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Earning Credit Through CLEP or DSST

If I had a nickel for every time I've heard a student say, "I just want to be finished as quickly as possible!" well, I'd have a pocket full of nickels. Many nontraditional students have attended more than one school before they earn degrees. Often, it can feel as if it's taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r for you to finish. 

For the most part, there isn't much students can do to hasten their degree completion. No matter what, you need to have a minimum number of total credit hours, upper level credit, general education, major core courses and major elective courses to earn a bachelor's degree. The requirements are fewer for an associate degree, but you still need to meet them. 

Maybe you've heard someone say, "I'm taking a CLEP," but you didn't have a chance to ask what they were talking about, or they just answered, "It's a test," leaving you in the dark. There are several alternative ways of earning college credit other than going to classes, but they aren't for everyone. 

Some students have a real estate or pilot's license and are awarded credit for those credentials. That's not true for most students, but anyone is eligible to take a standardized exam to potentially earn college credit for knowledge in a particular subject area. Two of the most common types of exams for credit that are available at Columbia College are the CLEP and DSST. 

Before you start thinking, "I'll take as many exams as I can so I don't need to take as many courses," you need to know that these exams are designed for students who have prior knowledge or experience in a particular field. Think of them as a final exam for a college course. Also, you're going to pay a little over $100 to cover the exam fee, registration fee and study materials whether you earn a credit-worthy score or not, and you don't want to throw money away, do you?

You can't just waltz into the testing center, take an exam and earn college credit any more than you could walk into a class you aren't enrolled in the night of the final and expect to earn a perfect score. Even if you do have a background in one of the subject areas, very few people are able to earn a high enough score to earn credit without considerable preparation. Exams are available in business, history foreign languages, math science, psychology and more. 

What are the steps to successfully earning credit from a CLEP or DSST exam?

  1. Take a look at the lists of exams and the subject areas listed on the Testing Services webpages. If you see something you know a lot about, or have work experience in, it could be worth taking a closer look. Take note of the credit equivalency for an exam to be sure it doesn't duplicate credit you've already earned. If you're unsure, check with your academic advisor. 
  2. Follow the links to the CollegeBoard website, the organization that creates CLEP exams and to the "Get College Credit" website for DSST exams.
  3. Look at sample questions or a practice exam to get an idea of whether it's something you think you could study for and potentially earn credit for by taking an exam. 
  4. Once you've decided which exam you'd like to take, order a study guide, print out the Exam Fact Sheet or find study materials in the library. 
  5. Study, study, study, prepare, prepare, prepare before you sign up to take an exam! You want to be well-prepared in order to achieve a successful score for earning college credit. Students frequently prepare for exams between course sessions or anytime they are not enrolled in classes. 

If you are thinking about taking a CLEP and DSST exam and you have questions or need more information, be sure to talk to your academic advisor. Good luck!

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