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Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
--John Dewey


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Earn Credits Outside Of The Classroom

While it might seem impossible to put a price on education, colleges have found a way to do so through the “credit” system. Basically, each class is assigned a certain number of credits based on the difficulty level and/or time commitment. Each credit costs a set amount, and it takes a specific number of credits to graduate. Therefore, the more credits you take the more money you’ll have to pay.

But what if you could earn some credits for free? Not only would it shorten the amount of time that you had to spend in school, but it would also save you a bundle of money.

There are several ways that you may be able to earn credits for free. The most common is if you have already taken some college-level courses. With your transcript, you may be able to use these courses to count toward your degree. Of course, if you took these courses a long time ago in subject areas that rapidly change, the credits may not count but it certainly is worth asking.

Another way you can earn credit is to show the college that specific life experiences and training you have received while working are equivalent to college credit. You may not realize it but you have amassed a variety of skills through your life, and some of these can be converted into credit that counts toward your degree.

Some colleges even offer ways to earn more credits than normal through accelerated programs. Also, if your college does not charge based on classes but instead has a set fee per semester then if you load up on extra classes you are effectively getting those courses and credits for free. Of course, you’ll work a lot harder, too!

Earn College Credit Through Exams

By passing certain exams you can prove to the college that you know the material and therefore receive credit. There are several exams that are popular, however, you should check with your school to make sure they will accept the scores. The following are the most common exams that adults use to get college credit:

College Level Examination Program. Your college may let you take CLEP exams to receive college credit. There are currently 2,900 colleges that give credit or advanced standing to students who pass CLEP exams. There are two types of CLEP exams. One is a general subject exam that covers math, English, humanities, natural science and social science and history. The other is a subject exam that covers a specific course. A passing score in this exam will usually give you credit for that specific course. There are currently 30 subject exams. A CLEP exam costs $50 to take but could save you thousands of dollars in tuition. Plus, you don’t want to take a course in an area in which you are already proficient. Get more information at

The DSST Exam. Originally designed for the military, the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) may now be taken by anyone. More than 80,000 people take the DSST each year to receive college credit. By passing the DSST exam, you can earn credit for what you already know and thus save money. Get more details at

Excelsior College Examinations. There are 40 undergraduate-level Excelsior College Examinations that are accepted at nearly 900 colleges and universities. The undergraduate-level Excelsior College Examinations (as well as the DSST and CLEP exams) are free to military personnel. Those not affiliated with the military may request fee information. Get more information at

Graduate Record Exam. While the GRE is usually for graduate school admission, some colleges allow undergraduates to earn credits with GRE scores. Check with your department to see if GRE scores can be used to satisfy specific course requirements. Get more information at

Job Ready Assessment Tests. There are 75 Job Ready Assessment tests that you can take to get credit in vocational or technical fields. Exams include tests in accounting, computer programming, construction, drafting, plumbing, welding and more. Get more information at

Get Credit For Life Experience

As an adult student you might be able to get college credit for your professional and life experiences. Most schools recognize that you can gain college-level knowledge through your own life experiences. If your experiences are general and not related to a specific course, you might obtain general studies credit. Or, you may get credit for specific courses if you have had related experiences or training.

In the book College Degrees By Mail there are examples of ways that colleges may recognize life experiences. For example:

The first thing you should do is contact your department or admission office to see what experiences qualify and what kind of substantiation you need to provide.

The Learning Portfolio Evaluation

Often to receive college credit for your life experiences or previous studies, colleges want proof. You can provide this with a learning portfolio. In the portfolio you give a self-assessment, detailing the type of learning or training you have received outside of the classroom. Usually you will write a main essay and provide supporting documents. You want to make a case for how this learning is comparable to college-level learning and prove to the college that you possess the knowledge within this field.

The key is to not make a laundry list of everything that you have done but instead to explain what you have learned and how it applies to your field of study. Be analytical about what you have gained from the experience, and demonstrate that this learning is equivalent to what you would learn in college. Look at the course catalog and match your knowledge to specific courses. You also need to show that you understand the theories behind your knowledge. In other words, just because you can drive a boat does not mean you understand the theory behind hydrodynamics. It will help if you speak to a member of your department to get the specific details on what your portfolio should look like.

Earn Credit By Credential Evaluation

Credit by evaluation is when a college looks at any education or training that you have received and determines if it is equal to a course offered by the college. This may include traditional classes at colleges or course work and training while in the military, while working or in schools that are not accredited or in organizations that are not primarily educational institutions. Speak to your department to request credit by evaluation. Most schools use the National Guide to Educational Credit for Training Programs, the Guide to Educational Credit by Examination and the Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services published by the American Council on Education.

Many colleges also offer a proficiency or challenge exam. As the name suggests, these exams let you prove that you have the knowledge or experience necessary to pass a specific course. It’s like passing the final exam of a course without having actually taken the class. Speak to your professor or department head to see if an exam is an option at your school.