Test smart with CLEP exams to save time and money on college credits

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If you could earn college credits by taking a 90- to 120-minute exam instead of a class for an entire semester, would you take it?

In her recent piece “Test smart to save time and money” Elizabeth Harris, an adjunct instructor at Tidewater Community College and high school department chair, proposes “an alternate path to earning college credits at an extremely modest cost for motivated students willing to put in some extra effort and add to their high school knowledge. Adults returning to college should also be advised that they can shorten their time for earning a college degree.”

Her solution? College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) exams.

What are CLEP exams?

CLEP exams test mastery of college-level material acquired in a variety of ways — through general academic instructions, significant independent study or extracurricular work. CLEP exam-takers include adults just entering or returning to school, military service members and traditional college students. Taking CLEP tests allows students could “test out” of college courses covering material they have already mastered, thereby hastening the time it would take them to earn a college degree.

These tests are accepted by 48 colleges in Virginia and 2,900 colleges nationwide, including Old Dominion, Virginia Tech, George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth University, Longwood, Radford, Regent, Liberty, Virginia Wesleyan and all community colleges. These tests are available in 33 subjects that fulfill many general education requirements.

Most importantly, a passing score on most exams results in three to six college credits for just over $100 per exam. The higher score on a foreign language exam can even result in 12 credits — almost an entire college semester from one exam — at some universities. Motivated students can easily complete a year of college credits through CLEP exams and finish a two-year degree at a community college in a single year before transferring to a four-year university.

These tests are more affordable than college classes. As Harris notes: “The cost of an exam is less than the cost of one college textbook. The exams, taken on the computer, may be taken at local open testing centers by anyone from the general public. TCC campuses and Strayer University both have open testing centers.” This means, in summary that “A few hours of study can result not only in time saved in earning a college degree, but lower student loan debt, which is the albatross around so many graduates’ necks during the decades they have other major financial goals.”

Research CLEP exams near you

Before signing up for CLEP exams, check with your college first to see if they accept such credits, and, if they do, how many you are permitted to apply to your degree. It is important that students verify whether or not the college of choice will accept CLEP scores for credit before taking a particular exam and what the minimum score required would be.

A student who fails a CLEP exam can re-take the exam six months later. Excellent prep books are available at any bookstore or on Amazon, and web sites such as www.instantcert.com and www.finishcollegefast.com also provide practice materials.

Students who earn CLEP and DSST credit can also open up their schedules for other opportunities, such as studying abroad or completing an internship and still finishing college in four years or fewer.

+ Read Elizabeth Harris’ full piece at the Suffolk News-Herald. 

+ Find more articles on how to pay for college.

Elizabeth Harris is the social studies department chair at Grassfield High School and is on the adjunct faculty in Tidewater Community College’s history and humanities department. Email her at eharris44@gmail.com.

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