon I went to the administration building to find out if I could really earn college credit for being an IT professional. To make a long story short, the school really did give free college credit to those who had a job related to their major.
Of course, getting that college credit wasn't quite as simple as just telling the counselor that I was a network administrator. Someone from the college had to visit my office a few times over the course of the semester as a way of verifying my employment. While they were there, they also spoke to my boss about my skills and about any areas where I still had a lot to learn.
At the time, I did not have to pass a certification exam in order to earn college credits. I did, however, have to write up about 20 pages of documentation outlining things that I have learned on the job. It wasn't so much a log of my day-to-day activities, but was more similar to the types of articles that I write today. For example, one of the topics covered in my paper was the anatomy of an ethernet packet.
Even though I was able to earn college credits without having to pass a certification exam, I wanted to go ahead and share my story in case any of the universities still provide free college credit to those who have a job that is related to their major.
Exam Based Credit
So what about getting college credit for passing Microsoft certification exams? The good news is that you can earn up to six credit hours after passing one or more certification exams. As if that weren't enough, these college credits are almost always given free of cost. The bad news is that not every university will accept Microsoft certifications in lieu of taking university classes.
The reason why it is sometimes, but not always, possible to earn college credits for your certifications is that most schools belong to the American Council on Education network. There are over 1,500 colleges and universities within this network. Each of these schools has agreed to consider the American Council on Education’s recommendations for college credits. Ultimately, however, each school is an independent institution and is free to choose whether or not they will grant college credit to those who have earned certifications.
There are three main steps involved in earning college credit for your certifications.
Step 1: Talk to Your School
The first step in earning college credit for your certifications is to pay a visit to your school's admissions office. You will need to find out whether or not the school adheres to the American Council on Education’s recommendations for providing college credit to those who have earned Microsoft certifications.
Step 2: Determine Whether or Not Your Certification Qualifies
If you find out that your school does accept Microsoft certifications for college credit, your next step will be to determine whether or not the certifications that you have earned are eligible under the school’s program.
It is important to realize that the American Council on Education does not view each certification equally. In other words, simply having a Microsoft certification isn't enough. Only some of the available Microsoft certifications are recommended for college credit. Furthermore, you must have earned the certification within the last three years in order to qualify.
To find out which certifications the American Council on Education recommends for college credit, visit the Microsoft website.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that you could earn up to six credits for your certifications. The reason why I said that you could earn "up to" six college credits is because the American Council on Education view some certifications more favorably than others. For example, the Council only recommends a single credit for those who have earned a Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification for Microsoft Office 2007. On the other hand, a full six credits is recommended for those who have earned a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification for Windows Server 2003.
As you review the number of credits that the various certifications are worth, it is important to keep in mind that these are only recommendations. Each individual institution is free to choose which certifications they will accept, and how many credit hours they will award for those certifications.
Step 3: Submit a Transcript
The third step in earning college credit for your certifications is to submit a transcript to your school. Most universities will not accept a Microsoft visual transcript. Such a transcript does prove that you have earned the stated certification, but most schools require a different type of transcript.
In order to provide the transcript that your school requires, you will have to enroll in the American Council on Education’s transcript service.
After you have registered with the transcript service, browse the American Council on Education course catalog and add the exams that you have passed to the course list. As you do, you will have to provide the date on which you received each certification. When you have completed this process, you can click the Send Your Record for Review button. This will cause the information that you provided to be sent to Prometric for verification.
After the American Council on Education has verified your certifications, use the American Council on Education website to submit a transcript request. There is a $40 fee that is charged for setting up your transcript account and submitting your transcript to the school. If you decide later to submit transcripts to other schools, you won't have to pay the full $40 each time, but there is a nominal fee for each transcript.
Getting Your Employer to Pay for Your Certification
Even though it is nice to be able to earn college credit for your certifications, I have talked to a number of people recently who have been having trouble getting certified because their employers no longer send IT staff members to training classes. Even in this type of situation, it may still be possible to get your certification, get your college credits, and get your employer to pay for it all.
Even though some employers have stopped providing technical training, many organizations offer a tuition reimbursement program. Some schools offer classes that will actually prepare you to take Microsoft certification exams. Therefore, it is theoretically possible to take such a class and then have your employer reimburse you for it through the tuition reimbursement program. After that, you might be able to take the certification exam and earn additional college credit by passing the exam. As I said earlier though, every university does things differently, so before you try to use this approach I would recommend talking to an admissions counselor at your school to find out if you can still earn credit for passing the exam if you have already earned credit for taking the class that prepared you for the exam.
As you can see, you will have to jump through a few hoops in order to get college credit for your certifications. Even so, the required effort may be well worth it, especially if you stop and consider what your school normally charges per credit hour.