Though it doesn’t feel like it yet, fall is on the way and colleges across the country are getting back into the swing of things. And parents and students alike are writing some of the biggest checks of their lives.
About 10 minutes from my house is WSU Vancouver, where classes start today. Over there, people are shelling out about $500/credit this term.
Would you believe me if I told you that you could earn credit towards their degrees for only $33/credit?
Yep, it’s true. I didn’t attend WSU specifically, but I earned 18 credits that they accept towards their degrees for only $33/credit. I even earned 6 credits for half that, a whopping $17 per credit.
Am I some sort of higher education financial contortionist? Not really, though it sounds cool. Am I blackmailing the dean? Never! (I’m offended that you’d even think such a thing!)
Then how did I accomplish this fiscal magic? Let me tell you about a little thing we alternative education junkies like to call credit-by-exam (CBE).
What Is Credit-By-Exam?
CBEs are the most amazing thing that ever happened to self-motivated, cost-conscious college students ever. And I’m not exaggerating.
As the name implies, it is basically a way of earning college credit by taking an exam. This is how it works:
- Choose an exam.
- Make sure your school accepts it for credit.
- Study the material that the exam covers.
- Pay an exam fee, take the exam and pass.
- Have the information sent to your school.
Voila! The cheapest college credit you can get anywhere. How cheap? Most exams cost about $100, depending on the fee that the testing center charges. All of the ones I took were $100 and were worth 3-6 credits each.
Who Can Earn Credit-By-Exam?
Now, this isn’t some special privilege offered only to an elite few. In fact, my first-grader could do this. I doubt he’ll be doing it this year, but he probably will during high school. A lot of teenagers, especially homeschoolers, use CBE as a way to jump start their college careers and save some money.
There are no age restrictions for CBEs, but there are certain qualities required for success. Test providers often don’t offer any more than a two-page outline of the content covered. You need to be able to find the necessary information on your own. Thanks to the internet, this is really easy. I utilized a subscription service that had flashcards and study materials that were exam-specific.
You also need to be disciplined and self-motivated. Unless your mom is helping you, there will be no one telling you what to do and when. You need the inner strength to get your studying done sans accountability. Of course, you could always find an accountability partner or a friend to work with.
Where Can I Find These Exams?
There are several different providers of CBEs. Here are your options:
The largest provider of CBEs is the College Board, the same people who offer Advanced Placement exams for high school students. They offer 33 exams in the categories of Composition & Literature, World Languages, History & Social Sciences, Science & Mathematics, and Business.
Back in 1974, the US Department of Defense began offering academic testing to service members. Later Prometric took over the tests from the government, and in 2006 they were made available to civilians as well. Now, they offer 36 exams in the categories of Business, Humanities, Math, Physical Science, Social Sciences, and Technology. According to their website, DSST exams are accepted by over 1,900 institutions across the country.
Thomas Edison State University (TESU) is a New Jersey public university designed with the adult learner in mind. They have their own CBE program, offering 40 exams in the categories of English Composition, Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences/Mathematics, Business and Management, Computer Science Technology, and Applied Science and Technology. You do not have to be enrolled at TESU to take a TECEP exam, but they are cheaper for matriculated students.
Excelsior College, another well-known school for adult learners, also has an examination program that offers 55 exams. Like TESU, you don’t have to be a student to take advantage of their examination program.
Colorado State University has been an early adopter of alternative education among brick-and-mortar schools. As such, they now offer a number of CBEs. Theirs are more expensive, at $250 for a 3 credit exam, but still a good deal. The offer exams in Accounting, Communications, Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration, Emergency Management, Finance, General Education, Healthcare Administration and Management, Human Resources, Human Services, Information Technology, Management, Management Information Systems, Marketing, Operations Management, Organizational Leadership, Project Management, Public Management, Public Relations, and Sociology.
If you speak or have studied another language, then you can take advantage of New York University’s language exams. They offer three different tests, either worth 4, 12, or 16 credits, in over 50 languages. This is a great way to earn easy elective credits for the multilingual.
Things To Watch Out For
If you decide to embark on the challenging journey of CBEs, there are a few things you need to watch out for.
First of all, you need to make sure the school you want to graduate from accepts the credit before taking the exam. CLEP and DSST exams are accepted at most schools. WSU, that I mentioned above, accepts all but 3 of the CLEP exams. The exams offered by specific schools aren’t as widely accepted, but it never hurts to ask.
Also, you need to check on how many CBEs your school will accept for credit. Some schools limit the amount of credit they will give for CBEs. You don’t want to take a test that won’t count towards your degree.
Finally, make sure the CBE will actually count towards your degree. Several exams may give you credit for the same course, so you would only want to take one of them. Your degree program will only include a limited number of electives, so make sure your CBEs will transfer over as required courses and you don’t end up with a lot of unusable credits.
I absolutely love CBEs. In addition to the cost savings, they allow you to work at your own pace. When I finished my business degree, I was able to earn 2 ½ years’ worth of credits in 9 months, mostly because of the CBEs.
If you are or have played with the idea of earning a degree, or you have kids who are in college or heading there soon, you need to look into CBEs. If I had attended WSU, with only the 6 CLEPs that I took that they accept, I would have saved about $8,400. Wouldn’t you like to do the same?