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Gregory LloydGain Credit with the CLEP (College Level Examination Program)

by Gregory Lloyd

Here's the dilemma. You'd like to go back to school to finish your degree, but you're overwhelmed by all the classes you'll need to take. After all, there are already so many other demands on your time-work, family, household, and other responsibilities. Tuition and fees can also be daunting if your employer foots only part of the bill. To top it off, some of the classes may be a waste of time and money because you already know the material.

Relax. There are other ways to easily obtain college credit towards an accredited degree program. One in particular can substantially reduce your class time and costs-and give you credit for what you know-enabling you to earn your degree much faster than you ever thought possible.

It's called the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), one of the most widely accepted programs for gaining alternative college credit by exam. Recognized by the American Council on Education since 1967, the CLEP offers exams in more than 30 subjects, including choices in languages, business, science, math, and history. Many satisfy core liberal arts and elective requirements for a typical undergraduate program. The 90-minute exams, consisting of about 100 questions answered manually in two separately timed sessions, are offered each month at more than 1,400 testing centers around the world-many of them local colleges. (CLEP is planning to offer computer-based testing in the near future.) The cost per exam is a mere $46 (plus a small testing center fee), a fraction of what you'd pay for an equivalent college class. Depending on your level of knowledge and your school's policy on CLEP exams, you can trim as many as half the credits off your formal degree program.

When I first learned about CLEP back in the fall of 1993, I had completed just 12 credits through the night school program at Immaculata College in Pennsylvania. At the time, I was in my late 20s, working full-time at a stressful marketing job, stringing for a local paper, running a household, and trying to balance church, family, and social activities. I hadn't officially matriculated into a degree program because I didn't want to commit a decade or more of my life to school.

Once I recognized the opportunity, I decided to try the CLEP exam for French, a subject I had studied for five years during high school. After checking with Immaculata's continuing education office to make sure that the credits would be acceptable towards my future degree, I mailed the fee and registration form. To review, I borrowed some French tapes and a guidebook from the public library. I also purchased the Clep Official Study Guide so that I could become familiar with the types of questions the test would cover. Like the other two CLEP language exams (Spanish and German), the French test consists of 130 multiple-choice questions: 80 by reading and 50 by listening to a taped monologue. Depending on your grade score or percentile rank and the exam you choose, you can gain 3, 6 or 12 semester hours of college credit.

The morning of the exam, I arrived at the testing center with my #2 pencils and identification and was led to a private room so that I could listen to the oral portion without distraction. The questions were not easy, but I was relaxed and thought I did well. Two weeks later my grade report arrived with a score high enough for 12 credits, which I got added to my transcript when I registered for Immaculata's B.A. in Organizational Dynamics. (If you're officially registered in a degree program, you can indicate on your CLEP registration form the number code of the college to receive a copy of your grade for automatic credit.)

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