Exploring Credit by Examination for College

Attending college is now standard. In the past, you were privileged to attend a university. Today, however, most high school students are expected to at least study at a community college. Even adults are feeling the pressure to acquire higher education and return to college. Unfortunately, traditional college isn’t an option for everyone. High tuition, work schedules, and family life often make it hard to begin or resume higher education. Thankfully, there are alternatives! Credit by examination is one alternative that many teens and adults are starting to take seriously.

What is credit by examination?

Credit by examination means that you can get credit for some of the things you already know. Adult college students, especially, have gained knowledge outside of the classroom from the workplace and life experience. For example, if you demonstrate that you already understand college mathematics, you can test out of that class and claim three credits.

This method of earning college credit has been around for the last thirty years and is becoming more widespread. Although credit by examination tests like College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) were originally geared toward military personnel, both are now open to civilians.

Nearly 3,000 colleges accept credits earned from the tests, but not all colleges do. To be on the safe side, check your college’s policy to make sure credits will transfer.

Why choose credit by examination?

Saving time is perhaps the greatest benefit of credit by examination. Instead of sitting through a semester long course on US History, you can avoid taking the class altogether by passing the CLEP test on US History. With the time you save, you can spend it attending the advanced courses that you’re really after. If you take full advantage of the exams, you can save months – if not years — of tuition and time. While all of your peers are still in class spending money for an expensive traditional education, you will have a degree and be out in the workforce earning money.

Credit by examination reduces the opportunity cost of college education and helps you save actual cash. The average cost for a college course can be anywhere from $750 to $1500. In comparison, CLEP tests run around $77 (not including administrative fees) and DSST tests are only a few dollars more at $80. Moreover, if you are a military student, you can actually take these tests for free!

Thanks to these exams, you can focus more attention on your major courses that really count. Instead of being bombarded with many course assignments, you can test out of the easy ones and concentrate on the few important classes. The quality of your work will go up and hopefully your grades will too. Credit by examination also makes it possible to graduate early, avoid expensive textbooks, and accommodate unusual study schedules.

Which classes can I test out of?

Start with an easy test. Don’t try to tackle Calculus or a technical subject for your first test. The Analyzing and Interpreting Literature CLEP is a fairly easy six-credit test that a lot of beginners start out with. The test tests reading comprehension, requiring you to read and analyze a literary passage that can either be prose or poetry.

Other fairly basic tests include US History I and II. These CLEP tests cover material that is taught in a regular one-semester college course. If you are an avid reader or have just finished a high school course on US History, this CLEP may be an easy way to convert that knowledge into college credits!

DSST tests tend to be a bit more specialized, offering subjects like world religions, personal finance, public speaking, technical writing, and organizational behavior. DSST tests are like CLEP tests in that they are multiple choice exams.

How does credit by examination work?

Ideally, you shouldn’t have to study much for one of the tests. If you can merely brush up on what you already know, you will take full advantage of the program. However, for those of us without lots of outside-the-classroom knowledge, you can check out the following resources.

InstantCert is one of the most helpful resources for people with little or no previous knowledge about a subject. This flashcard based program uses the test description to drill you on key concepts that will be covered in the exam. For $20 a month, Instantcert is definitely worth it, especially if you can cram a few tests into that time span.

There are also coaching services that can help you if you want to earn the majority of your degree through tests. CollegePlus! is one of those services. This company pairs you with a coach who will help you plan and research possible exams to take. The coach will teach you how to earn a college degree in two years and for less than $15,000. EduNation is another similar company that offers similar test prep services except their program only covers ten CLEP courses.

Credit by examination is a viable alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar college. If finances or work schedules were holding you back from pursuing higher education, think again! With a little research, creativity, and self-motivation, you can earn the bulk of your degree quickly for low cost without going to a classroom.

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