If you like alternative ideas, hacks, and work-arounds, you’re going to love this post. Most people agree that higher education has become ridiculously expensive. In addition to the cost, college is usually a 4-6 year commitment, and it requires a massive amount of mental and emotional energy. Since we have a high-school sophomore who plans on earning a college degree, I have been researching alternative ways to earn college credits.
Here are the referral links for the credit cards we currently use:
During the quarantine, all three of us took courses at Sophia Learning (read all about it here), and my son and I took cybersecurity courses at Texas A&M Engineering Extension. The end result was that during the 2020 quarantine our household earned 152 credit hours (or about 5 years of college) for under $575.
Now that I have your attention, let me tell you about another low-cost/free educational option: Modern States. This organization offers 31 online courses that prepare learners to take CLEP exams. CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) exams allow students to earn pass-fail credits by simply passing a multiple-choice exam. (Some exams contain writing sections, but these are exams like 1.) Spanish Language with Writing and 2.) College Composition.) Most of these exams can be completed in 60 to 90 minutes.
Earning Credits with Modern States
Prior to the quarantine in March of 2020, I had been working on some of the Modern States classes. I was especially interested in the Spanish Language exam since many of my Spanish students were heritage speakers who spoke the language at home. I figured that they could use Modern States to earn from 6 to 12 credits by taking a single CLEP exam. After a few months, I had completed over a dozen courses via Modern States, but I had not taken any of the CLEP exams. In other words, I had earned ZERO college credits.
In October of 2021, I decided that it was time to start hammering some CLEP exams. As my dear readers know, I’m prone to go a little nuts once I decide to do something. My Modern States CLEP experience was no exception!
On October 22nd, I drove to Valdosta State University and took the Humanities exam. It took me 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete the 90 question multiple-choice exam; my score was a 65 (for CLEP exams 50 is a passing score and 80 is a perfect score). From that positive experience, I decided to see how many credits I could earn in a month.
From October 22nd to November 22nd, I took 16 CLEP exams and passed all of them! The end result was a whopping 66 credit hours, more than 2 years of college.
CLEP Exams by Subject
My CLEP exams covered four subject areas:
- World Languages (27 credit hours) * Spanish Language with Writing (12 hrs.), French Language (9 hrs.), German Language (6 hrs.)
- History and Social Sciences (15 credit hours) * American Government, Educational Psychology, Human Growth and Development, Western Civilization I, Western Civilization II
- English (12 credit hours) * Analyzing and Interpreting Literature, American Literature, English Literature, Humanities
- Business (12 credit hours) * Business Law, Information Systems, Management, Marketing
If you’re good with foreign languages, CLEP is an awesome way to bank some college credit. Since I already speak Spanish, I knew that I would earn full credit for the Spanish exam. I took the Spanish-with-writing exam and earned 12 credit hours.
I was not very confident about the French and German exams, so I was hoping to earn the minimum 6 credit hours on each of those exams. To my surprise I earned the entire 9 credit hours on the French exam. Even better, I somehow managed to score a 50 on the German exam and earned 6 credit hours. That score was a miracle; those six German credits were the highlight of this entire project!
Here’s a screenshot of my CLEP transcript:
Before You Start Taking CLEP Exams…
Now that you’re fired up to earn some CLEP credits be aware that:
- not every college accepts CLEP credit.
- colleges determine which CLEP exams they will accept.
- colleges that accept CLEP exams usually have an approved exam list: #1, #2, #3, #4
- CLEP credit is usually limited to one year of college (30 credit hours).
- there are many colleges that accept more than 30 hours of CLEP credit. For example, Excelsior College
With so many limitations on CLEP credit, you might think CLEP exams are a waste of time. They could be if you’re hellbent on attending a college that doesn’t grant CLEP credit. For example, the University of Georgia grants NO credit for CLEP exams, so in that case I’d advise any student to avoid CLEP exams.
The key to utilizing CLEP credits is to pick a college that WILL ACCEPT them. I call this “college shopping.” Our son currently has 67 credit hours from Sophia and TEEX that are on his Excelsior College OneTranscript. Any CLEP exams he takes (and passes) will be added to that transcript. Eventually, his credits will be applied to a B.A. in Liberal Arts degree. Excelsior College will allow students to transfer 113 of the 120 credits required for that degree.
Our plan is to steer our son to a debt-free college degree around the age of 18 or 19. From there, he’ll be free to focus on his own areas of interest. (I confess that I hope to attend Italian language school with him.)
(affiliate link) InstantCert offers great review materials for most CLEP exams for $20 a month. Check it out!
If you think higher education has to be expensive, you may need to rethink your assumptions and start exploring some educational alternatives. With two credit-acquisition flurries, I managed to earn 4 years of college credit (125 hours) over a period of 3 months (4/12 to 6/9/2020 and 10/22 to 11/22/2021). Overall, I have earned over 5 years of college credit (154 credit hours in 5 months) using CLEP, DSST, Sophia, and TEEX. Crazy, right?!
Please do me a favor: if you know someone who might benefit from this post, please share it with them. Life is too short to spend 15 years making student-loan payments! Also, feel free to fire away with your questions in the comments section.
(Lots of affiliate links here!)
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