By Bob Werber
The CLEP test something you definitely want to try to make use of if you’re an adult who has taken college credits in the past and are heading back to school to complete a degree.
“College Level Examination Program” or CLEP exams provide an opportunity for you to get credits – and potentially quite a few credits – for knowledge you have on a wide variety of subjects. They offer another opportunity – beyond traditional credit transfers from one school to another – to reduce the amount of time and money you will have to spend in order to get either a bachelors or associates degree.
There are 33 different CLEP tests, administered by The College Board (which also handles SAT testing) which can be taken instead of a particular college class. Subjects range across the five basic topic areas of composition and literature, foreign languages, history and social sciences, science and mathematics and business. The tests cost $70. each to take and are administered all over the country on a fairly regular basis. It makes lots of sense to take a CLEP exam in any topic you feel you have a reasonably good knowledge of. You can actually spend time studying for a particular test – a process that’s likely to be much less time consuming than taking a full course on that subject (the College Board actually offers study guides for their own CLEP tests).
What to Find Out First
Before you start do anything else, you need to find out what the policy is on CLEP credits at the school where you are planning to complete your degree. CLEP credits are fairly widely accepted, but there are also plenty of schools that either don’t accept them or accept them only on a limited basis. Find out how many credits they give for passing each exam. Also, make sure you know what the minimum grade is that you need to get on a CLEP test in order to get credit for it. The tests have a perfect score of 80. And while 50 or 60 is often considered the passing score, any school can create their own rules for acceptance.
The tests are given at special testing facilities on computers. You get your test result immediately for every test except the English Composition Essay test. When you go into the test, make sure you know exactly who you want the scores sent to. The computer program will ask you which college or other entity you want scores distributed to while you’re in the process of starting the test.
Not Life Experience or AP
Be aware that CLEP tests are definitely not the same as credits for life experience. The tests measure your academic knowledge in areas that correspond with what you would learn in a specific college course. There is no opportunity to negotiate with The College Board to give you CLEP credit for any type of work or other experience you may have. The tests are also quote different from Advanced Placement or AP courses – which tend to be taken by top students in high school who want to start their college studies at a higher level than most other freshmen. AP tests tend to be a lot harder than CLEP exams.
If you’re going for a bachelor’s degree in particular, be aware than many colleges have limits on how many credits they will award for CLEP testing. Some schools refuse to take more than 30 credits from testing. But make sure to do your research – there are schools that have virtually no limit on how much CLEP credit they will give you. Looking at your school’s catalogue, which is usually available online, will usually provide you with the institution’s CLEP guidelines. If you don’t get the information there, however, ask your school admission office or registrar about their “credit by examination policy.” Don’t forget to ask exactly how many credits you will be awarded for doing well on an exam. Some schools give 6 credits for the CLEP math test, for example, while others give only 3 credits.
The money you can save on tuition, combined with time saved for taking fewer courses, can make CLEP tests very important if you’re an adult with a job and family responsibilities to worry about. The saving can be so great, in fact, that the policy on accepting CLEP credits is worth considering when you make your choice of which school to attend. For more info on signing up for a test near you , visit the College Board here
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John O’Brien has been a writer, editor and consultant in higher education for over 14 years. His background includes writing for insidehighered.com and The Chronicle of Higher Education. As editor of College Degree Complete, he has advised hundreds of adult students on how to transfer colleges without wasting the credits they’ve already accumulated, to finish their degree programs in the fastest and most affordable way.