Credit-through-Examination Guide

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Introduction to Credit-Through-Examination

Poverty Draft

Counter-recruiters use the term “Povery Draft” to refer to a broad set of circumstances that the military exploits for recruitment purposes. Limited access to college funding and scholarships for low-income and minority students is one of the most pressing issues the counter-recruitment community struggles to solve. Fortunately, many students are finding solutions to these obstacles.

Examination Programs

College-level examination programs are a great alternative way to earn college credit. Many colleges and private companies offer examinations that can stand in for a single class or for requirements. These little known options have been available for decades. Colleges generally accept up to sixty credits obtained through examination for a traditional bachelor’s program.

Paths to Success

With a little planning, students can use these to fulfill almost any goal they might have. For an idea of your options, look at the examples below.

The “One-Class Option”: Introductory Courses

Learning happens everywhere – not just in the classrom. As such, many people end up in a required class being taught a subject they already know a lot about. This a textbook example of how credit-through-examination can work for you. Many colleges offer their own tests created by department heads for exactly this purpose. But if they don’t, CLEP tests are a great solution. For $72 and an hour at the testing center, you can earn three or six credits in the subject of your choosing.

The “One-Class Option”: Extra Credit

Older students often find themselves scrambling to make up a few credits before graduation. This could be for all sorts of reasons – administrative error, busy schedule, early graduation, or just some plain ol’ slackin’. Whatever the case, an examination can often be used to make up a class, even an upper-level one.

The “One-Class Option”: World Languages

Students have diverse backgrounds and interesting lives. If you speak a language besides English you should consider earning credit for it. Many schools call this “credit for experience.” Testing companies often provide exams only for Western European languages. Still some institutions will provide as many as 18 credits for good scores. If your college does not provide a credit alternative for your language, but does for others, ask for a credit alternative to be crafted for you.

The “Get a Headstart” Option

Many students would like to enjoy the “college experience,” but may not want to spend their first semester taking required courses. “They’re not connected to my major,” many will say. Others would prefer to study the material on their own and save time and money. While there is certainly something to be said about leaving our comfort zones, testing out of a semester of introductory courses should always be a possibility to consider. Check the College’s policy with an administrative office—then ask around at different departments. They may offer their own exams, and they may not be publicized well.

The “Get a Headstart” Option: Advanced Placement

High school students have been trying to start college with as many credits as possible. Unfortunately, most high schools limit access to these programs by restricting the number of children who can enter, and then labeling them as “Advanced Placement Programs.” But the joke’s on them! The AP program comes with lots of homework, possible entry fees, an expensive final exam, and no guarantee that credit earned in these classes will be honored. Oddly enough, the same company that administers these tests, the College Board, also adminsters the CLEPs. As a quicker, easier, cheaper exam that is accepted for more credit in more institutions, what is not to love?

The “Transfer” Option

Many people often wish to attend college, but aren’t comfortable making the time and money commitment to go for four or even two years. By accumulating thirty, forty-five, or even sixty credits on their timeframe, potential students can transfer their credit into an instiution to finish the last half of a degree program. One of the best parts about this path is that this can demonstrate to grantmakers and scholarship funds that a student really is capable of college-level work and committed to success. The best way a student can do this is to work with a staff member at the instiution to create a program that works for everyone.

The “Transfer” Option: Supplement Your Diet

People sometimes trap themselves within a “this or that” or “all or nothing” framework. But those who have chosen to use credit-through-examination don’t have to do this. CTE is a tool to be used just as often in four-year colleges as two-year. If you are attending a two-year school, but are planning on transferring into a bachelor’s program, you can still work with your school to test out of credits before your transfer. Be smart, attend community college, save money, and supplement your diet.

The “Degree” Option

For some people, they do not have time, money or interest to attend college. Those with the resources often do so because without a degree it can be difficult to find meaningful work. Unfortunately, that means a lot of people wind up out of luck – and often in the military. But some colleges offer programs with no residency requirement, allowing you to combine credits from many different sources into your degree program. Testing completely out of a degree takes time and dedication, but it can save students tens of thousands of dollars, years of time and leave them with a sense of accomplishment.

To start this process, a student needs to research to find a school that is fully accredited, respected, and can offer support. The student must then work with the school to plan out a degree program in a chosen major.

These programs require nontraditional students to fulfill the same requirements as traditional ones. For example, a degree program at Excelsior college requires that all students majoring in history earn three credits in a US history course. This could then be fulfilled by a test-taker through the use of CLEP US History I.

The Types of Tests

CLEP: According to the College Board, “The College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) gives you the opportunity to receive college credit for what you already know by earning qualifying scores on any of 34 examinations.” As a super low-cost alternative to freshman and sophomore year classes, the CLEP is the most popular starting place for those seeking credit-through-examination.

DSST: Slightly more expensive than the CLEP, the DSST exams are still an affordable alternative to college courses. Many of these exams are also accepted by the American Council on Education as appropriate substitutes for upper-level exams.

ECE: Excelsior College has a long and successful history working with nontraditional students throughout the country. The college also provides over forty exams which are accepted by more than 2,000 colleges nationwide. The ECEs are administered at Prometric testing centers.

TECEP: Similar to Excelsior College, Thomas Edison State provides its own examination program consisting of over fifty rigorous exams on a variety of subjects.

GRE Subject Exams: The GRE subject exams cover only a handful of topics and are meant to test students preparing to enter graduate school. However, some schools also use the scores to test knowledge gained outside of the classroom. An 80% on a GRE subject exam can net you as many 30 credits at select schools across the country.


Excelsior College ( “Excelsior is among the top ranked colleges for transfer students.” It is also a top choice for students over 25 and members of the military. The college offers a variety of progrmas with a flexible, professional staff.

Thomas Edison State ( “Thomas Edison State College has a national reputation for academic excellence and educational integrity. The College is one of New Jersey’s 12 senior public institutions of higher education and one of the first schools in the country designed specifically for adults. The College provides flexible, high-quality, collegiate learning opportunities for self-directed adults and offers degree programs and certificates in more than 100 areas of study.”

Charter Oak ( “Charter Oak is a distance learning college established in 1973 to assist adult learners in completing their college degree. Due to student demand, in 1998, the College began offering courses online.”


Minnesota: In 2008, the Minnesota school board passed legislation to provide funding for any Minnesota high school student to take up to six approved CLEP exams. Look for more programs like this in the future and check out the Minnesota School Board’s statewide policy on CLEP:

The Free University Project ( The Free University Project is a great resource for CLEP and DSST test-takers. It provides lessons, videos and study guides for the exams for free.

InstantCert ( InstantCert is a subscription service providing targeted study aids to test takers for an assortment of examinations. The InstantCert community alone is worth the price, with hundreds of members coming together to share their credit-through-examination experiences.

Testing Out of College ( This website is a great resource which walks students through the process of testing completely out of an associate’s or bachelor’s degree via credit-through-examination.


I created this resource to show others credit alternatives which they may not be familiar with. My knowledge of these options comes from my own experience. It has taken two years and less than four thousand dollars to complete an entire BA in history program. For more information or assistance, please contact me at

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