College can be really expensive. (You’ll see lots more posts – and yes, rants – on that topic elsewhere on this site.) So you should look for ways to save on college wherever possible. One great way to earn credits quickly and easily is through CLEP exams. If you know a lot about a subject through work experience or previous education, you should look into CLEP. Basically, you take one test designed to gauge your comprehensive knowledge of that subject. If you score high enough on the test, you are awarded college credits. It really is that simple.
Most CLEP exams allow you to earn three credits – but some let you earn up to 12 credits! A CLEP exam usually takes a couple of hours, and it only costs $77. So, for less than a hundred bucks and a few hours of your time, you can earn at least three credits. Much better than spending an entire semester and a thousand dollars or more to earn those same credits.
CLEP exams are available for more than 30 specific subjects. Most of these are designed to be basic “gen ed” types of topics. So some people have managed to “test out” of their first year or two of college by taking a bunch of CLEPs.
I’ve taken some CLEP exams and would definitely recommend them. Check out my MainStreet.com story on CLEP exams for more information.
I am a big believer in finding ways to save money on college courses and researching cheap ways to earn college credit. This is especially true for the “gen ed” courses, the type of general, introductory courses that most college students take during their first two years. These courses are a cash cow for colleges, because virtually all of the students must take them, and they are a relatively low expense for the college because they usually consist of very large groups of students (at my sons’ school, it was common for some gen ed classes to have 400 or more students), and they are often taught—at least for the most part—by grad assistants.
One popular method of getting cheap gen ed credits is to go with the 2-and-2 plan, doing the first two years at a community college and then transferring to a four-year school.
But here’s another option: a company called StraighterLine specializes in offering cheap online gen ed classes for students who want to transfer those credits to another school.
You can take a full freshman year of courses for $999—less than the cost of a single 3-credit course at our state university.
A great bonus is that these courses are self-paced, so you can finish them as quickly (or slowly) as you want. If you’re a quick learner and/or are willing to buckle down and totally focus on your courses, it’s possible to knock out of all your freshman year credits in a short period. StraighterLine says there have been students who have finished an entire course in a week!
Right now, they are running a special promotion where you can try your first course free. (Note: I believe you still need to pay the $99 initial enrollment fee to sign up with StraighterLine, though.)
One way to cut a lot of the costs of a four-year degree is to do the 2-and-2 plan. This is where you attend a community college for the first two years and then transfer those credits to a four-year school. The community college tuition rate is usually a fraction of the four-year school, so you end up saving a ton of money.
Some people are reluctant to do this because they have a misconception about community colleges. There is a stigma attached to community colleges, especially in some areas where people often joke about the local community college being “13th grade,” meaning it is like being in high school for another year.
In my experience, though, community colleges get a bad rap and it’s unfair. Obviously, the quality and overall experience will vary greatly from one school to another. But our local community college has highly qualified, talented instructors who really know their stuff and go out of their way to help students. Our community college also has computer labs filled with the latest cutting-edge equipment and pricey software programs. It even has a professional television studio and recording studio. And because the classes tend to be small, students get more one-on-one help from an instructor than they would at a large university.
I personally took quite a few courses at the local community college, and really enjoyed the experience. I learned a lot of skills that proved very helpful in my work (and even in putting this blog together).
Tip: generally, you’re allowed to use computer labs and other resources at the community college as long as you’re a current student. Considering some computer programs (such as Photoshop) can cost $600 or more, it may be worth paying for at least one course per semester just to maintain access to these resources, if these are programs you’d like to learn how to use. If you already know how to use them but can’t afford to buy them for yourself at home, this would allow you access to them when needed.
A lot of community colleges now offer some of their courses online, which makes this option more convenient as well as affordable.