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Here are more articles on college through independent study.

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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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Why a Traditional College Can Be a Bad Idea

As the current school year comes to an end, many high school students are considering which college they’ll attend next year, and many have already applied. However, many people decide to attend a brick-and-mortar college without considering alternative ways to get their degree. When one looks at the case against attending a traditional college, other options are worth considering.

For starters, college is expensive. $2,500 per semester is at the lower end of the scale, and that comes out to $20,000 over the course of four years. These costs only cover tuition, not including books, housing, food, and other living expenses. Private colleges are even more expensive. Some people would include lost wages as being part of the costs of attending college, and this leads to the second argument.

College can mean a lifetime of debt. As there’s no guarantee that the degree will lead to a job, taking out student loans isn’t always advisable. Many college graduates can’t pay the loans back, which can lead to credit problems. Some employers won’t hire employees with less-than-the-best credit, and this makes it even harder to find a job. Even if one can make the minimum payments, the amount due each month often means that even with the higher income  gained through the college degree, one’s living standards are the same as they would have been without it. At the same time, many college graduates are making less than one would expect, and are working in jobs which don’t require a college degree.  Students  also have to be careful who they borrow from. With some less-than-honest loan providers, the balance of the loan continues to rise even when the minimum payments are being made.

The social environment of many colleges is another argument against going, as the colleges are getting just as dangerous as the high schools. Single rooms are a rarity in the dormitories, and one often has no say over who their roommate will be. There are a lot of tough kids on campus. Anybody who was sharing a room with one would have to keep a sharp eye on their wallet and other belongings at all times. You can’t just leave your wallet on the side table like you can at home. The situation in the dormitory bathrooms isn’t much better. Not only do the shower stalls not have locks, but some people don’t believe in flushing. Also, the kitchens must often be shared by a large number of students.

This may sound odd, but there’s often no quiet place to study on campus. The dormitory I lived in at the University of Memphis usually had loud rap music pounding from somewhere, along with the tough sorts communicating at top volume, punctuated by loud screams. These people would often turn aggressive if they were asked to be quieter, and I often feared for my personal saftey. Even the library was sometimes populated by the loud and tough sorts.

There’s also the issue of on-campus violence. Although massacres like the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting are rare, violence on a smaller scale isn’t uncommon.

Housing is often a problem for college students. Students who live more than commuting distance away from relatives not only have the costs of dorm rent. The airfare or other transportation costs to get to the university don’t only have to be paid in August and May, but also during Christmas and Thanksgiving break, when the dorms are sometimes closed and people usually want to be at home. There’s also Spring break when the dorms are often closed.

Academic standards are going down, and this makes it easier for the tough sorts to get in. The ironic thing about college is that the coursework is best suited for somebody who enjoys studying, but the worsening environment at many colleges makes it more advisable for an academically-oriented student to study at home.

Some people woukd argue the “college experience” is worthwhile in itself. If this is true, why do excessive drinking, drugs, promiscuity, and a general bad attitude play such a major role in it? These are hardly the attitudes of people who are having fun.

Another argument is that college can give you valuable career contacts which you wouldn’t get through independant study. If one is attending college for this reason, it might be an idea to do as many of the credits through credit-by-exam as possble, and only do the courses which are directly linked to the major on campus. If the school has a limit as to how many CLEP or DANTES exams they’ll accept, maybe one could take the courses for the major on campus, and then transfer them to a school which is more generous in this area, like Excelsior or Thomas Edison State College. Another idea might be to do the bachelor’s degree through independant study, and then attend a brick-and-mortar university for graduate school.

The purpose of this blog is to discuss cheaper alternative ways to earn college credits and college degrees without going into debt. I’m currently studying independantly for the CLEP exams in chemistry and biology.

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