Test smart to save time and money

Published 7:58 pm Monday, July 6, 2015

By Elizabeth Harris

Student loan debt is now second only to mortgage debt and has surpassed auto loan debt. It is almost a daily topic of conversation in the media and among friends and colleagues.

Students are beginning to wise up that college is ultimately a business decision, not purely a social one. While Olympic-style gyms, expansive food courts and athletic programs may help provide the ultimate “college experience,” most students enticed by these things will pay off the student loans that paid for them for many years to come.

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But there is also an alternate path to earning college credits at an extremely modest cost for motivated students willing to put in some extra effort and add to their high school knowledge. Adults returning to college should also be advised that they can shorten their time for earning a college degree.

CLEP and DSST exams are accepted by 48 colleges in Virginia and 2,900 colleges nationwide. CLEP (College Level Examination Program) tests are devised by the College Board, the same organization that creates the Advanced Placement exams. They are available in 33 subjects that fulfill many general education requirements.

A passing score on most exams results in three to six college credits for just over $100 per exam. The higher score on a foreign language exam can even result in 12 credits — almost an entire college semester from one exam — at some universities.

The cost of an exam is less than the cost of one college textbook. The exams, taken on the computer, may be taken at local open testing centers by anyone from the general public. TCC campuses and Strayer University both have open testing centers.

Upon completion of all CLEP tests, the student can then forward the scores to a selected university for evaluation for college credit. A student taking one of these exams will receive a printout with the score immediately upon completion of the exam.

Many Virginia colleges offer college credit for scores on select CLEP and DSST exams including Old Dominion, Virginia Tech, George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth University, Longwood, Radford, Regent, Liberty, Virginia Wesleyan and all community colleges. It is important that students verify whether or not the college of choice will accept CLEP scores for credit before taking a particular exam and what the minimum score required would be.

A student who fails a CLEP exam can re-take the exam six months later. Excellent prep books are available at any bookstore or on Amazon, and web sites such as www.instantcert.com and www.finishcollegefast.com also provide practice materials.

Motivated students with limited resources should consider colleges that award credit for CLEP and DSST exams. A few hours of study can result not only in time saved in earning a college degree, but lower student loan debt, which is the albatross around so many graduates’ necks during the decades they have other major financial goals.

Students who earn CLEP and DSST credit can also open up their schedules for other opportunities, such as studying abroad or completing an internship and still finishing college in four years or fewer. Motivated students can easily complete a year of college credits through CLEP exams and finish a two-year degree at a community college in a single year before transferring to a four-year university.

Is that undergraduate degree from a “dream school” really worth thousands of dollars of student loan debt? The really smart student will answer that question with a resounding “No!” and seek other avenues to make earning a college degree more affordable.

Elizabeth Harris is the social studies department chair at Grassfield High School and is on the adjunct faculty in Tidewater Community College’s history and humanities department. Email her at eharris44@gmail.com.