College Credit by Exam

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Whether you’re coming straight from high school or you’re an adult learner who’s been in the career field for many years, it’s likely you have excelled in a particular area.

College Credit by Exam

But did you know you can get credit by exam to have colleges recognize your knowledge and experience?

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Turns out, many colleges and universities offer credit by exam, meaning students can take an exam in a particular subject and, if they pass, they can skip ahead and/or earn college credit.

Credit By Exam Helps Students in Two Ways:

university student studying online

  1. Testing out of college courses: For example, college applicants who have taken advanced level math courses in high school, or who have worked as CPA’s for 10 years shouldn’t have to start their college journeys with entry-level math classes. These exams can show admission officials what you’re capable of, helping you get placed in a more appropriate course level.
  2. Saving money on tuition costs: Depending on the college you attend, the cost per credit hour can add up significantly. That adds up fast when you’re pursuing a 4-year degree. Although the various credit by exam programs do have fees attached, it’s minuscule when compared to the overall cost of tuition.

    There are several different programs that offer credit by exam.

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    In the sections below, we will go over a few of the most widely accepted exams and answer a couple of the common questions we get from students to help you understand how you can start earning credit for your degree today.

    Types of Credit by Exams

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    If you are interested in pursuing credit by examination, there are several reputable choices. Every college has its own unique policy as to how they handle credits by examination, so be sure to review the school’s website or speak directly with an academic advisor before registering for one of these exams.

    CLEP – College Level Examination Program

    One of the most popular ways to earn college credits for your knowledge and life experience is through the CLEP exam. The CLEP exam is offered by the College Board and accepted at more than 2900 colleges and universities throughout the country.

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    CLEP offers 33 different exams that cover topics typically taught in the first two years of a college degree program. The different subject areas covered through these tests include:
    • Business
    • Composition & Literature
    • Foreign Languages
    • History & Social Sciences
    • Science & Mathematics

    Most CLEP exams offer three or more credits, if passed. The cost of each exam is $89. For an additional fee, you can also purchase an official study guide for all 33 tests, or you can choose to buy an individual study guide if you are only taking 1 or 2 CLEP exams.

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    How to Register: You can register for an exam in about 15-20 minutes using the easy-to-understand CLEP Registration site. Simply select your exam, create a College Board account, register, and check out.

    DSST Program

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    DSST stands for DANTES Subject Standardized Tests. And DANTES stands for the United States Department of Defense’s Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) program. While the DSST program does offer special incentives to service members and veterans, the exams can be taken by anyone looking to test out of college courses and earn credit for knowledge and experience.

    Like the CLEP, all of the DSST exams have been evaluated and recommended by the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit). More than 1500 colleges and universities recognize and award credits for passing scores on these exams.

    DSST offers more than 30 exams in a number of different academic categories, including:

    • Business
    • Humanities
    • Math
    • Physical Science
    • Social Sciences
    • Technology

    The range of credits that you are able to earn through the DSST program varies by school, but most tests are equivalent to three credits for your degree program. Each DSST exam has a fee of $85 for non-military students. Additionally, there are numerous study guides and resources available for purchase through the website to help prepare you for the exams.

    How to Register: You can register for a DSST exam online. Once you know your school’s policy regarding DSST credit, you may start by searching for a test center.

    UExcel Examinations

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    Students can also earn college credit for their knowledge or experience by taking the UExcel Exams through Excelsior College. UExcel scores are accepted at more than 1,000 colleges and universities, which means they are not quite as widely accepted as CLEP or DSST exams so be sure to check with your academic advisor about your school’s policies.

    UExcel exams are available in more than 60 subject areas, including:

    • Business
    • Education
    • Humanities
    • Mathematics
    • Natural Sciences
    • Social Sciences
    • Technology
    • And more

    The cost to take a UExcel exam is $220 – which does not include the cost of practice exams or study guides. However, they do offer payment plans as well as a “value package” that includes the practice exam, exam registration, and a free retake – all at a reduced cost.

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    How to Register: You can register for UExcel exams online. Simply select your exam, create an account, register, and pay. Within 24 to 48 hours you will receive a message in your MyExcelsior message center to complete the process.

    Testing Out of College Classes

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    As you can see, there are several types of examinations to choose from to help you earn credit for knowledge or experience that you acquired before college.

    If you are a high school student who would like to accelerate your future college education, you may also want to look into advanced placement (AP) testing. By taking AP exams in your senior year of high school, you can get a head start on saving time and money once you begin your college degree program.

    Now that we have gone over the basic credits by examination information – what’s next? The first thing to do is to decide how you want to move forward. To help get you started, we’ve answered a couple of the most common questions that we receive from those looking to earn college credit for their life experience.

    Which Exam Is the Best for Me to Test Out of College Courses?

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    The answer to this isn’t simple, but the first step is figuring out your college’s credit by exam policy. Because college credit for prior learning assessment policies varies widely from school to school, it’s essential that you understand your school’s policy before registering for one of these tests.

    Your school’s credit by exam policy will explain:

    • Which exams they accept
    • What score you need to earn in order to receive credit
    • How many (if any) credits will be awarded for a passing score
    • How many credits in total you can receive through exams (many schools limit this to 60 credits)

    Another factor to consider is that at some colleges, these exams are only used for testing out of college courses. Your score will allow you an exemption, meaning you will be able to skip over entry-level classes, but you will not receive any credits toward your program.

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    It’s so important to check the policy at your college or university to figure out what exams are accepted and what value they hold. If your school accepts more than one of the discussed examinations, then you will need to consider other factors to determine what the best choice is for you.

    • Do they all offer tests in the subject area(s) you plan to test in?
    • Which test has the most conveniently located testing center for you?
    • What is the total cost (the exam, study guides, practice materials)?

    By answering the above questions and working closely with your academic advisor, you will be able to choose the test that gives you the best chance at earning the credits you need.

    What Happens If I Don’t Pass the Exam on the First Try?

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    This can be a major worry for students who are spending money on an examination to earn credit for college. When it comes to the tests described above, the exam fee is non-refundable. If you don’t pass the test, you do not get your money back.

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    That being said, all of the exams offer resources and guides to help you succeed on test day. If you question whether you are prepared to sit for your scheduled exam, we highly recommend purchasing the related study guide in advance.

    So, What if I Still Don’t Pass?

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    Don’t panic! While you may have forfeited the money spent on the exam fee, you also gained valuable experience and realized where your strengths and weaknesses are in the subject area.

    Most tests have a waiting period before you are allowed to retake the exam (generally three to 6 months), so be sure to research this before committing to a test date. When it comes down to it, it’s better to take more time to prepare than rush towards completing an exam before you are ready.

    If you’re interested in accelerating your college career and saving money, credit by exam programs are an excellent option. Just be sure to check your school’s policies regarding which exams they recognize and how they award the credit before you register.

    These programs can help you earn college credit for the knowledge, skills, and experience you’ve already acquired, enabling you to move through your degree program faster and with less debt.

    Ready to start your journey?
    Elizabeth Abner
    WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

    Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.