Testing Out of College Courses for Credit By Exam

By Joy Cromwelle
Edited by Briana Sukert
Updated on July 4, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
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If you are excited to take the first step in earning a college degree, but now you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of courses and high tuition bills associated with going back to school, this is the page you need to be on!

Testing Out of College Courses with Credit By Exam

There’s no doubt that college can be both costly and time consuming, but what if you had a way to earn college credit towards your degree without ever setting foot in a classroom?

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It may sound too good to be true, but credit by examination is one of the best kept secrets of the higher education world! By taking specific exams on the same topics covered by your entry-level or intermediate college courses, you may be able to earn credit, save money, and knock a semester or more off your degree program!

Read on to learn more about what credit by examination actually is, and how you can take this opportunity and use it to accelerate your degree program.

What is Credit by Examination?

In its simplest form, credit by examination is the process of taking subject-specific tests in an attempt to earn college credit for courses within your degree program. Typically, these tests can be used to gain credit for entry-level or general education classes, although each school has its own policies for how many credits they will accept through this method—generally ranging from 15-30 credit hours.

I know it can be intimidating to take a test for a class that you haven’t actually taken, but it is not as bad as you think! These exams cover a general overview of the subject in question, and the various exam programs also offer optional study guides and resources to help you prepare. Not to mention, if you have work or life experience that relates to the subject, you may already have a solid head-start in prepping for the exam.

There are several different nationwide exams available to earn credit for college, but not every school accepts all the tests—so make sure you do your research on your school’s specific policies! With fees that are typically less than $100, passing an exam for college credit has a huge potential to save you a lot of money (and time!) when pursuing your degree.

What Type of Credit by Exam Options are Available?

There are a lot of options for earning credit by examination, and it can seem overwhelming at first glance. To help you get a handle on what’s available and how to move forward with jumpstarting your college degree, I’ll go over a few of the most widely accepted examinations, AP options, and university exams out there—so let’s get started!

College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

College Level Examination Program

If your college or university accepts credit by examination, chances are that they accept the College Level Examination Program, commonly known as CLEP. This exam is accepted at over 2,900 schools across the nation, and it’s basically the gold-standard for credit by examination. All of their tests are also reviewed and accepted by ACE Credit, which is the organization that determines the general standards for how schools handle credit for prior learning.

Here are some quick facts about the CLEP to get you started:

  • They offer 33 different tests that cover a broad range of college-level subjects
  • The testing fee is $89—although the testing center may require an additional fee
  • Study guides and e-guides are available for purchase to help prepare you for the test
  • There are hundreds of different testing sites across the U.S. for these exams

The CLEP exam fee is non-refundable if you fail to show up to the test or you don’t pass the exam. So make sure that you are prepared beforehand! Regardless, each test can earn you up to three credit hours towards your degree, so this option is definitely worth exploring.

DSST Credit

Like the CLEP, DSST is another program that allows students to take exams in order to earn credit for their higher education. Although it is not as widely accepted as the CLEP, there are certain benefits to taking this test, including:

  • Over 1,900 colleges and universities accept credit from DSST tests
  • Over 30 exams in various topics are offered
  • Each test covers 100 questions and must be completed in two hours
  • First-attempt exams are fully-funded for veterans and military members!

The DSST costs $85. However, study guides and testing center fees may add to the overall cost for your exam.

Excelsior College Exams (ECE)

Excelsior College Exams, also known as ECE or UExcel exams, is a less popular form of credit by examination—although that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth exploring! Not as many colleges in the U.S. accept this type of exam, so be sure to check with your school about their policies before registering for a test.

On the plus side, ECE covers a wider variety of subjects than the DSST or CLEP, with over 50 different tests available to take for college credit. The cost is a bit higher, however, and each exam will run you around $195 plus testing center fees and study guides. Luckily, there are options for payment plans and financial aid to help you balance the costs of taking these tests.

University Challenge Exams

University Challenge Exams

CLEP, DSST, and ECE may be the most widely available programs for earning credit by examination, but your specific college may have options available for you as well! University Challenge Exams, or Institutional Exams, are offered by some schools as a way for students to gain credit or advanced standing in their degree program.

This type of exam takes the form of a final test that would be given to students enrolled in the course, and if you pass the test, you will be exempt from having to complete that class for your degree program. And yes, there are fees associated with these exams, but they are typically substantially less expensive than paying for the tuition and books for the full course—not to mention the time you will save by not having to attend the class!

Advanced Placement (AP)

Although not “technically” the same as other credit by examination options, Advanced Placement in a degree program serves the same purpose of helping you save time and money on your college education. Essentially, AP credit can be earned by passing an examination with a required score. Once you’ve passed the AP test, your school may do one of three things:

  • Offer you advanced standing in your degree program (without credit earned)
  • Award credit hours towards your degree
  • Provide you with both advanced standing and college credit

Policies on how to handle AP credit vary significantly by school, so it helps to sit down with your advisement team to understand the best way for you to move forward with this option. It’s also important to note that AP credit can possibly be earned even as a high school student—so it’s a great option to look into if you’re just starting to research the direction you want to go for college!

Thomas Edison Credit by Exam Program (TECEP)

Thomas Edison State University is an accredited school that offers their own credit by examination program known as the TECEP. These exams are accepted at a variety of colleges and universities throughout the country, but they can also be used towards your degree program through Thomas Edison.

This college is known for its flexibility in allowing students to transfer a high number of credits into their degree programs, and this makes the school a great option for many adult students that want to earn a degree quickly and affordably.

The TECEP exams are scored on a credit/no credit basis, and the minimum score to pass is equivalent to earning a “C” letter grade. There is also a nice variety of testing subjects available through this program, and many of them are geared towards allowing you to test out of standard general education requirements.

How Do I Get Started with Earning Credit by Examination?

Earning college Credit by Examination

So there you have it—the most widely accepted ways that you can test out of college courses and get on the fast-track to earning your degree and saving money on your education! Now that you know a bit more about the different options available, you’re probably asking yourself, now what?

The first step in getting a jump start on your degree program by testing out classes is finding out exactly what exams are accepted by your school and which subjects you feel confident in based upon your prior life and educational experience. From there, it’s just a matter of registering for the exam and giving it your best shot!

There’s no doubt that going back to school as an adult can be a challenge, but if you are able to translate your life and work experience into college credit by examination, the process could be a lot simpler (and less expensive) than you imagined!

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Joy Cromwelle is pursuing a doctorate in public policy and foreign policy at Liberty University. She holds an MBA in Strategic Management from Amberton University and a bachelor's degree in business administration from Columbia College.