There are two main situations in which college equivalency may play a factor in your educational pursuits. First, if you've spent a significant amount of time working in a field in which a degree is normally required, you may be eligible to apply your professional experience towards a college degree. Second, if you've been trained outside the United States, part or all of your education may be applied towards an American degree.
The time standard for an equivalency degree is approximately 1,800 hours of classroom training and instruction. Roughly 450 hours of study equals one year of college training, and this does not count time spent studying, completing assignments or pursuing secondary or supplemental training, such as lab work or internships.
Individual policies vary from institution to institution, but most schools and institutions of higher learning allow a student to earn up to two years of college equivalency for work experience in a specified field. This work experience must be directly related to the program of study, and extensive supporting documentation and letters of endorsement from employers are often required.
In some cases, a student may not have professional experience to apply towards a college degree, but they will have what's called, in the annals of higher education, "life experience." This includes specific personal experience, as well as volunteer experience in the field of study. For example, if you're considering a degree in social work and have spent hundreds of hours volunteering with your community's social services board, you may be eligible to apply some of that experience towards your degree program.
You may also be eligible to apply other education towards your college degree, including previously completed coursework, formal training through seminars and conferences, and degrees or professional certifications you've already earned. Be prepared to submit thorough documentation to support all such claims.