Get Your College Degree

by D. Rickerd

Wish you could return to college but think it's an impossible dream? With the arrival of distance education and increasing flexibility, there are now many more options available to students. These include testing out through examination and advanced placement, getting credit for military, corporate, or professional training, and receiving credit for life experience through portfolio assessment. These options generally cost less than a traditional classroom education and can help save time and money toward a college degree.

Skip Class

For instance, did you know that you can "skip" many core courses and receive credit for them through college credit examinations and advanced placement? College credit examinations are widely accepted by colleges and universities. By passing these examinations, individuals can earn one-third or more of the credits required for a degree. These examinations are available in more than 150 subject areas and are similar to final examinations given by colleges and universities. The American Council on Education (ACE) recommends college credit for all of the following credit-by-examination programs:

College Board Advanced Placement Examinations

These exams are specifically for students who wish to earn college credit in preparation for college entrance. Exams in thirteen subject areas are offered. According to the College Board, almost one-fifth of students entering four-year colleges are eligible for credit through Advanced Placement.

CLEP College Credit by Examination

The CLEP is the most widely accepted credit-by-examination program in the United States today. More than 2,800 colleges and universities award credit for satisfactory scores on CLEP exams and these tests are inexpensive. CLEP exams are divided into two categories: General Examinations and Subject Examinations.

CLEP General Examinations

Students can attain as many as 30 semester hours of college credit by successfully passing these examinations. The exams test the five basic areas of general education: English Composition, Humanities, Mathematics, the Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences and History.

CLEP Subject Examinations

CLEP Subject Examinations measure knowledge of basic concepts, principles, relationships, and applications involved in college courses. The American Council on Education recommends 3 semester hours of credit for most of the CLEP Subject Examinations, with some recommended for 6 or even 12 semester hours, depending on the institution's credit policy. There are more than 29 tests, including College Algebra, American Government, Literature, Psychology, and the Social Sciences.

DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSSTs)

The DSST program is an extensive series of examinations in college and technical subjects that are comparable to the final examinations in undergraduate courses. DANTES is used by colleges and universities to award credit to students who can demonstrate knowledge of subjects commonly taught in introductory college courses. DANTES is especially useful for active and reserve military personnel.

The Proficiency Examination Program (PEP)

PEP exams can help you earn undergraduate credit and graduate credit. These exams are more expensive than the CLEP, but still offer significant savings. The Regents College PEP Proficiency Exam Program series includes 36 tests for credit. These examinations are administered in New York State and outside the United States by Regents College as Regents College Examinations. Elsewhere in the United States they are administered by Sylvan Learning Centers. The Proficiency Exam Program covers 43 subject areas and includes areas in the arts, business, education, nursing, and the sciences. Each exam is based on a course outline that is available in the PEP study guide for that subject. Information on the PEP can also be obtained from The American College Testing Program.

In addition, many colleges and universities have credit-by-examination programs through which students earn college credit. The most well known are through Ohio University, Regents College, Thomas Edison State College, Charter Oak College and the University of North Carolina. For additional information on gaining credit through examination, see the ACE Guide to Educational Credit by Examination.

Credit for Corporate, Military, or Professional Training

You can also receive credit for corporate, military, or professional training. The American Council on Education has two programs that assist in translating professional and career training courses or examinations into college credit. One such program is PONSI (The National Program on Non-collegiate Sponsored Instruction). PONSI serves to evaluate formal educational programs sponsored by professional and voluntary organizations, labor unions, the government, hospitals, business and industry. The PONSI college credit recommendations are listed in The National Guide to Education Credit for Training Programs. The ACE Military Evaluations Program evaluates courses provided through the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Department of Defense, Navy, and the Marines, and are detailed in The Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Forces. Many colleges and universities award credit for corporate and military training according to the ACE recommendations.

Course Challenging

Another method to obtain college credit is course challenging. Many universities have their own institutional testing procedures, or ways to challenge a course. Students can obtain a list of classes open to challenge from the admissions or testing center of the college they are attending or plan to attend. If they take the test and pass, they will earn units without having to take the class. Be aware, however, that these are not standardized tests and are based on lecture content and textbooks used for a specific course. That is why it is important to talk to the instructor before taking a challenge exam and to study the course syllabus and other materials.

Credit for Life Experience

Additionally, if you have gained competency in an area through life experiencem you may be able to earn college credit through a life experience portfolio. However, preparing life experience portfolios can be time consuming and it is not a quick solution. Reports must be submitted for each course the student seeks credit for, including supporting documentation for learned proficiencies. Approximately 15-18 units can be earned through a portfolio. Some colleges offer courses that provide the student with direction for developing a portfolio; others may have advisors available. An individual portfolio may include:

Professional Licenses and Certification. Licensure for profession or field of employment. Examples include insurance, real estate, and pilot's licenses.

Coursework Transcripts. Credit may be awarded for coursework completed from business or technical schools, and some unaccredited institutions.

Credit for Experiential Learning. This classification comprises non-classroom learning: i.e., personal and professional life experience. Examples include business experience, family life, music or sports-related activities.

Competency credit. Credit is awarded for out of the classroom learning demonstrated through the creation of a tangible product: i.e., article or book publication or computer software development.

Maximize Your Credits

If you have a lot of credits from different sources, credit banking can maximize your experience and credits. Credit banking is an evaluation and transcript service for those who need to consolidate academic records. The Credit Bank issues one transcript in which all credit is summarized in a comprehensive form. The Credit Bank will accept seven kinds of deposits, including credits from local courses, Correspondence or distance courses, equivalency exams, non-college learning experiences, company courses and in-house training. Some universities that provide portfolio assessment and credit banking services are Charter Oak, Regents College, and Ohio University.

You owe it to yourself to check out the opportunities for getting that degree you always wanted but could never find the time or money to attain. It just might change your life!

For information on obtaining financial aid, scholarships, and locating the right degree program for you, visit Back to College at .

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