Upper-level College Credit-by-Exam

For students who are learning independently, credit-by-exam programs like CLEP and DSST are a popular way to gain college credit for their studies. As they’re offered in a wide variety of subjects, it’s possible to get the entire core curriculum of a bachelor’s degree done through these exams, or to earn an associate’s degree this way. These exams can save thousands in college tuition. However, one disadvantage to the CLEP exams is that they are only offered for lower-level college courses, as are most of the DSST exams, although 11 of the DSSTs are for upper-level credit.

Anybody who wants to test entirely out of a bachelor’s degree is not out of luck. There are a number of other options for gaining upper-level college credit by testing.

There are numerous  Excelsior College Exams (ECEs) through which you can earn credit for upper-level courses. At $240 for a 3-credit exam, they are more expensive than the CLEPs. However, they are offered in a number of specialized subjects. Excelsior’s website lists exams ranging from Anatomy and Physiology to World Conflicts Since 1900. An abundance of nursing exams are offered.

Another option for gaining upper-level credit-by-exam are the GRE tests. The General Test is mainly for business students,and the variety of subject tests includes Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, and Computer Science. A number of colleges offer undegraduate credit for these exams, including Excelsior, which offers 30 undergraduate credits if you finish in the 80th percentile, and Charter Oak State College, which offers 24 credits if you finish in the 40th percentile. The exams are offered in October, November, and April. If you live outside of the US, they seem to be offered at a wider variety of locations than the CLEPs. This option is also economical at $140 in the US and $160 in other countries. How much money in tuition would 30 credits cost at a brick-and-mortar university?

Another option for testing out of upper-level courses comes from Canada, so it’s worth looking into your school’s policies on foreign college credit if you want to use this option. Challenge for Credit is a program from Athabasca University whereby you can get college credit by completing a paper on the subject, taking an exam, or both. If you don’t live in Canada, it’s a considerably more expensive option than the other tests I’ve mentioned, at $587 (Can.) for a 3 credit course, which is $566 US at the current exchange rates. It’s not so high if you live in Canada, where the same course costs $343 Canadian dollars, or §331 US. I mention this option because there are a very large number of upper-level courses for which challenge is available. It would be a shorter list to name Athabasca’s courses which aren’t available in this format.   

Although testing out of upper-level courses is more expensive than lower-level ones, it’s still possible and can save a fortune in tuition fees. Especially for somebody who has been studying independently for years, this is probably a better option than attending classes, as one can still enjoy the freedom to study when they want and to study at their own pace.

(Update: Since this was published, I’ve found out that the challenge option for testing out of a course is offered at numerous colleges in the US.)

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