Alex Born has been playing guitar since age 11, has a bachelor’s degree in guitar performance from McNally Smith College of Music, and owns Rockwell Music School, outside of Minneapolis. He enrolled in Berklee Online’s undergraduate Guitar Performance degree program as a springboard to a doctorate degree in Musical Arts when he learned that McNally Smith—which closed in 2017—lacked the accreditation for him to progress to a graduate program. Needless to say, Born knows a lot about guitar, and could pass many of his undergraduate Berklee courses with flying colors. Even so, that would take time and money, neither of which anybody wants to spend when they don’t have to.

“I got a lot of practice and experience and eventually decided that I wanted to do things my own way, so I started Rockwell Music School,” says Born. “I teach piano, as well as guitar, ukulele, bass—anything with strings and frets.”

Like many students with a significant amount of life experience in their area of study, Born took advantage of Prior Learning Credits at Berklee Online, which allows students to forgo up to 30 credits—that could be up to 10 courses that the student doesn’t have to spend time or money taking. 

“Berklee jumped in when McNally shut down, and they just seemed to have a really open, positive attitude about the whole thing; they really wanted to work with McNally students to figure out how to get them a degree,” says Born. “I’ve always wanted to go to Berklee and it’s one step toward reaching my goals.”

So far, Born has been approved for 18 prior learning credits, and counting. Although earning another bachelor’s degree is not an ideal situation, Born was also able to transfer in 60 credits from McNally Smith. That has left him with only 42 Berklee Online credits to complete his bachelor’s degree, compared to 120. Born’s advice for Berklee Online students who are looking to earn prior learning credit is to keep a thorough record of your experiences, whether it’s the physical or digital copy. 


“Fortunately I saved all of my homework and paperwork from the stuff I did at McNally and was able to dig that up and say, ‘okay this fits here in this curriculum,’” says Born. “And it’s been good that I’ve been teaching all this stuff too, because that’s a real-life practical application that I can always point to in any of my prior learning portfolios.”

In order to earn prior learning credits at Berklee Online, students must take a few steps upfront that will save them time and money in the long run. First, students must pick the required courses in their degree program that they can make the best case for forgoing specific courses, and then submit their portfolio for review. They then need to develop a written statement for each course, explaining how their experience aligns with the outcomes of the courses they have selected, along with supporting documentation.


“Some of the stuff I forgot I even knew I learned, so it was cool to dig that up,” says Born. “Writing things down that you want to remember is very helpful and it comes into play if you want to demonstrate that to someone like Berklee.”

Once Born completes his undergraduate degree with Berklee Online, he can continue on with his plan to get his master’s and then doctorate degrees. In addition to teaching fundamentals to private lesson students, he’d like the option to work at the collegiate level to dive deeper into musical topics, covering the spectrum of skills. He says learning music is a lifelong pursuit.

“It’s good to have a beginner’s mindset and always be a student,” says Born. “Just be open to learning from anyone—learning from a school, learning on the gig, learning from beginners, learning from advanced players, asking questions and listening.”

Have questions about Prior Learning Credits at Berklee Online? Chat with an Academic Advisor at 1-866-BERKLEE (US), +1-617-747-2146 (INTL), or

 Published March 30, 2022