Excerpt from College Success Without Losing Your Mind: A Guide For Single Mothers
As a single parent going back to college, your time is valuable. You may have mastered certain subjects through life experience, hobbies, on-the-job training, or a previous college degree. If that’s the case, it makes no sense to spend valuable dollars repeating those subjects in college. Since college is expensive and requires a good chunk of time, it is wise to explore ways to save time and money. Completing your college degree ahead of schedule will help you meet this goal.
Prior to enrolling in college, I found out about the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) offered by College Board. The first thing I did was to check the CLEP policy of the college I wanted to attend. I discovered I could test out of six of the ten prerequisite courses required for admission to the nursing program. This was music to my ears since I not only could save time, I could save thousands of dollars too.
Taking and passing a CLEP test is a cost-efficient and time-saving alternative for any person considering going back to college – particularly single moms with limited resources. A student who successfully takes CLEP exams can receive credit hours from a college that accepts CLEP test scores. These credit transfer hours can add up, possibly reducing the number of semesters you may need to complete your college degree. The fewer semesters you need to get a degree, the less your overall cost of college. That leaves you with more time and money to pursue your other goals.
This is one reason it is so critical to do a lot of research before making any decision. You’d be amazed how much free information you can find if you spend some time doing research.
The information I gathered through research helped me create my college success plan which included the courses I could successfully test out of.
When I had the first meeting with the college’s nursing program adviser, I was confident that I had a good plan. I outlined my plan and informed the program adviser that I planned to test out of six prerequisite courses. The adviser was quite impressed that I had done my homework and knew the path I wanted to take to achieve my goal. It was probably the shortest advising session she ever had.
I took and passed seven CLEP exams, and earned twenty-four college credits. I am convinced that taking and passing six CLEP exams in two weeks was part of the reason I was admitted into the nursing program on my first attempt.
The first CLEP test I passed was the biology exam. When I took the test, I was enrolled in introductory algebra which was a prerequisite for intermediate algebra. After that, I had to complete intermediate algebra before I could enroll in the general biology class which was a prerequisite class for human anatomy and physiology 1. If I had followed the sequence of courses, it would have taken me three semesters before I could enroll in the human anatomy class.
By taking the Biology exam, I eliminated intermediate algebra and general biology, and saved two semesters worth of time, tuition, and living expenses.
No wonder some people look at me in disbelief when I tell them it took me only three years to complete the prerequisite courses and nursing program. Some assume I’m a Licensed Practical Nurse when I tell them how long it took me to become a nurse. Each year, many students waste a lot of time taking unnecessary classes because they are ignorant about the credit by examination program.
What to know before taking a CLEP exam
Before taking a test, make sure you know the passing score your college requires. I passed the biology exam with a score of 50 which was the score required by my college to receive credit for the course. I was fortunate since you had to wait six months to repeat an exam if you were unsuccessful (wait time is now three months). That’s probably the only negative thing about the CLEP exam. It would be nice if you could repeat the test after a few more weeks of preparation.
A love affair begins
Taking and passing the CLEP biology exam was the beginning of my love affair with College Board and CLEP. Passing the biology exam (yes, by the skin of my teeth) allowed me to enroll in the human anatomy class in the summer of 2009. It was an intensive six-week class. I attended college four days a week for about 5 or 6 hours a day. I was 8 months pregnant at the time, and felt like it.
My plan was to complete all the prerequisite courses except human anatomy 2 and microbiology before the nursing admission deadline in September 2009. The nursing program allowed students to apply for admission while still enrolled in microbiology and human anatomy 2. Many nursing programs don’t allow students to apply for admission until they have completed all the prerequisite courses.
You can find out about CLEP from the College Board website. To know which test a particular college accepts, you can search on the College Board’s website or the website of the college you’re planning to attend. Also, it is a good idea to speak with the college staff at the testing center to obtain the most up-to-date information.
I probably sound like an advertisement for CLEP and I wish I was being compensated. However, I’m happy to do it for free because CLEP helped me achieve my dream, and I am just putting it out there for those who don’t know about the program.
I was shocked when I discovered a lot of my classmates didn’t know about CLEP. Since so many people don’t know about CLEP, I am very quick to recommend CLEP to people that are looking for a way to complete their education quickly. My experience with CLEP taught me that the harder you work, the luckier you become.
As with the biology exam, the general math exam was another great escape since I passed the test with a score of 51. However, I did really well on the sociology and psychology tests. I took the psychology and human growth and development exams on the same day. Can you imagine taking two-semester worth of course work in one day? Since Introductory Psychology is a prerequisite for human growth and development, it would have taken me two semesters to complete both courses. Ditto for English 101 (English composition) and English 102 (freshman composition).
That’s the favorite part of CLEP. You don’t need to sit in a class listening to material you already know. You can receive credit for the class provided you can demonstrate the knowledge that is required.
Note that College Board no longer offers the college composition exam.
When I took these exams in 2009, the fee was $70.00 per exam. I also paid an additional $25.00 to the college for administering the test. The tests are computer based.
Taking the tests worked out cheaper than paying college tuition. The biggest gain was the amount of time I saved. By reducing the number of semesters I spent in college, I was able to re-enter the workforce as quickly as possible. I also saved a ton on living expenses and daycare costs.
Another way to save time and money is via distance education or online classes. If you are disciplined and can study independently, this may be worth exploring. You can complete general education courses online before enrolling in a brick and mortar college. This option may also be cheaper for you.
The key here is to be creative and open to different ideas and possibilities.
Before you fall in love with CLEP
Before taking any CLEP exam, make sure the college you plan to attend will award college credit for the test. For example, the college I attended did not award credit for the CLEP general chemistry exam. It should be noted that most colleges don’t accept CLEP test scores prior to enrolling in the college.
If you plan to transfer to a four-year college, be sure to check out the college’s CLEP policy to ascertain if they award credit for prior learning. You don’t want to spend money taking a ton of courses and then finding out you have to take those classes all over again. I was fortunate the four-year college I chose to further my education awards credit for most CLEP tests.
Taking and passing CLEP tests requires you to be disciplined and independent. I found the CLEP test guides published by Research and Education Association (REA) to be very useful. I also did some additional study to fill in some gaps.
Many colleges won’t tell you about CLEP, and testing out of courses because it’s in their interest for you to take the college courses. That’s why you need to do your own research and get all the information you need.
I have given you a lot to think about and some suggestions on ways you can reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a college degree. The next move is yours.
If you’d like more tips and strategies to help you succeed in college, check out my book College Success Without Losing Your Mind: A Guide For Single Mothers.
Now that you know everything about CLEP, do you have any specific questions? Have you taken CLEP tests in the past? Did it help you graduate faster? Are you planning to take any CLEP test? Please leave a comment below and share your experience.
CLEP Official Study Guide 2016 (affiliate link)
CLEP® Introductory Psychology Book Online (CLEP Test Preparation) (affiliate link)
CLEP® Introductory Sociology Book Online (CLEP Test Preparation) (affiliate link)
CLEP® Human Growth & Development Book Online (CLEP Test Preparation) (affiliate link)
CLEP® Biology Book Online (CLEP Test Preparation) (affiliate link)