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How to Accelerate Your Degree Plan

Wish you could return to college but think it's an impossible dream? With the arrival of distance education and increasing flexibility, there are now many more options available to adult students. These include testing out through examination and advanced placement, getting credit for military, corporate, or professional training, and receiving credit for life experience through portfolio assessment. These options generally cost less than a traditional classroom education and can help save signficant time and money toward a college degree.

Credit by Examination
Did you know that you can "skip" many core courses and receive credit for them through college credit examinations and advanced placement? College credit examinations are widely accepted by colleges and universities. By passing these examinations, individuals can earn one-third or more of the credits required for a degree. These examinations are available in more than 150 subject areas and are similar to final examinations given by colleges and universities. Credit by examination is a relatively fast, low cost way to receive college credit. There is a small fee involved for the exams.

The American Council on Education* (ACE) recommends college credit for all of the following credit by examination programs:

College Board Advanced Placement Examinations
The College Board offers exams specifically for students who wish to earn college credit in preparation for college entrance. Exams in thirteen subject areas are offered. According to the Board, almost one-fifth of students entering four-year colleges are eligible for credit through Advanced Placement. The AP (Advanced Placement) program provides testing in arts and languages, computer science, history, mathematics, the natural sciences, and social sciences. Most tests are multiple choice or essay questions and can take two to three hours to complete. Each exam costs $94; but assistance is available for those with financial need. AP examinations are especially helpful for the adult student who is about to or has completed a GED (General Education Diploma) and will be entering college. Find colleges and universities that offer credit or placement for AP scores.

CLEP College Credit by Examination
The CLEP (College Level Examination Program) is the most widely accepted credit by examination program in the United States. Over 2,900 colleges and universities award credit for satisfactory scores on CLEP exams and these tests are inexpensive (Each exam is $87. Administrative fees may be included by the test center. Military service members may be eligible for free exam.) The 33 exams are divided into two categories: General Examinations and Subject Examinations, and take approximately 90 minutes to complete.

  • CLEP General Examinations. Students can attain as many as 30 semester hours of college credit by successfully passing the CLEP General Examinations. These exams test the five basic areas of general education: English Composition, Humanities, Mathematics, the Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences and History.

  • CLEP Subject Examinations. The CLEP Subject Examinations measure knowledge of basic concepts, principles, relationships, and applications involved in college courses. The American Council of Education recommends 3 semester hours of credit for most of the CLEP Subject Examinations, with some recommended for 6 or even 12 semester hours depending on the institution's credit policy. Tests include College Algebra, American Government, Literature, Psychology, and the Social Sciences.

The College Board provides a directory of colleges and universities accepting the CLEP, and provides test and study preparation materials.

For one student's personal experience, see Gain Credit with the CLEP.

DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSSTs)
The DSST program is an extensive series of examinations in college and technical subjects that are comparable to the final examinations in undergraduate courses. DANTES is used by colleges and universities to award credit to students who can demonstrate knowledge of subjects commonly taught in introductory college courses (prior learning). DANTES is also useful for active and reserve military personnel. Thirty eight tests cover business, physical science, humanities, social science, and applied technology. Most of the exams are multiple choice. DANTES is recognized by almost 2,000 colleges and universities, which administer the exams all year round. The test fee for a DANTES exam is $80 plus a possible test center administrative fee. It may take up to two hours to complete each test.

To locate institutions accepting DANTES testing, you can search the online database at GetCollegeCredit, as well as find resources for test preparation.


*The American Council on Education (ACE ) is the major coordinating body for all higher education institutions nationwide, representing over 1,600 college and university administrators, and 200+ related associations. ACE is a leader in key higher education issues and an influential advocate for public policy.

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