Testing Out: Best Kept Secret in Higher Education

| January 24, 2017

Your high school student plans on attending college. Most will start with their “general education” credits, the core courses that are not major-specific, such as English, science, humanities, history and algebra. There are up to 20 general education courses students will take to meet the requirements of most 4-year degrees.

Option #1: Attend classes, taking 4-5 each 15-week semester. Reading, assignments, projects, quizzes, tests. Most students think this is their only option.

  • Time: 9 months
  • Cost: $5,000 – $15,000

Option #2: Take CLEP (College Level Exam Program) tests for these same general education subjects while studying them in high school. These multiple-choice exams cover a full semester of material. If you pass, you can get the same credits you would have by taking the equivalent college class.

  • Time: 90 minutes per exam
  • Cost: $80, about $1,000 for one year of credits

It’s like giving yourself a CLEP scholarship!

You’ve heard me tell you that you are the very best guidance counselor to your own teen. And there are few conversations that can have such an big impact on a student’s financial future as the one that starts with, “Who is paying for college?” It starts the ball rolling. Most students, rightfully so, assume their education will be paid for by someone other than themselves. After all, up until now, their education has been free!

5 ideas to help your student get started with CLEP

  1. Review your student’s courses. Identify those that align with a CLEP test. While general education courses will vary depending on the college you attend and the program that is chosen, the best place to start is to test in the subjects you are already studying in high school.
  2. Do the math. How much does it cost if you were to take this same course at your local college? Simply multiply the cost per credit by the number of credits the class is, often 3 or 4.
  3. Purchase the Official CLEP Study guide from College Board and pass it on to your student.
  4. Offer to pay for any CLEP tests your student takes while he/she is in high school.
  5. Offer to host a CLEP study group in your home this summer. I’ve heard from many who use our World Religions course guide for this purpose.

CLEP has been around since 1967 and is the most popular exam option, but it is not the only. Other formats include AP, DSST, UExcel, and Thomas Edison Credit-by-Examination Program (TECEP). Every school decides for itself which tests to award credit for and how much of your degree you can test out of. At some schools, it is 30 credits (1 year). At others, it is 60 or 90 or even the full 120 credits of a bachelor’s degree.

Some people have heard of testing out, but most haven’t. Schools don’t shout from the rooftops about this option, but you can find it on their website or student handbook under “alternative credit policies” or “transfer credit allowances.” Look for it. Can you test out of every class? No. And, there are valid reasons for taking a course in person: class discussions, mentoring from a professor, lab experiences, or simply not feeling comfortable studying for a tough subject on your own. However, for many of the gen eds, it makes sense. It is an approach that solves today’s student-debt problem. The savings potential, both in time and money, is massive. Look up the cost per credit at your local community, state, and private school and calculate the savings.

Our family started the “Who’s going to pay for college?” discussion when our oldest were in grades 7/8. That led to me hosting a summer study group that put us on a path to debt-free college. We chose it because, unlike scholarships and financial aid, we could control the outcome.

Pick it apart, and put it back together

If the idea of testing out of your general education courses sounds like you are giving up some of the rights of passage that come with a typical college experience, you are right! That’s exactly what I’m advocating. Paying tens of thousands of dollars for a four-year degree does not guarantee success. In fact, it can be discouraging.

Encourage your students to see the bigger picture. Admission to college is not the goal. While the college lifestyle can be appealing, there are grander mountains to be climbed.

5 ideas to help your student see a bigger picture

  1. Map out a 4-year degree and identify which credits could be earned by testing out.
  2. Do the math. What is the monthly loan payment for a year of college debt?
  3. Discuss career interests. Offer to pay for a Career Direct® Assessment once they are 17. I am a certified consultant, so ask me about it.
  4. Discuss gap year options. Places to travel and things to do if they test out of their general education credits.
  5. Consider having your student accelerate their undergraduate degree and then having an on-campus experience in a graduate program!

It’s achievable, it’s reputable

Far too many parents and students are trapped into thinking that traditional on-campus college is the only way to earn an accredited college degree. Nearly 3,000 colleges and universities accept credit-by-exam as transfer credit. These are regionally-accredited institutions that adhere to the strictest of standards.

“The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.”  ~John Maynard Keynes


Please share this article with friends and introduce them to Credits Before College. Course guides, how-to book, and one-to-one counseling available.

Copyright©2017 Cheri Frame – All Rights Reserved.

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