CLEP, DSST and AP tests let you earn college credit -- and cash in on savings

CLEP, DSST tests offer college creditAt the tender age of 15, my son walked onto the local college campus, his mind crammed with knowledge after two months of studying literary terms and reading tons of poetry and classic books. Some 90 minutes later, he emerged from the testing center with six college credits.

Can you say "saving money"? CLEP, DSST and Advanced Placement testing can do just that.
Now, he's studying for two more exams that will earn him six more credits before his sophomore year of high school is over. His competitive, 13-year-old sister has also decided to get in on the action, and is working toward taking one of these exams as well.

My original game plan was to teach my home-schooled children high school courses at an advanced level, followed by AP exams to get dual high school and college credit. As my children reached high school level, however, I found little access to AP exams and courses for home schoolers. But a bit of research led me to other programs that offer the same dual credit advantage.

In fact, many home-schooled students finish all or part of their bachelor's degree along side their high school work, by testing out of classes. You do not need to be a genius to amass a collection of college credits without the help of a professor. Anyone can test out of classes. The three programs available for dual credit are AP classes and tests, CLEP exams and DSST exams. Most college-bound public school students have access to AP exams. And home-schooled or college students can take advantage of CLEP and DSST programs to test out without setting foot in a lecture hall.

To put that in pocketbook perspective: It costs about $100 to take a CLEP or DSST exam. Meanwhile, the cost of a single college course can range from $700 to $2,600.

CLEP, or the College-Level Examination Program exams, are administered by the College Board, the same people responsible for SAT and AP exams. The exams allow students to earn college credit for knowledge acquired through work and life experiences. This does not exclude using independent study to pass the tests. With 33 available exams in subjects varying in difficulty from college math to Principles of Microeconomics and Calculus, every student can find a few exams to earn credits on their college transcripts. More than 2,900 colleges accept CLEP exams for credit and nearly half of these colleges have testing centers that administer the exam.

Soldiers were the intended recipient of the DSST (formerly called the DANTES) exams, which allowed them to earn college credit based on experience or independent study. DSST lets them start their degree work while on active duty. But the exams are also available to the general public. Tests cover entry- and intermediate-level courses in history, business, math, technology, humanities, and science. Thirty-eight exams are available at any one of 500 military installations. You can also find them at many college-based testing facilities. Some corporations also provide DSST testing opportunities. More than 2,000 schools award credit for these exams.

Some people walk into test centers and take the exam cold, but consider preparing because you cannot retake failed tests for six months. Begin with one of the easiest tests; my son took the six-credit Analyzing and Interpreting Literature CLEP because we heard it was just a glorified reading comprehension test. We did not know, however, that you needed to be familiar with many, many classic books and poems.

For him, the Intro to Computers DSST would have been a no-brainer. Therefore, my best advice is to peruse all of the test titles and online practice tests to decide which material you know best. Once you have taken an "easy" exam, you can tackle more difficult ones.

Just because you do not have a college professor to teach you doesn't mean you're alone. Fortunately, students who have already passed these exams are quick to share their experiences. One has compiled a list of free resources to help you prepare for most CLEP and DSST exam. There are also home-school study guides to help parents prepare younger students. AP exam study guides and college textbooks are invaluable in preparing for CLEP and DSST exams, as are books written specifically to prepare students for these texts.

As a high school student, you can get a head start and begin taking CLEP and DSST exams on your own, especially if you do not have access to AP classes. If you are about to graduate high school and have a good study ethic, you should consider taking a year to study, then take these exams, and apply to a few more colleges. Make use of your summer vacations and long breaks to take an exam or two. College juniors and seniors should also look at CLEP and DSST exams to help fill in academic holes and missed classes that might prevent you from graduating on time.
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