How to Save Money and Earn Credits with CLEP Exams

It’s no secret that higher education is expensive. In the United States, the average cost per credit hour is $594, which means that a three credit class will run you, on average, $1,782. For many students, cutting college costs is an important factor of planning for higher education, and one underutilized method of earning credits at a huge discount is by taking CLEP Exams.

What in the world are CLEP exams? 

CLEP is an acronym that stands for the College Level Examination Program. Basically, it is a collection of exams administered by the same organization that runs the SAT and the Advanced Placement Exams. Those with prior knowledge in a subject can sign up to take the computer-based exam, and a passing score can transfer to three or more credits at many U.S. universities. Best of all, the exam costs only $85. Because the exams tend to cover introductory subjects, they are a great way to fulfill introductory or general education requirements. For a full list of tests and subjects offered, visit the official Collegeboard website.

Who can take a CLEP exam? 

Unlike Advanced Placement exams for high school students, anyone can register to take a CLEP exam. They are a great way for high school students to get a head start on earning credits, an inexpensive alternative to general education courses for already enrolled students, or a way for a hopeful transfer student to add to their transcript. Another important consideration is that you are not required to take a specific class in preparation for the test; instead, you can draw on knowledge from previous classwork, knowledge gained through work, or you can self-study in preparation for a CLEP exam, as I did as a university student. 

How can you prepare for a CLEP exam? 

The first thing to do in preparation for a CLEP exam is to explore the Collegeboard website. For each exam, there is a free overview of topics covered and their prevalence on the exam, as well as lists of suggested resources. Doing a web search for study materials specific to each CLEP exam also yields many results. Please don’t feel, however, that success on these exams depends on spending a lot of money on books and study materials. Check out the resources provided by your local public library before spending money. When I successfully took the CLEP exam in macroeconomics, I relied on a general economics textbook and an AP Economics test prep book that I check out for free from my local public library. Whatever resources you choose to use, make sure to create a study plan well in advance of your chosen test date, and then hold yourself accountable to that plan. 

Other Considerations 

For already enrolled students or those seeking to transfer their CLEP credits to a specific university, there are a few things to double-check before choosing to take a CLEP exam. First of all, make sure that your university accepts CLEP exam results and that the resulting credits will help you to fulfill some of your requirements. For transfer students or those students with many transfer credits (from AP tests or other sources), it’s important to make sure that the credits from the CLEP exam won’t put you over your university’s limit for transfer credits. If you can’t find this information on your university’s website, it may be useful to email an academic advisor.

Caroline Hron Weigle is writer passionate about education, language learning, travel and cultural exchange. Feel free to connect with her on twitter at @HronWeigle


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