Let’s face it. College is expensive, and prices seem to endlessly go up. Proactive parents and students who come up with a good college funding strategy tend to do better than those who are reactive or just follow the herd to possibly crippling student loan debt.
One of the solutions to the college problem I’ve discussed before is graduating in three years. For today’s post, I want to zoom in on a specific part of the three-year graduation plan: The CLEP Test.
Planning on graduating in the standard four years? Read on! This post is still for you.
What are CLEP Tests?
The College Level Examination Program through collegeboard.org allows you to take an exam and possibly test out of an equivalent course at the university and receive all the credits. Sounds too good to be true, right? It just takes a little research on the front end.
Though CLEP tests are not exactly new, their value might be higher than ever before. And you can use them to save a ton of money and create flexibility even if you are not planning to accelerate your graduation timeframe.
These tests fly under a lot of people’s radar in the college prep process. They were initially created to help military members and adult students who needed flexibility in their education, but high school and college students can take them as well.
AP Exams vs CLEP Tests
The CLEP Test is overshadowed by the AP Exam which is heavily promoted in public and private high schools.
A high school student will often be guided by a teacher and aided in preparing for an AP Exam. With the CLEP test, the student will need to study entirely on his/her own time. Since they are offered year-round, however, the student has much more flexibility with test prep and timing. Even better, your student may already KNOW the material that is covered on the CLEP Test and not have to do any extra studying!
One other major benefit of CLEP Tests: you can still take them after high school!
How Do You Utilize CLEP Tests?
Let’s look at my own back yard here in Tampa, Florida. We have The University of South Florida, a public state school, and The University of Tampa, a private school.
According to their website, The University of South Florida accepts around thirty different CLEP examinations in place of one of their traditional courses and even has a testing service on campus for the exams. There is an $89 fee for the CLEP exam and a $33.50 proctoring fee at USF.
The cost per credit at USF if you took the traditional class (and are a Florida resident) is $211.19 at the time of this writing (assuming no financial aid). So, for a standard three-credit class, you can save a little over $500 and a whole lot of time taking a CLEP test at USF.
Let’s move over to our local private school, The University of Tampa. Their website says, “up to 30 semester hours for successful performance on CLEP examinations may be granted.” The cost for 3 credit hours at UT is currently $1,839 (again assuming no financial aid). That is over $1,700 worth of savings.
CLEP Test Scoring
The grading system for each exam can be rather confusing, especially since the structure of each test is different. For example, the American literature exam is approximately 100 questions over 90 minutes. The Calculus exam has 44 questions in 90 minutes.
For scoring, there is a two-step process. First, there’s a “raw score.” This is the number of questions that the student answered correctly. The raw score increases by one point for each correct answer. This score is then converted into a “scaled score” which ranges from 20-80.
The final scaled score is the official score the student receives. The recommended passing score by the American Council of Education is 50; most schools adhere to this standard, though some may vary. The University of South Florida and The University of Tampa seem to agree that 50 is a passing score.
Do Your Research!
Of course, these are just two schools. It is imperative to comb through each schools’ website to determine what their policy is regarding CLEP Tests.
Policies can vary wildly depending on school: some do not recognize CLEP Tests at all, some will allow you to test out of courses but you won’t earn credits, some have a maximum allowance of credits you can earn, etc. etc.
Final Thoughts: Many parents and students overlook the CLEP Test. It is an extremely underrated tool within a comprehensive college funding strategy. Taking these exams may grant you time and flexibility while cutting your college costs. That’s the best of both worlds! Imagine giving yourself the ability to explore new areas of study or accelerate through major programs (maybe even double major or graduate in three years) without those pesky pre-requisite courses dragging you down.
COVID Disclaimer: Make sure to contact your local CLEP testing centers to see 1) if they are open and 2) if they have made any changes due to the pandemic so that you are prepared on test day!
We encourage parents to learn about all the ways to drive the cost of college down. Hopefully, The College Funding Coach will be back in school gyms and auditoriums teaching parents how to efficiently pay for college without going broke or sacrificing their retirement. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more, we have moved the in-person workshops to online webinars which cover a wide array of college topics.
You can also speak with an advisor here to get started on your college funding journey.