Getting Started with Credit by Exam

Credit by exam is one of the best kept secrets in higher education. These nationally-recognized proficiency exams assess college-level knowledge in specific subject areas and provide a way for students to earn college credits and bypass taking the college course. Accelerating the first two years of college can save students significant time and money, helping students graduate college debt-free.

1. What is CLEP and DSST?
The College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) is a group of 33 exams developed and administered by the College Board since 1967. CLEP is the most widely accepted credit-by-exam program, available nationally and accepted at more than 2,900 colleges and universities.

DSST (formerly Dantes Standard Subject Tests) is another set of over 30 credit-by-exams accepted at more than 1,900 colleges and universities. Originally available only to military personnel, these exams are now administered by Prometric, a global testing provider, and available to all.

2. Who can take these exams?
Students of any age can take these exams – high school, homeschool, college, military, and adults. Taking CLEP and DSST exams is not associated with age, but mastery of the material and college-readiness skills. Some students are ready for this level of learning/understanding/studying at an earlier age than others, especially when they are supported by their parents.

3. What are the exams like?
The exams are computer-based, multiple-choice, and timed. Most contain about 100 questions. Essay components are only included on a couple CLEP exams.

4. What exams are available?
CLEP offers exams in five general education subject areas, covering material taught in courses that students generally take in the first two years of college. DSST exams assess students’ knowledge in both upper and lower level subject areas such as Social Sciences, Math, Applied Technology, Business, Physical Sciences and Humanities.

5. Where are exams taken?
Tests are administered year-round at college campus testing centers. To find one near you, enter your zip code on the CLEP site or DSST site.

6. What is the cost for these exams?
Each exam costs about $85 plus an administrative fee of about $20 (the test center determines their admin fee).

7. When are test results available?
Scores are immediately available for most exams except those that have a hand-scored component, such as the Public Speaking DSST and College Composition CLEP.

8. What score is needed to pass?
It can vary. Most colleges publish the required scores for earning credit in their catalog or on their website. Many colleges follow the recommendation provided by the American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions. For CLEP that score is 50. Passing scores for DSST vary.

9. How many credits can I earn?
The number of credits awarded for each exam can vary. Some colleges award credits based on the recommendation provided by the American Council on Education. For CLEP, this is 3-9 credits depending on the exam; for DSST, 3 credits per exam. A college may award students the same number of credits students would have earned by passing an equivalent course offered at the college. Other colleges may grant you exemption but no credit toward your degree. Most colleges place a limit on the total number of transfer credits a student can earn. It is best to check with the college you are considering attending.

10. How do I know if my college accepts these exams?
Colleges often post their transfer policy on their website or in their catalog. If in doubt, contact the advising department or registrar at the college.

11. How do I transfer my credits?
When you take the test, you’re given the option of having your score sent directly the school of your choice, or just recorded with the College Board (CLEP) or Prometric (DSST). Scores are kept on file for 20 years. When you wish to enroll in a college, simply complete the respective transcript request order form and check the box indicating which/all of the test scores you would like included on the transcript. There is a box to check that indicates you want only tests with “passing scores” recorded on the transcript. The transcript fee is $20 for CLEP and $30 for DSST. CLEP Transcript Request.  DSST Transcript Request.

12. Are there practice exams?
Yes, there are many great resources, including practice exams, to help students prepare.

13. Am I just taking a test or am I really learning the material?
CLEP and DSST exams give students the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of material they have learned. Knowledge can come from previous experience, independent study, or a class. Students are not accelerating high school, but rather avoiding repeating similar material often studied in introductory-level college courses.

14. How do I get started?
There is no one organization you need to connect with or receive approval from. If you are enrolled in college or know where you will be attending, always check the credit-granting guidelines at that college. Resources and ideas are shared through articles on this website. Links to other informative groups are also provided. For younger students, study skills, time management, critical thinking, and test taking skills will play a large role in their success.

Attend a Workshop: Learn how you can create a comprehensive high school plan that maximizes your students’ affordable opportunities and create a pathway of success – whether they choose to launch into college or a career.

Personal Consultation: A one-on-one appointment to help you navigate the options specific for your student. I truly enjoy partnering with you.

Get it all in a book: Credits Before College is an in-depth guide that will help you see the big picture, provides family activities and worksheet for your student to complete, links, and step-by-step guidance. It is the resource I wish I had when starting this process.

Watch my interview: short video clip

Students have just one opportunity to gain the most they can from high school to prepare themselves for what’s next. Often, what’s next is either college or career. But which one? How to choose? With the cost of college at an all time high, even small mishaps can cost thousands of dollars. The result is that students wake up to the financial realities of their choices too late.

That is exactly what happened to a young friend who thought his college education was his ticket to serving overseas. Instead, his student loans demanded repayment before he could pursue his calling. Ten years later and he had it paid back.

What choices are there? Plenty! But you won’t find them by reading traditional college websites or listening to the standard college-prep seminars. Parents have to invest in understanding the choices and resources that are available to all students, but usually don’t make the news. Invest yourself in understanding the information and children, and grandchildren will be one step closer to the financial freedom we all want for our families.

Acting as novice college-advisers to our students, parents are often unaware of their students affordable college credit options until it is too late. Keep reading. I will outline the steps you need to know to make an educational plan for your students that will take advantage of affordable college credit opportunities in middle and high school. You will understand how you can use high school as a bridge to their vocational goals so they graduate with passion and purpose. And you can help them choose a vocation for which they are best suited.

Words from Students (and their parents) who are Earning Credits Before College

Sometimes when you step off the path everyone else is on, they might tell you you are heading the wrong way. Take care to ask for directions from someone who holds a map!                

Karen, Parent:
A moment of applause for CLEP testing and for Cheri’s encouragement to keep working at it!  Starting in 7th grade, my son learned test taking and Study Skills which brought him to care about what school and college credits can do for him.  He’s walked away with determination to finish college and feeling great about his accomplished 6 college credits he’s earned.  He has set an even higher goal for himself by wanting to finish college two years after completing high school.  He’s also narrowed his area of study to forestry or environmental science.

Matthew, 9th grade and successful owner of 6 college credits:
Through a logic class that I took from Mrs. Frame, I was first inspired to earn college credits through the Clep program.  I have a goal to earn 18 credits before I get to 11th grade.

UPDATE: My educational path has been completely altered, for the better, as a result of Mrs. Frame. In 9th grade when I first heard about CLEP tests I thought it was too much effort for not enough benefit, but through my mom and I talking to Mrs. Frame we decided to take a few. As I passed my first test my confidence soared and I set a goal to have 21 credits by the time I graduate high school. I have greatly surpassed my goal as I am now a junior in high school with 27 credits planning to graduate with my associate’s degree through PSEO. I would never have graduated with my associate’s without taking CLEP tests. Mrs. Frame has been one of the most influential people in my academic career.

Kim, Parent:
My daughter has successfully taken two DSST tests and passed them as a 10th grade student.  Mrs. Frame led the study group for the World Religions DSST which covered a vast amount of material.  Her approach to the subject was creative but thorough.  She had the students look at the material not just from a rote memorization point of view, but also from a “big picture” aspect.  Her encouragement to both my student and me has been wonderfully helpful!  I would encourage any and all parents and students to consider taking the Dantes and CLEP exams as a way to reduce time and money spent in college on courses that are required but are simply stepping stones to the student’s desired field.  I wish I had known about this option when I was in college — it would have saved me MUCH!

Katie, 9th Grade, 27 Credits:
My CLEP experience has been very successful.  I have earned 27 credits through the CLEP program and am very pleased with the process Cheri has helped map out for my education.  I hope to gain 60 credits with Credit-by-exam then use PSEO to finish my degree by the time I finish high school.  I think this is very doable after listening to Cheri speak.  UPDATE:  While in only 10th grade, Katie has surpassed her goal of 60 credits.  She has set her sights on earning her BA degree early and without debt.

Holly, 10th Grade Parent:
CLEP testing is a wonderful way to get a jump start on college and college level work.  There is so much information on study tools and general CLEP information that it can quickly become overwhelming thinking about where to start.  Connecting and listening to those who have gone down the CLEP Path is so valuable.  Cheri is one of those who has explored and navigated the Path well and has become a wonderful resource for me.  I consistently gain from her knowledge, research and insight.  She is a great resource for anyone who is considering CLEP testing.

Jacob, 9 Clep Credits and Counting:
Clep, for me, was a learning experience.  It showed me how to prioritize and pin point my best study time.  It was also very encouraging to see that I could do college level work and pass the test, saving me time and money that won’t need to be spent in college overall.  Clep classes were extremely helpful in all the skills that it taught me.  UPDATE: As a 10th grader, Jacob has accumulated 21 credits with plans to finish 30 (one year of college) before beginning 11th grade next year.

Kelly, Homeschool Parent:
My daughter was confused about how to get from her dreams as an animal lover to the job she wanted as a field ecologist.  My daughter knew a master’s degree was required to let her do the work she wanted in the field.  Cheri helped her process how to get from here in 10th grade to there — 9 years of education later.  And best, how to stay focused on one year’s worth of work at a time.  Then my daughter was able to make a plan to combine high school and college using CLEPs and PSEO to shorten those potential 9 years of work into 7 or less.  Cheri emphasized it is best to work backward from the final goal; you need to see how things will fit together in the overall plan and the requirements of your chosen college or field of study.  Cheri helped pie in the sky dreams become concrete steps that are the foundations of my child’s future.  UPDATE from Britta, 11th grade:  Cheri has been wonderful with helping me plan out my high school years and making a plan for the college years after. Using CLEPs I’ve earned 21 credits.  Add PSEO classes and I have saved over two years of college and several thousand dollars. Thanks Cheri!

Laura, 10th grade, 33 credits:
In my experience, taking a CLEP or DSST has been extremely rewarding.  Although I have not reaped the full rewards of taking these tests yet, I am sure I will see them soon.  Mrs. Frame and my mom have been instrumental in me working hard and pushing through to completion.

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Credits Before College LLC