Testing Out: How to “Moneyball” Your Way to a Debt-Free College Degree

by A Manly Guest Contributor on January 14, 2014 · 167 comments

in Money & Career

Victoria University students in their rooms

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jay Cross.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up with the ancient “college savings tips” so-called experts keep force-feeding us:

  • “Fill out the FAFSA before senior year to maximize aid eligibility!”
  • “Buy used textbooks, you’ll save hundreds!”
  • “Apply for scholarships. Try FastWeb.com!”

If you follow this advice, you will be thoroughly and totally prepared for college…in 1995. (You know, just in case that year ever comes back.) But in 2013, these strategies will get you slaughtered by the “Student Loan Industrial Complex.”

The Stark Truth About Yesterday’s College Tips

  • Many students don’t fill out the FAFSA at all, nevermind early. I didn’t. It’s long, tedious, and confusing. Even if you do, the skyrocketing cost of college makes student loans a “lose/lose” proposition. Either you don’t qualify (in which case you can’t get aid) or you do qualify (in which case you probably shouldn’t take it.) Today’s loans are causing some graduates to commit ACTUAL suicide after committing financial suicide.
  • Textbooks, while 812% pricier than 30 years ago, are a tiny portion of your total college costs. Every penny helps…but buying used books doesn’t pay for college any more than clipping coupons pays for a mansion.
  • Most people who apply for scholarships get nothing. It’s a near-universal waste of time.

Continuing to preach this outdated advice is worse than useless: it’s condescending. It actually patronizes how challenging it is to finance your education. Today’s students don’t need the marginal cost reducers of the past. They need to completely rethink their strategy and beat colleges at their own game.

In this post, I am going to share an uncommon approach that can help you graduate faster, avoid student debt, and jump into the job market with both feet beneath you.

Testing Out: The Best Kept Secret in Higher Education

Let’s say you’re just starting college and you need to earn all of those major-independent “general education” credits (i.e., English 101) that every student takes.

What do you do?

Option #1: Take a standard English course. You know what that means: classes, homework, tests, quizzes, projects, group assignments…ugh. 95% of students assume this is their only option.

Time: 4 months

Cost: $3,000+

Option #2: Take CLEP tests instead. These multiple-choice exams cover a full semester of material…and if you pass, you get the same credits you would have spent months in a classroom for.

Time: 2-3 hours

Cost: $80

CLEP offers 33 exams in five subject areas, is accepted for credit by 2,900 colleges and universities, and is proctored in over 1,800 test centers nationwide. Developed by College Board — the same organization behind AP courses and the SAT — CLEP measures your knowledge regardless of how you obtained it: independent study, internships, and work experience included.

CLEP is the most popular exam option, but not the only. Other formats include DSST, Excelsior/UExcel, and Thomas Edison State College (TECEP) exams. Every school decides for itself which tests to offer and how much of your degree you can test out of. At some schools, it’s 30 credits. At others, it might be 45. Still others, 60 or 90 or even the full 120 credits of a bachelor’s degree.

Regardless of the exact number of exam credits your school lets you earn, the savings potential is massive. And you don’t need to pray for scholarships or nebulous “aid” to get it. Testing out is completely within your locus of control: you just need to plan, prioritize and study like a gentleman scholar.

Even if your school only allows 30 exam credits, that’s still a quarter of your degree. You will save nearly $30,000 and graduate faster by not earning those credits in the classroom. I completed the final 30 credits of my degree via test-out and was the only person I know to graduate 100% debt-free. (Here’s my story, if you’re interested.)

Some people have heard of testing out, but most haven’t. Schools don’t shout from the rooftops about their test-out allowances. Why would they? Higher education is a business: the longer they can “keep you in the store” with costly courses, the more money they make. But this information is buried in your academic handbook under “alternative credit policies” or “transfer credit allowances.” Look for it.

Sadly, even students who have heard of testing out tend to use it for just one or two courses, not the majority of their degrees.

I believe students owe it to themselves to figure out the fastest and most affordable graduation path at their disposal, even if they don’t test out of absolutely everything.

Case Study: Earning a $139K degree for $47K at Sacred Heart University

Enough theory. Here’s a real analysis I created to illustrate how powerful your test-out savings can be. In this example, we’ll assume you want a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Sacred Heart University, a small, expensive, highly-ranked private university in Connecticut.

Here is the research necessary to calculate how much time and money you can save by testing out:

  1. Determine the “full sticker price” tuition of a four-year degree at SHU (roughly $139,000)
  2. Determine which exam formats SHU offers (CLEP, DSST, Excelsior/UExcel)
  3. Determine how many exam credits SHU allows students to earn (90)
  4. Determine the course requirements of a psych degree at SHU (degree chart)
  5. Determine how many of those required courses have CLEP, DSST, or Excelsior/UExcel exams for you to take instead (25)
  6. Determine the costs of each of those exams ($80/each for CLEP and DSST, $100/each for Excelsior/UExcel)
  7. Assume you can study for and pass a new test every 2-3 weeks

I’m building an app to crunch this data automatically, but it can all be done by hand. If you wanted to test out of as much of a psychology degree as Sacred Heart will allow, here are your potential savings:

Every school should post an analysis like this on their website. Since they never will, you need to perform the analysis yourself.

Again: nothing says that you HAVE to test out of every subject a school will allow. There are valid reasons for taking a course in person: class discussions, mentorship from a professor, or simply not feeling comfortable studying for a tough subject on your own (I’m looking at you, fellow non-math people!)

Rather, the point of running an analysis like this is to figure out your options. With college being as costly as it is today, there is no excuse for not giving yourself the opportunity to say “yes” or “no.”

The “Moneyball” Approach to Cutting College Costs

Here’s a useful analogy for how testing out fits into the overall picture of your college career.

Think about Billy Beane, GM of Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics (and the protagonist of Moneyball.) Back in 2002, Beane knew the A’s could only spend a fraction of what richer teams like the Yankees had on hand.

So instead of trying to copy those clubs, Beane figured out a brand new way to build a baseball team.

Oakland used cutting-edge statistical analysis to find “misfits” — players who were overweight, or threw the ball side-armed, or couldn’t run quickly — and constructed its entire roster with them. The other teams laughed, but here’s the best part: the A’s wanted their bargain-priced “misfits” even more than the stars they couldn’t afford.

These oddball players had undervalued talents that led to scoring runs and winning games. Most importantly, they were cheap.

The Yankees — and all the teams attempting to emulate them — were asking, “How can we buy the biggest stars?”

The A’s asked a totally different question: “How can we buy WINS (and runs, the building blocks of wins) for pennies on the dollar?” Beane didn’t care who his individual players were as long as the team was winning.


2002 was the perfect season to compare these approaches because the Yankees and A’s each won 103 games. The breathtaking difference? New York spent $1.5 million per win. Oakland, using their unique approach, spent just $250,000.

Here is a cost-per-credit analysis I created using average tuition figures at public and private four-year universities, as well as the cost of earning a “test-out” degree:


Sources: CollegeBoard and DIY Degree

Testing out is a “Moneyball” approach to higher education. “Cost per credit” is to college what “cost per win” is to baseball: the number you want to intelligently optimize. In college as in baseball, the way to win an unfair game is by taking a new approach to get the same results more efficiently.

Why You Should Look at College Like an Investment

If this post makes it sound like you’re “Frankensteining” your education, cobbling various exams and credit sources together to form a degree…you’re right. That’s exactly what I’m advocating.

This might seem strange at first, but I encourage you to look at it differently.

Why do we see college as this magical guarantee of financial success? It’s because of these oft-cited studies on how much more graduates earn over their lifetimes than non-grads. We hear sweeping statements (“people with bachelor’s degrees earn $1 million more!”) and assume that it MUST be a great investment, no matter what it costs.

Actually, we don’t just assume it — we’re explicitly told that it’s true:

“Over a lifetime, the gap in earning potential between a high-school diploma and a bachelor of arts is more than $800,000. In other words, whatever sacrifices you and your child make for [a] college education in the short term are more than repaid in the long term.”

That’s from CollegeBoard, the organization that makes the SATs. They’re basically telling you to just pay whatever a degree costs.

It’s horrible advice.

You don’t make huge financial decisions with simplistic rules like “whatever sacrifices you make are worth it in the long-term.” How is that any different than telling you to shoot first and ask questions later? No — you make huge financial decisions is by running the numbers.

Which brings us back to these studies on college graduate earnings. They aren’t “wrong,” but they are misleading.

Here’s why: earning a higher income doesn’t automatically mean you’re getting ahead. You can earn $20,000/year before college, get a $60,000/year job afterwards, and still be no better off. If you spend $100,000 for a degree (and take four years off of work to do it) you have incurred a huge financial and opportunity cost.

You took out a loan against your future earnings which must now be repaid over five, ten, maybe even fifteen or twenty years. Even then, once all the loans are repaid and you’ve earned back all the income you lost by not working, guess what? All you have done is break even!

You’re back at square one. Finally, after years of repaying loans and interest, you can start actually benefiting from the higher income you earned your degree for. Most college students don’t realize that this is what they’ve agreed to until after they graduate. They just see college as a magical guarantee of financial success. Yet whether they realize it or not, their student loans often chain them to a life of indentured servitude.

The return on an investment is inversely proportional to the time and money invested. In plain English: the longer it takes you to graduate, and the more you pay, the less valuable your degree ultimately is.

Testing Out Actually Delivers What Colleges Falsely Promise

Fortunately, the reverse is also true. The less time it takes you to graduate, and the less you pay for your degree, the more valuable it is.

By testing out, you are doing what so many students never do. You’re being strategic. You’re treating your degree as an investment, rather than a collegiate shopping spree. You’re being efficient by extracting the most value for the least cost.

Consequently, you actually will reap the rewards of higher postgraduate income. Since you didn’t take years off or incur costly loans, all of that extra money goes straight into your pocket.

If you are struggling to figure out how to afford college, I hope the test-out strategy is a breath of fresh air and a new lease on academic life. Please leave any questions in the comments. I’m happy to help anyone who needs it!


Jay Cross runs DIY Degree and helps students learn more, spend less, and graduate faster. His college acceleration strategies have been covered by Fox Business, Huffington Post, Popular Mechanics, Brazen Careerist, The Personal MBA, and I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

{ 167 comments… read them below or add one }

101 John Ramsey January 16, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Here’s a thought…don’t go to a private university, go to a community college, work 30-40 hrs a week and stay up late to get good grades, major in something that will grant you financial freedom, and do summer internships with large companies that pay a lot.

When I was in College, I had 4 internships that paid: $16/hr, $17/hr, $25/hr, $26/hr and I never took a loan out.

102 Jack January 16, 2014 at 7:16 pm

John, You knew how to doo’s it…Congrats…. I know you are doing well.. A good brain , sometimes, equals good decisions..

103 Adam January 16, 2014 at 8:23 pm

“Most people who apply for scholarships get nothing. It’s a near-universal waste of time.”

I don’t believe that at all. Apply for local scholarships and those funded by private donors. There are countless scholarships available online that require a few clicks, contact information, and a short bit of writing. I attended an awards reception where roughly a third of my graduating class received scholarships, many of them about $1000. I received over $10,500 in scholarships only last year. Apply for them. It only takes a short amount of time and you can reuse the essay for most of them.

104 oogaboogaman January 16, 2014 at 9:55 pm

To save money on college and to help my kids graduate two years earlier than normal I am going to encourage them to drop out and get their GED at 16. Then I’m going to enroll them in community college full time. By the time they’re 18 they will have an associates which will make it easier for them to gain admission to a more selective university as well as saving money on credit hours and dormitory housing.

105 stephanie January 16, 2014 at 10:21 pm

John Ramsay – what year was that? In 1991 i could make just barely enough over the summer to pay for tuition, books and room and board (but i was hungry all the time). The last year i worked four jobs – a donut shop (early morning), hotel chambermaid (not quite so early morning), card shop (regular hours), and catering (late late evenings). None of them paid above 10$/hr which is minimum wage now, many years later, in the province i live in. I wish Canada had something equal to the CLEP exams – i always thought “I did it,my kids can too!” but now i am not so sure…

106 Curt Hemsoth January 16, 2014 at 10:45 pm

While I definitely appreciate the idea of saving money and am a huge fan of using CLEP tests to save on a degree, I do think that there is often something to be said about the experience that is University. What many people expect they are “buying” with their credit hour is an education, what they are actually “buying” is the opportunity to engage very talented learners and instructors in the process of learning. So, while sure, a CLEP test can get your foot in the door cheaper by testing out of classes that don’t require much interaction, I think it’s important to get your butt into the seat (or at least internet classroom) to engage these gifted and talented individuals. Some of the most gratifying experiences of my life thus far have been inside a classroom at University!

107 j warren January 16, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Steve Victor, What is your point? A good living wage 40 years ago was 10K too. True, school costs today have outpaced wages but your analogy is foolish. You could buy a new car for 4K 40 years ago.

108 Matt B. January 17, 2014 at 12:44 am

Thanks for the thoughtfulness put into the article. I really appreciated the moneyball reference.

That said, I think the basic premise of the article is that if you have a goal (college degree, winning world series) then your advice is decent enough. However, the things that made a difference to me was less the goal and more the journey. Yes that sounds like a pansy, sentimental statement but it’s the truth. I had a few online classes and I passed them but I didn’t really learn anything. I need to be engaged by other people to really learn and that, unfortunately, is expensive.

I took out about $24,000 in loans and 1.5 years later I’m almost done with them. I genuinely believe that the learning process helped me do better at my job than any CLEP would (and yes that’s including the gen-eds). Also, I wouldn’t have my job if I didn’t have connections which are a bit less likely at community colleges. I was totally aware that I was paying for an experience rather than just a product but the way I see it is that I’d rather grow then just get a degree for the resume.

109 Anon January 17, 2014 at 1:54 am

And you would never find a job starting out at $16 today. Most companie these days also do NOT offer paid internships. Not everyone has the ability to do engineering or something else that leads to “financial freedom.”

110 Srinivas Kari January 17, 2014 at 3:03 am

Well, I have mixed feelings about this. While testing out is great for basic subjects like English, Calculus etc that are common to all courses, there are some subjects that are absolutely better when attended in person, provided that the professor is great and teaches the subject really well. A great teacher knows the subject very well and teaches it very well. There is absolutely no price for this.

111 Native Son January 17, 2014 at 8:02 am

I see some folks have argued about not taking lower division coursework at a community college. IMHO they’re wrong. what you need to do is check out the course work to be sure it is transferable. Back in my day, the “core” lower division college classes (not the remedial classes) at the California Community Colleges were transferable to either the state university (UC) or the state college (CSU) systems. The one person anecdotally cited had that fatal flaw in the arguement, he thought the courses were transferable. Given the time and money committed for college these days, you must find out if the coursework in you field of study is transferable, FIRST. I.e., check the catalog of the school you intend to transfer to as a junior.

112 Joshua Jordan, KSC January 17, 2014 at 10:22 am

I will not maintain a scope of diplomacy on this piece. I am passionate about education and if I offend people with what I’m about to say, I don’t care.

This is a very informative article; I have a few things to add. If your goal is to “get a degree”, CLEPS are a good way to go. You might do well to look into DANTES as well. Else, Brett offered good lists and good advice on how to cobble a degree together at the expense of a real education. But, the goal isn’t an education; it’s to save money on a degree and get a “winning team” so to speak. I get that.

I almost went that route, but I’m glad that I took my courses and polished my writing skills. Most Americans, including college students, write horribly. I’ve met, literally, thousands of professors from all over the country in my previous business. They not only make fun of their students’ writings, but sit around with me laughing about it like I used to do with the smart kids in third grade when we looked at the stupid kids’ papers. That should scare you; the professors know their students are dumb and don’t care. They say the kids are there to get a degree and they don’t care about their education; so why should the professor?

The students’ grammar is, normally, at a 7th grade level or lower; I’ve run text analysis software on samples I find and I’ve done the same with people I know. Most newspapers write at a 6th or 7th grade level. If you analyze the President’s speeches, they don’t even register as intelligible English a lot of the time. He’s very good with conversational hypnosis and neurolinguistic programming techniques, however. He’s very good with anchoring, bridging, linking, and so on. So, that should make you pause and consider what this means. Do I think the President is an idiot? No, but I think he speaks like one because he’s done proper audience analysis and realizes he’s addressing, mostly, idiots. The newspapers have done the same, which is why they write to grade school children instead of educated adults; their readership are, mostly, idiots as their audience analysis portended.

I’m sorry to say this, but we live in a nation of lazy, ignorant people who barely communicate at a middle school level. Do you want to be like that? Then keep cutting corners. China has more honor students than we have students and we’re going to cut corners now? How long before the Dragon eats the Eagle’s lunch? *guzh, guzh, guzh* I hear footsteps….

Another problem is that people go to university to “get a job”. You want a job? Go to a trade school or take an apprenticeship! University is not a jobs factory! These creeps coming into academia like beggars in Calcutta are watering down college so that it amounts to what a high school education used to be. ***If you want a job, don’t go to college because it won’t get you a job unless you are in the right network and make the right choices.*** So, stop wasting everyone’s time and money and learn a trade if you want a job and stop crying about it; I’m sick of listening to it.

A few more points:

I do not agree with Frankensteining your education; you’ll miss the underlying framework that is *really* what you should learn at college. The information you receive is BS, mostly. It’s probably outdated or will be before too long in very many cases. What you’re learning is an underlying framework that is *NEVER* explicitly taught. There are nuances and undercurrents to life and the same holds true for university. If you cobble your degree together, you’ll probably lose that. I don’t know because I didn’t cobble mine together. I started doing that in the Army and I had enough crap cobbled together to have a degree if I took a few more classes. But, I didn’t want to have a degree that way. So, I started from square one. I never submitted any of my material that would have gotten me — likely — about 90 credit hours out of the about 120 I needed for a degree. I felt like I was cheating myself, as the Army maxim goes. But, most people want a piece of paper or a job and care nothing about education, which comes from the Latin root “educo” (to draw out from within). If you don’t get the educo going, you’re cheating yourself. And, I’m okay with that. The good general makes use of the genius and the idiot, as Sun Tzu points out. No matter how dumb you are, you can still paint rocks and sweep floors in my Army.

So, while I disagree with Frankensteining, that’s my personal preference and I feel it’s the right thing to share my actual opinion with you on the matter, but I don’t care what people do. As I said, they can paint rocks and sweep floors. Someone will step up to stand next to me, and I don’t really care who it is.

You made an excellent point here, Brett:

You don’t make huge financial decisions with simplistic rules like “whatever sacrifices you make are worth it in the long-term.” How is that any different than telling you to shoot first and ask questions later? No — you make huge financial decisions is by running the numbers.

Yeah, and that’s the same kind of con you get from people in the insurance industry — if they want to hire you as an agent — and in so many other sales jobs and among con men. They’ll tell you some BS like “short term pain for long term gain”; yet, can they promise these gains? The next time some jerk tries this crap, ask to see his tax returns and watch him scurry up the wall like a cockroach when the light comes on. If you want to tell me you’re making seven figures, be prepared to show me some tax returns if that’s how you plan to sell me on a job. This is a basic con, using glittering generalities and — what Korzybski would call — multiordinal phrases. Such phrases like “good” have any general meaning and, therefore, have no meaning. People who think critically know this and don’t buy into it, but I know very few critical thinkers.

On FAFSA; it may be huge, it may be burdensome, but if you don’t fill it out then you could be leaving money on the table. And, if you leave money on the table, what can I tell you? You’re drinking muddy water. If you’ve ever paid taxes or plan to pay taxes, I suggest you use the resources available to you to help you get some of your money back. You’re compelled to by health insurance by this socialist nanny state, now. Things are going to get harder and money is going to be more scarce when you factor inflation and so on into the inequality — it’s certainly not an equation. I humbly suggest you consider FAFSA.

Another great point, Brett:

The return on an investment is inversely proportional to the time and money invested. In plain English: the longer it takes you to graduate, and the more you pay, the less valuable your degree ultimately is.

What a concept! =)

At the end of your article, I confess the higher education system is broken. It’s a sad fact. Perhaps doing what you say is the best way to maximize profit. It’s a shame that education has come to this. I’m very thankful for the education I got and I know it will be harder for my children to get what I got and it will cost more than it cost my parents. I’m glad I have a nice stack of books at home. My son can read Marcus Aurelius and Machiavelli while the other kids are reading Native Sun and Wuthering Heights. LMFAO

113 Eagle Faulkner January 17, 2014 at 12:39 pm

This is amazing! Thank you so much AOM! I’m glad I came across this site before I graduated HS, I just graduated, took a year off of school and got an apartment with my grlfriend. Finances have been tough, especially with her going to college and me trying to save up to go. This is going to help us so much, thank you thank you thank you!

114 Jay Cross January 17, 2014 at 12:40 pm

@Joshua Jordan

I am the one who wrote this article, not Brett. Accordingly, I want to respond to some of your thoughtful comments.

When you say “at the expense of a real education”, I have to bring up Academically Adrift, a book written by college professors about the paucity of learning on America’s campuses. In a word, it’s abysmal. Classrooms are more dumbed-down than ever. The idea that teaching ourselves is a “shortcut” while learning from professors is “real education” is not supported by data. I’ll even go a step further: I believe that if we forced every student at a typical state school to take a CLEP test at the end of all their courses this semester…50% of them would fail. The tests, after all, are objective. Classes are subject to grade inflation, favoritism, bias (do I agree with your paper), etc.

RE: college students being uninterested in the education…that’s a fair point. But is this really a “problem” or merely a fact of reality that we don’t like? We push everyone to go to college. Why? Is there evidence that they all belong there? I believe some people fundamentally do not belong in college. Their gifts lie elsewhere. The Myers-Briggs personality type “ENFP” is an example. I just read an unpublished PhD dissertation which said ENFPs are less likely to graduate college than anyone. Schools want to pair them up with mentors. I say “why not just get them out of college? They might be too dreamy and visionary for school, but they can potentially be the world’s best person at scoring movies, or positioning brands, or creating emotional experiences.”

The nationwide push for “completion”, for bum-rushing every student through the system, is doomed for that reason. When we assume all students are equally committed to the rigors of a college education, we assume a total absurdity, something no honest person could ever take seriously. But no one in a position of power in the higher ed world can BE honest without committing career suicide. It’s a real shame.

That said…your next point sort of makes MY point. I agree: lots of young people ARE woefully lacking in basic academic skills. Yet, comically, the reaction most people have is: “they need more formal schooling!” Did it ever occur to people that formal schooling in this country (from kindergarten through college) is the problem? It is, after all, organized by government bureaucrats, staffed by teachers who score at the bottom of their classes, and never held accountable for its failures.

Did you know that only 17% of Americans give the public school system (as a whole) an “A” or a “B”…but 79% of Americans think THEIR kid’s school deserves an “A” or “B”?

(Source: http://ideas.time.com/2011/11/04/our-we-deluding-ourselves-about-our-schools/)

It’s like how 90% of people think they are better than average at driving, humor, intelligence, etc. By definition it cannot be true.

Joshua, I appreciate your comment, even though I disagree with much of it. It shows me how deeply our cultural assumptions about college go.

115 Kate McKay January 17, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Just wanted to point that while Joshua, who is “passionate about education,” was able to put together a 1,000 word rant/analysis of this article that strongly disparaged the reading and writing skills of his fellow Americans, he himself was unable to read this piece closely enough to determine that it was not written by Brett, but by a guest poster named Jay Cross. Too funny.

116 Jeff January 17, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Jay Cross, in responding to Joshua Jordan, suggests that formal schooling is (part of) the problem resulting in a lack of academic skills. For a great resource on this issue, find anything by John Taylor Gatto. He has a number of interviews on YouTube that are very interesting and relevant to this issue.

Keep in mind, too, that the public school system that exists in the developed world (for the most part) is based on the Prussian model of schooling from the 19th century. That model was not designed to teach children academic skills, much less skills like critical thinking. Rather, the model was developed to indoctrinate & train students to occupy jobs that would benefit ‘society.’ I would say our schools are doing a passing well job at that.

117 R.P. Owens January 17, 2014 at 1:06 pm

I think it should be noted that while this will lead to a much cheaper degree in more ways than one. Part of the benefit of the class-room based degree (and the reason I stubbornly refuse to take online courses) is the direct access to the professor and your classmates, all of whom will make an impression on you during discussions in class, after-class and in their lectures. While this type of exam may be great for a student of science or business, anyone who is venturing into the world of the liberal or fine arts would be remiss not to take part in the immersive world of the classroom. Beyond that, it is part of a long tradition of student-teacher relations: where the professor would ‘tutor’ star pupils in all matters of science, humanities etc. Just my two cents.

118 michael January 17, 2014 at 3:11 pm

I really wish I had this advice 15 years ago. And while it’s too late for me, my wife is planning to finish her degree and my kids are coming up on college in the next 10 years or so. So this’ll be a real help to them!

119 Jay Cross January 17, 2014 at 3:13 pm


John Taylor Gatto is one of my intellectual heroes. Trying to interview him as we speak. For anyone who has not heard of him, his short book “Dumbing Us Down” is required reading for understanding formal schooling in America.

@R.P. Owens

I agree that classroom learning is better in certain situations. Last year I traveled to Colorado and spent over $2,000 for a class that lasted three days. I was over the moon thrilled with it. I simply want students to be thoughtful and strategic about which subjects they take in class and which they test out of.

120 Cale January 17, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Some people are poo-pooing this approach because there are benefits to classroom learning and access to profs and stuff. But this seems to be premised on a hypothetical, ideal world where every prof is talented and every class is worthwhile. Maybe I went to the wrong school but I’d say I got very little out of 90% of the my general ed classes — the kind that you are most likely to be able to CLEP out of. The classes were often huge, there was very little discussion, some were taught by not very talented TAs, not all the profs had time, or made time for meeting with you one one one. Some profs just basically put the textbook into powerpoint slides. I could have just read the book and got the same amount out of it. Definitely a different story in my upper-level classes — but those are the kind you can’t CLEP out of anyway! What I’m saying is that classroom classes don’t inherently or infallibly have value. Some do, some don’t.

So sure, by CLEPing out of a class you might miss out on what would have been a great in-class experience, but you also might pay a few thousand for a class you get almost nothing out of! It’s a gamble either way. And since your chances of getting a great classroom experience go up as you get into upper-level courses, I’d put my odds on doing some CLEP for your gen eds and enjoying in-class classes later. People are weirdly treating this like an all or nothing proposition. You can CLEP and take regular classes too. In fact you have to — you can’t CLEP everything! You can do both and get the best of both worlds. That’s why I did. I CLEP’d out of a semester worth of classes, which helped me graduate sooner and save a whole lot of money. But I still enjoyed great classes for 7 semesters. I’m not understanding what’s bad about that. You can get the benefits of both. This is a very viable approach. I’m glad to see the message getting out about it.

121 Anmol January 18, 2014 at 3:37 am

Gosh, you are right. I wish I knew or somebody had told me about testing out because that’s what I have always done with everything I do (programming, doing research, playing basketball, painting/sketching etc.), not just studies.

I can’t believe myself I went through college with that experience for 4 years. I have a degree and when I put it in resume, it feels more like a curse than an achievement, as I felt the same as before going college. But I still mention it to people, to state what I have overcome. I have self-educated myself about what I truly love, and I never thought of doing it fast. I just went with my pace.

Being a self-learner is liberating. No pressure from anybody. You do it your own way. And you deliver your best at everything and every time. It’s not just a trait, it’s a way of living.

Great post!

122 Jeff January 18, 2014 at 7:32 am

@Jay Cross

That would be a great interview! I hope you are able to pull that together.

123 Antaine January 18, 2014 at 10:34 am

I got an English BA at a state university, an MAT in English at the same university, an MA in Lit from a private university and still couldn’t beg, borrow, or steal a full-time job (not even teaching high school, which I’d done for a few underpaid years at a Catholic school before going back for the MAT).

Now I’m finishing (last semester of coursework now) my D.Litt (Doctor of Arts and Letters) at another private university.

The MAT I paid for as I went along and took 6.5 years. The other stuff I did full time and took loans.

By the time I’m done, I’ll have about $110k worth of still-outstanding loans (the BA is pretty much paid off), will be 35, and still have no guarantee of a job. In the last ten years, I’ve worked primarily as a substitute teacher, retail sales, and as an adjunct instructor at four different colleges. I got a one-year, full-time position this year, but I have no idea what will happen next year.

How I wish I’d done things differently and majored in something else way back in 1997. I actually think it might have been best to have gone into the Navy and learned to become an electrician or plumber. That would have benefited me in numerous ways.

124 George January 18, 2014 at 11:55 am

This seems only applicable for lower classes. As far as I know, you can’t CLEP or test out of senior level classes. Yet you still have to take those to get a Bachelors. Or are you just looking to get an Associates?

125 Shelby January 18, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Another good thing to do is to take dual credit classes in high school (if your school offers them). I know people who’ve graduated high school with 20 hours already under their belt.

126 Carter January 18, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Lots of universities around the world will *pay* you to go to their university so that they can have a diverse, international population. When I was working in Taiwan, I knew lots of expats that were literally paid to get MBAs, CS degrees, biology degrees, and their courses were in English except they had to take some Chinese language classes.

You get a good degree, they pay you for it, and you get immersion in a foreign language. It’s a really good option that I don’t think a lot of people know about.

127 R.P. Owens January 18, 2014 at 10:34 pm

Hi Jay,

I agree with you and should probably divulge that my inherent bias is towards liberal arts and fine arts. As I said in my last message: it seems to me a good strategy for a B.Sc. or B.B.A. but perhaps I wouldn’t do this in a more classical area of study.



128 Logan F. January 19, 2014 at 12:04 am

This made for a very interesting read. However, I do have a question. Is there anything like this in Canada? Or is this exclusively for those who live in the U.S.? I have an older sibling in university, and the costs are driving them crazy. I would prefer to not have to deal with loans and the like, but beyond applying for scholarships, is there any sort of test here that compares to those mentioned in the article?

129 Nakednorth January 19, 2014 at 8:10 am

Might I add: “Study in a country where going to college is cheaper.”

I currently study at the ETH Zurich, (which ranks internationally about as high as Stanford) and I pay roughly 1500$ a year.

130 Riezebos January 19, 2014 at 9:58 am

This was a very interesting article to read, but I do have to say one thing: College is not just about getting your degree and finding a job later on in life. It is an outstanding opportunity to meet fellow students and to surround yourself with bright minds just like you. Your advice does not include this, which in my mind is the most important thing college has to offer: an environment rich of innovation, creativity and inteligence.

131 J January 19, 2014 at 4:24 pm

I just want to point out, a LOT of schools do not accept ANY CLEP exams as transfer credits, but I firmly back the idea of going to a 2 year community college for your general ed classes. The quality of the education may not be 100% what you’d get at the big schools, but you will make up for that with smaller class sizes and more direct teacher-student interaction. The reason why the big institutions purposefully include things in low level classes, that should more appropriately be taught in upper level classes, especially in math and science classes, is to “weed out” people from those programs.

132 Manny January 19, 2014 at 9:57 pm

Thank you for the insightful advice, I never cease to be impressed by the quality content of this website.

I am curious to know whether you have any repayment advice for student loans beyond the advice I can read on studentloans.gov, etc.

I have around $56,000 worth of student loans including Perkins, Federal Subsidized & Unsubsidized, Direct PLUS, and will graduate in May of 2014.

In light of what you said, I am reconsidering whether it was worth it to get prestigious internships during the summer as opposed to studying more for the CLEP and cheaper summer schools.

Thank you.

133 tgray January 20, 2014 at 8:10 am

Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs has made a very good stance on the pressure for kids to get at least a 4 year degree no matter the price you have to pay (http://profoundlydisconnected.com/). According to Mike, there are millions of well-paying jobs available in the trade industry (electricians, carpenters, machinists,..) that do not require a college degree.

My story is I do not have a 4 year degree. I attended a community college, got an associates in computer science, took a job as an entry level programmer and got some experience so I became more marketable. I took advantage of a company’s tuition reimbursement program if available, so I have made progress towards my bachelors, but only because I want one for my own personal goals.

134 Gary January 20, 2014 at 10:39 am

Ultimately, the best path through college is your own decision. weather you opt to test out or attend classes what is most important is that you grasp the content. Lower division GE’s are (arguably) less important than upper division “core” courses. I certainly went through times when I grimaced at the thought of how much school was costing me. However, there were also times with difficult subjects that I was happy to have an instructor. choose your own path gentlemen.

135 Jay Cross January 20, 2014 at 12:27 pm

@ George,

Testing out is not just for introductory subjects.

CLEP only covers lower-level subjects, but DSST tests cover upper-level subjects too. Also, many schools offer “challenge tests” which they will create for you in any subject you choose. The “catch” is you have to ask them to do this and usually jump through hoops like filling out paperwork and persuading department heads that you are capable of passing.

Good practice for real life when you often need to jump through hoops to do things more efficiently.

136 Jeff January 20, 2014 at 1:56 pm


Thanks for the link to Mike Rowe’s website. He’s laying down a lot of wisdom.

137 Matthew Hines January 20, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Joshua Jordan,

I earned my distance learning degree by what you call “cutting corners,” but for me it was necessary if I was to save money and not graduate with crippling debt. In the meantime, I saved myself not only tens of thousands in tuition by following this method, but I also saved months of boredom and unease repeating subjects I already knew.

I agree that most students in universities write poorly. Like you, I have professor friends who constantly mention the poor writing skills their students possess. You are so right when you say that they don’t care about education, but just to get a degree.

For myself, I already had the education, but needed the degree to prove it. I was blessed by being raised in an intellectual – though low income – family. I always had a knack for writing and took pride in the reports and essays I’d submit for grades. Also (like yourself) I’d read the The Federalist and classic poetry and taught myself a classical education. The degree is a way to show the world that I do have college level skills, but in reality I have a graduate level education in government and public policy via self-learning that isn’t documented.

I remember taking a 400 level test on the Modern Middle East DSST. I had two weeks to study five hundred years of history before the test date. This is a huge and daunting task for anyone, but one thing my education taught me was how to access the information I needed, what would be important information to know (and what I didn’t need to know) and what resources could best impart the information. Testing out of a subject has forced me to develop the skill of synthesizing information. Even after taking practice tests, and reading a few excellent books on the modern Middle East, I still found the test daunting. The way it is set up requires you to know the information, because often you have to choose between two answers that are very similar yet have a few key differences. I thought I would get a low score. I got an A on it. What’s more, I came away from that course with a deeper understanding of Middle East culture and politics and the historical forces that still run deep in the region. So while I was “cutting corners” by taking a test, I used my skills at synthesizing information and it helped my brain organize and remember what I’d learned.

Still, I also took a few courses at my college which honed my academic writing chops. I took a thesis course at my school, and the ensuing paper is a huge source of pride. I had the honor of a great mentor who worked with me, and wonderful (online) discussions with my classmates on all things related to our chosen thesis topics.

Joshua, have you ever seen the documentary Declining By Degrees: Higher Education At Risk? It is an eye opening expose on the traditional college crisis in America. What shocked me was the attitude most of the students had about their courses, or that their focus is on partying, or find a way to skirt the system. I’d like to see them knuckle down and study for a CLEP or Dantes test. I don’t think many could pass them.

So while I might have missed out on mentor or professorial attention and teaching, I found a way to earn a B.A. via distance learning for $11,000, and half of that is student loans. You don’t know how many people have asked me how I did it, and want to know how they can as well. If the U.S. continues to insist on college degrees as a pathway to the middle class, then we need more and more strategies like Jay’s to help figure out a way to hack the system. I have hacked it, and Jay has hacked it, as have thousands more.

I know one man who started me on this path who earned his bachelor’s in business administration from my alma mater. It took him 5 months and cost $5000. Since then, he’s written a book about how he did it, taught English in China, built two education companies, earned an MBA, and now works as a business consultant in South Korea. He is one of many people who took this route, and all of us are well educated despite what you call “cutting corners.” Many of us did it with little to no student debt. Tell me, which is better: people who know why they are going to college and use alternative means to maximize the quality while decreasing costs, or those who don’t know why they are there yet will be in hock with tens of thousands in student debt to their name?

138 Jake Hovis January 21, 2014 at 10:58 am

I love this article. This is exactly what I did. I went to a second rate college and tested out of 36 hours of college. I also went the cheap route for my 2 master’s degrees.

I am an ACT tutor and a high school teacher. I often tell my students to test out of school, and I am very glad you have made such a compelling argument (and referenced a Brad Pitt movie).

I would add a bit. While I agree that filling out the FASFA and applying for scholarships on FastWeb are ineffective to say the least, savvy students should buckle down and get a good ACT score. The ACT score can get students automatic money and full-ride opportunities. Plus, it is a good warm up to all that CLEP testing.

I’ve posted a link to this article on my ACT blog (http://acttricks.com/). I hope that’s OK.

139 Kristina January 21, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Filling out the FAFSA gives you access to more than just loans. It helps determine if you qualify for the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant for this year covered my tuition at a public university this school year. It fluctuates year to year depending on your family’s income. Everyone should fill out the FAFSA just in case they do qualify, nothing better than free money. Buying used textbooks does wonders. Instead of dropping $100 for that new accounting book you need just buy the previous version online for the $1 + $3.99 shipping on Amazon. Yes books are a small portion each semester but by the end you will have spent a large chunk of money on them. Telling people to not use money saving tips that actually do help despite being “outdated” is just silly. Also like many other comments have stated if you can’t afford it go to a community college to get your core curriculum out of the way for much cheaper than state or private colleges. While I think testing out is a very good option it is by no means the only one. Not to mention all the trouble you have to go through getting your school to count those tests and transferring everything over. God forbid you end up transferring schools anyway and they don’t take them.

140 Spencer Cross January 21, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Now if I can only figure out how to apply this toward law school…

141 Jay Cross January 21, 2014 at 1:30 pm

@ Jake Hovis

Good to know RE: ACT testing and scholarship attainment. I will research this more thoroughly so as to make stronger recommendations to my students in the future.

Appreciate the shout-out on your blog!

142 Brian January 21, 2014 at 3:00 pm

@Jay Cross

Great piece! PayScale.com has lots of great data on College Tuition Return on Investment. PayScale has ranked more than 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities, including private, public and for-profit schools, to determine the potential financial return of attending each school given the cost of tuition and the payoff in median lifetime earnings associated with each school. Please check it out: http://www.payscale.com/college-education-value-2013

143 Mishka January 21, 2014 at 5:23 pm

this advice is great for getting a B.A…but what about mitigating the costs of a masters program? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

144 Wim Boeree January 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm

This post was eye-opening. Not that it’s any good towards me, but it’s a good thing to remember in case I’ll immigrate to the United States (which is one of my dreams). I never knew how hard other people could have it if they want to attend college/a university.

In the Netherlands (I’m Dutch) you’d pay around 1800 euro’s a year for 4 to 6 years and it’s mostly funded by the government (+ you get free access to public transit). You are supposed to pay back some of the money (since most people take out loans), but the amount one should pay back is calculated with 2 major factors; 1. The amount that you’ve loaned, pretty obvious, if you take out higher loans you’ll pay back more and 2. your salary. This might be weird for most people, but the Dutch system also takes into calculation that one can’t pay what they won’t have. I’ll give an example: My dream is to become a geography teacher, but as a teacher you won’t earn that much. I’ll borrow around 20000 euro’s from the government, but they know that I won’t be able to pay that amount back in 15 years time. But because I add value to society as a whole, since I’ve got that Master in Geography they say ‘Instead of returning 115 euro’s a month, you could return 50 euro’s a month and the rest is a gift’. The system is a lot more friendly, which leads to a larger amount of highly educated people and, most importantly, makes sure that the teacher have had a good education as well.

I know it’s not that acceptable to throw ideas like that around in the States (‘BOO! Socialist!!’), but I just wanted to know that there’s a more humane way in which governments will let you have a university degree (as opposed to making you eat chili con carne and noodles for 4 years, after which you are in debt).

145 Mark January 22, 2014 at 1:50 am

I don’t know what colleges you have researched with regards to the CLEP testing, but the college that I work for allows students to take the CLEP test to pass the course in order to move on to an advanced course. It does not give you college credits so that you may graduate quicker and not pay for the credits. The CLEP test is also only offered for lower level classes and not upper division classes.

146 no January 22, 2014 at 10:46 am

To save money on college, don’t go to college.

If you are ambitious enough and passionate enough about something and it isn’t the medical, legal, or a few other fields where a degree is absolutely required, then you can surely find a way to get your foot in the door.

147 Shinken January 22, 2014 at 11:33 am

Thank you for the article. I took a few CLEP tests to cover some basics, but I had no idea they could be used for the more specialized credits toward my major. I agree that student loan debt is a huge problem, and most students and parents go into the process blindly, ignorantly shuffling down the aisle like pigs in a slaughterhouse. It really is a tragedy to saddle our young people with so much debt while patting them on the head and telling them it will all work out. Whichever route one chooses, it is only a choice if you really know your options.

Joshua the writing guru, and everyone else in today’s world, please stop using the word ‘literally’. If something really did happen, the word is superfluous. No one is challenging you. If you are using hyperbole, then the word ‘literally’ is completely out of place. If you have met “literally, thousands of teachers” in reality, then you need not tell us that the number is meant to be literal. And if you sat around with those teachers laughing at student writing ability (as you did in third grade), then you are an ass. Maybe the kids in third grade gave up trying to write because they were bullied by know-it-alls who shamed them. If you are concerned about student writing abilities, maybe you could volunteer to tutor young kids instead of insulting them and the teachers who struggle against all odds to make a difference. But I doubt that would actually work for you, young kids can smell insincerity a mile away.

One more thing, in regards to your comment about a “nation of lazy, ignorant people”. Why have we lost our motivation as a society? Where has the idea of quality and hard work gone? The fine people at The Art of Manliness are probing into these questions and stirring up debate, trying to inspire and help people change. This is a compassionate and honorable quest. What are you doing to show empathy for people? What are you doing to ensure that people have opportunities? People become lazy and indifferent when they are treated as commodities by employers, consumers by businesses, and burdens to the system when they go through hard times. Being cynical perpetuates the cycle.

148 Rob January 22, 2014 at 12:48 pm

I also never had to take out a loan. Debt free and actually have money in the bank. How? Worked hard, had multiple part time jobs, and did either internships or heavy construction to rake it in during the summers. I also went to a public university and studied engineering so that I would have a better chance of getting a job, which I have.

I have no sympathy for people who took out over 100K in loans for a relatively worthless degree.

149 zoranian January 22, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Another way to look into saving money at college is to take AP exams during high school or look into the International Baccalaureate program (IB) in high school. I took AP courses throughout high school and ended up with enough credits to save a year of school. The only one that didn’t end up transfer was English literature (I got credit for Writing 101, but not the literature course) so I dusted off my Shakespeare book and took a CLEP test to avoid that nightmare of a class.
I was on almost a full scholarship the first year, but they kept raising tuition so by my 3rd year I was paying about $2000 of tuition (Fortunately my parents chipped in for that and my room and board). I got the whole “College experience” at a substantially reduced price. So I saved a year of room and board plus about $3,000 estimated tuition for that 4th year (since they raised it again) and I earned $50,000 the year I graduated. So I profited about $65,000 from working a little harder in high school than other kids. Worth it to me!

150 Graham Tutt January 23, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Some great advice … Many Thanks, My lads are now a Sophomore and Jr … both at out of state private schools … Furman & Belmont … Suppose the best thing I can do is ask for Billy and Taylor College Fund Donations to come our way … Let me know if any of you know a financial angel – we are battling along to keep the chaps going to college – and will be willing to work off their huge loans – Cheers, Graham – Atlanta, Ga

151 Mariah January 24, 2014 at 12:53 am

I love reading the comments on posts like this, they are always a rich source of information and opinion, both enjoyable and thought provoking.

I just wanted to say a word for the International Baccalaureate Program. I noticed one other mention of it and having gone through the program I can vouch for its value not only in possible gained college credit, but also in its educational value. I firmly believe I was given a more holistic and definitively superior education to my peers, one devoted to seeking knowledge through discussion, connections between our materials (regardless of subject), and most importantly CRITICAL THINKING. The courses were demanding, preparing me for college level work, teaching me to treasure my education, and to truly enjoy learning. IB learners are allowed to choose their courses in 6 subject areas and then participate in them for 1-2 years each as juniors and seniors, with a culminating test at the end of each of them. The teachers selected to teach IB courses are passionate, qualified teachers who truly want to impart knowledge to each of their students, a quality that cannot always be counted upon in traditional public educations. In addition to these benefits of educational quality, through the program I was added to an international community of learners who were involved in the same learning processes as I was. Now in college I have had the privilege of meeting several of my peers from all over the nation, immediately having a connection. The IB program is not a cop-out method to ‘Frankenstein’ a degree, but rather a method for motivated students to pursue knowledge at a more advanced level while in high school.
To the point of the article, yes, in some cases students can be rewarded for it with college credit (if they choose to pursue a college degree and if they receive good marks on their tests). I was granted 30 credits of lower division credits (one year of traditional college education), allowing me to skip tedious courses that would have been as much a waste of time as money. I do not feel I was cheated of anything, but rather enriched, given a truly exemplary education and because of that, being granted the opportunity to jump into classes that interest and can truly benefit me.

152 Matthew January 24, 2014 at 4:42 pm

There’s always a way to make it cheaper. I got something like 16 credits (I needed 192) just by passing 3 AP tests in high schools. But where I really saved money was community college. All my friends went straight into private school. I went to the local CC. It was the recession and my parents were on unemployment, so my state grants were pretty good. They were $5,000 a year, which is a drop in the bucket at private school, but CC credits are so cheap that I took extra classes, and I actually got a CHECK from the state at the end because I still didn’t use it all. So I took the check and bought myself 6 summer school classes (the check paid for 4 of them, plus all the books, which were used). I got a 3.8 gpa, while working 20 hours a week at a fast food restaurant.

Since I had so many credits, I got my degree in three years instead of 4, only one of them at CC, then 2 at a nice private school. I got a ~$150,000 degree, and I only had to take out $13,500 in student loans. Now I’m in graduate school (tuition waived, so no worries there), and I’ve almost paid it off. I gotta tell you, I was reading a lot of AoM posts in those early days at CC, and it really helped shape me into the man I am today. So thanks to the McKay’s and all the Manly Guest Contributors. I suppose I owe you folks a beer.

153 HDYMNSTR January 25, 2014 at 11:44 am

I took a similar approach to law school. The only thing law schools care about is LSAT and GPA. I decided that I did not want to have a 160k in debt after graduation. I realized what I needed to do was kill the LSAT since I already had a good GPA. I took a prep course – which was expensive – about $1200. Went from 47 percentile on my first test to 90 percentile on my exam by studying very hard. Applied only to schools I knew I would get into. Then negotiated the price between schools. Yes, I was able to negotiate the price. Wound up going to a #50-70 law school and graduating with 40k in student debt. Now the Army is paying that back for me.

154 Ian Pomeroy January 25, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Mr. Cross,

Thank you for writing such an informative article.

I am currently a senior in high school with plans of pursuing a post-secondary education, making this article extremely relevant to me. I have worked hard throughout high school to get the grades and test scores to allow me as much flexibility during the college search as possible. I have taken AP courses with the goals of challenging myself, appealing to colleges by having a more rigorous course load, and also to get college credit for courses. So far I have made a 5 (highest score for an AP exam) on all of the exams that I have taken, exempting me from at least a few general-education courses at most universities. My question is how exams like the CLEP and the others you mentioned compare to AP courses in terms of receiving credit? A majority of high school students that I know take these courses not as much for exemptions from classes in college, but more to look appealing to them when applying.

What would the time frame be to maximize the effectiveness of placing out of courses? Should I look at studying for CLEP exams during high school or is this best done during college?

I have worked extremely hard throughout high school in the hopes that my late-nights and countless hours of work would lead to the ability to finance my college education. I’ve worked so that I can pay for college through my achievement and my abilities, but more and more the mindset seems like an example of hopeless optimism. Tuition is high and while I’m appreciative of the scholarship offers I’ve received from a few colleges, $10,000 per year still leaves $136,000 to be paid. I’m not orphaned, my parents aren’t divorced, and both parents work extremely hard to make a respectable income in the hopes of saving for my education, excluding me from most need-based financial aid. It feels like we’re being penalized for doing what we’re “meant to do,” according to college guides and financial counselors. Basically, I could give Lou Ferrigno a run for his money in the role of the Hulk as a result of the amount of frustration this whole situation has caused. Therefore, your advice is greatly appreciated.

155 Cameron January 27, 2014 at 8:34 am


First off, congratulations to you on how hard you have worked to get to this point. Sounds like you’ve accomplished a great deal. I have a few suggestions for the questions you have asked.

1. Based on your post, if your scores exempt you from general ed courses, make a list right *now* on what you have an exemption on and take the CLEP exams to take care of any gaps.

2. Focus on high school right now, deal with CLEP after graduation.

3. Take classes at your local community college and take care of any general ed courses that you can’t test out for.

Hope that helps.

156 Jay Cross January 27, 2014 at 12:27 pm

@ Ian

What schools are you considering attending right now?

As Cameron said, you can hold off on CLEP studying for right now. But some up-front planning at this stage can be immensely helpful.

Feel free to email me (jay@doityourselfdegree.com) and I’ll be happy to walk you through some different scenarios.

Good luck, and my hat is off to you for your success so far! :)

157 waldosan January 27, 2014 at 10:53 pm

Mike Rowe suggests vocation school instead of college, I wish I had heard him talking about this before I tried to go to college.

158 James January 28, 2014 at 8:27 am

The testing out option can be a good one. Realize that the main purpose of college is to teach you HOW to think. Most of us, me included, hardly ever use what we learned in our jobs but we learned how to analyze a problem and think through it to solve it. If you apply this to CLEP for instance, you will learn the material because you will be required to think your way through it to pass a CLEP test. It’s a good option to reduce costs. Also, most states that have a good Community College system, allow all those credits to transfer to a the major state schools so you can save money that way too.

159 Wen January 29, 2014 at 6:34 am

As the parent of a current college freshman, here are some things to keep in mind:

1 – Regarding “testing out.” NOT a good idea in your major field of study. Yes, it’s great that our son tested out of many courses (first semester Chemistry, English, Government/History, and Calculus). Yes, it should have saved us money. BUT: Calculus is a major part of his field (mechanical engineering). The AP course in high school did not adequately prepare him for the second level calculus course in college. He got a D. He has to take it over.
And that D now has endangered his full-tuition academic scholarship that requires him to maintain a 3.3 GPA.

2- Other options abound for helping pay for school: Be an RA (sophomore year and up). It’ll pay for your room and board. Join the National Guard, get a campus job — better yet, get that campus job while you’re in high school if you can.

3- Our school district, and those around us (suburban) have deals with the various universities in our area that enable high school juniors and seniors to take college courses, for credit, at reduced tuition costs. So some students not only graduate high school as seniors, but they’re also already college sophomores because they’ve already taken classes.

4- Attend a lower-cost community college for your first two years. Community colleges work closely with their 4-year counterparts to ensure you’re taking the courses you need for your transfer toward your 4-year degree.

5- Work. My husband put himself through college by working a full-time and a part-time job while taking full-time college courses. It wasn’t easy. It took him seven years. But he walked across that stage, accepted his diploma, and walked off that stage not owing anyone one dime.

160 Silviu January 31, 2014 at 2:08 pm

I should have read this before taking two years to do General Education courses at a community college.

161 Carla Bosteder February 3, 2014 at 8:07 pm

I would love to have ideas for post-graduate study.

162 Travis Jones February 4, 2014 at 7:31 am

I have to disagree with the opening statement that NOT filling out a FAFSA is a good idea.

Yes, loans can be terrible, but the FAFSA also determines your eligibility for a federal Pell grant, which is FREE MONEY! It literally takes less than 30 minutes to fill out and the information is stuff you should know off the top of your head anyway. If your parents aren’t rich, you should be eligible for SOME form of Pell grant. I myself get about $2700 per semester just for taking 30 minutes to fill out a FAFSA, and I have to pay literally NOTHING back. All the other advice in this is sound, but to not fill out a FAFSA is foolish.

163 Richard K. Munro February 9, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Getting AP credits or Academic Decathlon Credits in HS is wise.

Next best thing: getting credits are 2 year Community College. Next best thing instate State College. If you want to be a nurse or teacher it doesn’t matter what college you go to in fact it is much better to study in the state where you intend to work.

164 Daniel J. Taylor February 20, 2014 at 8:12 am

There are absolute plusses and minuses to this article. On one hand, the discipline, the commitment, and the creativity required are all manly attributes.

On the other hand, there are non-monetary considerations involved. Real personal and intellectual growth occured for me in the classroom, whereas a medium with less interaction bores and is unhelpful for me.

Saving money, being strategic and leaving yourself time to work seem like huge perks to this system. The classroom does, however, have real benefits as well.

165 Rusty Shackleford February 20, 2014 at 6:56 pm

This was a huge eye-opener to me. college couldn’t be a more broken or antiquated system (or a more perfect racket) and I absolutely believe its about the paper and not the knowledge.I thought all the shortcut methods were scams though. I’m halfway through an associates and 10k in the hole. My career goal is high school teacher, most likely history. I’ll have to look at my requirements as I’ve taken a break to work and take care of some personal stuff, but I really hope I can apply this to my education.

166 CV March 19, 2014 at 12:04 am

@oogaboogaman: Look into “dual enrollment”. I was able to complete an AA degree and my last two years of high school credit simultaneously (college credits doubled as high school credits). These college classes were FREE. Definitely worth taking advantage of if you’re able.

167 Vincent April 11, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Ok but that’s for US. What if I live in Canada? Is there an equivalent? Although I’ll admit that college is pretty cheap here, it’s more about saving time.

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