Challenge exams have been developed to test what older students already know about college-level subjects ranging from accounting to foreign languages to nursing. For a modest fee, anyone can take these exams at local testing sites. Most exams are multiple choice, feature an average of one hundred questions, and can be completed in an hour or less.
College Level Exam Program (CLEP)
CLEP, the College Level Exam Program, is the most widely accepted "life experience" challenge exam program. More than 2,900 accredited colleges, both residential schools and online schools, accept CLEP test results for undergraduate degree credit. The CLEP program features 33 single-subject college exams and five general exams.
Single-subject exams cover material that is covered in a single college course. For example, the College Algebra CLEP covers the material commonly taught during an introductory course in college algebra.
The cost for each CLEP is $80—a fraction of the cost of tuition for a single college course.
The five general CLEP exams cover freshman-level knowledge in English composition, humanities, college mathematics, natural sciences and social sciences. If all five general exams are passed, up to 30 college credits may be awarded—the equivalent of an entire year of college.
For more information about CLEP exams, contact: The College Board, 800-257-9558.
DSST Standardized Subject Tests
DSST originally began as DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-traditional Educational Support). Now DSST, which stands for DANTES Subject Standardized Tests, offers tests available to the public. Thirty-eight subject-specific exams cover business, social science, humanities, math and the physical sciences. Cost: $80 per exam.
Contact: DSST Program Office, 877-471-9860.
Excelsior College Credit By Exam
Excelsior is New York State’s adult education and distance learning college. Most who register for these credit-by-exam offerings are also working toward a distance undergraduate degree with Excelsior, but other colleges also accept these tests. Choose from nearly 50 exams in the arts and sciences, business, nursing and education.
The cost is $95 for Excelsior College Examinations (ECEs), with nursing exams ringing in around $305 to $330. The school also offers eight UExcel Exams (in partnership with Pearson VUE), which are three- to six-credit by exams for lower-level subjects.
Contact: Excelsior College, 888-647-2388.
Some people express themselves better in written form, via papers and essays, than they do on multiple-choice tests. If this sounds like you, consider earning credits for experience by putting together a written academic portfolio.
You might be a good candidate for life experience or work experience college credits through the academic portfolio process if:
Colleges that accept portfolios for review often require learners to enroll in a course to learn how to put together an academic portfolio.
Learners in the distance learning program at Ohio University, for example, must complete the Life and Career Experiences Analysis course to learn how to compile a portfolio. The homework for this course involves working with an advisor to identify and document college-level knowledge for degree credit.
Corporations spend more time, money and effort teaching adults than do all the colleges in America combined. Many large corporations operate their own “corporate universities,” which specialize in teaching employees everything from technical management to C++ programming.
Non-collegiate training programs can often be converted to life experience credit through a portfolio process. But many large corporations, such as AT&T, have subjected their training courses to a special review process sponsored by the American Council on Education's Program on Non-Collegiate Sponsored Instruction (ACE/PONSI), known today as the CREDIT program.
CREDIT is a program that allows non-college educators, such as AT&T, to have their in-house training courses reviewed by college assessors. These assessors review course content, textbooks and classroom procedures. If they find that individual courses are "college level," they recommend that a certain number of college credits be routinely awarded for successful course completion.
About half of all regionally accredited colleges accept ACE recommendations for degree credit. The other half may not accept them, or may severely restrict the number and kinds of ACE credits they will accept in transfer.
Check for training courses offered by your employer that may be pre-approved for college credit at ACE’s free National Guide to College Credit for Workforce Training.
The American Council on Education (ACE) has also reviewed professional certifications offered by non-collegiate agencies and made credit award recommendations for work experience in its free National Guide to College Credit for Workforce Training.
A few of these credentials are highlighted below:
In addition to ACE-approved professional designations, online colleges often accept nationally recognized or state licenses. Aviation licenses, real estate licenses and professional health certifications, such as nursing diploma training, are all commonly accepted for college degree credits.
If you've been in the military in the last decade, you probably have ACE (American Council on Education) military credits that can be applied toward a college degree. Did you know that boot camp or basic training alone is worth several free elective college credits in first aid, personal hygiene, physical education and marksmanship?
ACE publishes a whopping four-volume set on how military training and occupational specialties translate into university degree credits through the ACE process. The Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services can be accessed free online.
The guide contains ACE college credit recommendations for all formal courses and occupational specialties offered by the services.
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